Travel

This Tiny Bar Is Basically the Cheers of Area 51

Where everybody knows your name. Unless it’s classified.

It’s dusk at the border of Area 51 and I’m drinking a White Russian. Behind me, there’s a one-story white building emblazoned with hand-painted lettering: Earthlings welcome. A gray flying saucer dangles unassumingly from the back of a tow truck beside a glowing sign advertising a restaurant, bar, and motel. 

This is the Little A’Le’Inn, the only business in Rachel, Nevada: population 96. It’s a community gathering space, a welcome sight for travelers along the remote stretch of NV-375… oh, and it’s on the edge of a highly classified military installation/alien conspiracy-theory hub. 

“It’s just normal life for me,” says Connie West, who co-owns the Little A’Le’Inn with her mother, Pat. 

That normal life means offering a welcoming place for anyone to grab a drink, a bite, and maybe a rest in one of the on-site trailers. It just so happens that “anyone” includes UFO aficionados, curious naysayers, and workers who may or may not spend their days exploring the mysteries of the cosmos.

Surprisingly, the Little A’Le’Inn wasn’t conceived in an attempt to capitalize on the lure of Area 51. When West’s father purchased the business in 1988, it was simply known as the Rachel Bar and Grill. He intended to change it to the Little Ale Inn, but due to a mishap at the printers ended up with a logo that read the Little A’Le’Inn. A friend pointed out that the accidental punctuation seemed like a play on the word “alien.” 

Coincidentally, noted Area 51 conspiracy theorist Bob Lazar had just made headlines for an interview discussing his alleged employment at the mysterious military base. Lazar claimed to have worked on “Sport Model” flying saucers (he’s currently selling autographed sketches of them on Instagram) at aircraft hangars hidden in the desert mountains. 

The West family ran with it. They started cooking up alien-themed hamburgers, selling t-shirts decorated with flying saucers, and attracting guests from all over the world. Since then, the Little A’Le’Inn has garnered a reputation as a middle-of-nowhere destination for both believers and skeptics. 

“We’ve had people that come in and they are truly looking, as they say, to ‘go home,’” says Connie West. “They are looking for the mothership or a connection.”

The Inn draws a wide array of customers—"I am the only business and I have the only toilet in between Alamo and Tonopah," Connie notes—including workers from Area 51, though she says she doesn’t push any boundaries and prod them with questions. And the inn draws many, many would-be Mulders asking the same question: How do I get to Area 51?

Technically, it’s perfectly okay to go to the gateway, which is located down a dirt road where the only life appears to be pronghorn antelope… that is until you get just a little too close to the “Restricted Area” sign. That’s when the so-called “camo dudes” come barreling out of the desert in white Jeeps. Having personally experienced this, I can’t officially endorse it, but I would be lying if I said it wasn’t the best day of my life. But uh, seriously, don’t cross the border of Area 51 unless you want a night in a Lincoln County jail

Famously, last year Area 51 was in the news again when Alienstock went viral—the 2019 “Storm Area 51, They Can’t Stop All of Us” event created by Matty Roberts of Bakersfield, California. Whether he was joking or not, Roberts simply wanted to “see them aliens” (relatable) resulting in the creation of the Alienstock festival in Rachel. 

Originally, Connie was planning the event alongside Roberts, but he dropped out in favor of a Bud Lite sponsored party in Downtown Las Vegas. In Rachel, though, the show went on (the party, not the whole “storming a military base” part).

“I couldn’t have asked for better people to be there,” says Connie, who estimates the Little A’Le’Inn served more than 10,000 people that weekend and had anywhere from 1,800 to 3,000 people camping in the nearby desert. “I made fabulous friends for a lifetime. They left our community cleaner than it’s ever been. And they still come back.”

Look for something beyond little green men in Rachel and you’ll find an eerily beautiful landscape full of alpine hikes, hot springs, caves, and mining ruins. Likewise, The Little A’Le’Inn itself is also more than a kitschy stop on the Extraterrestrial Highway; it’s a space where locals mingle with guests, finding company in the lonesome, windswept desert. 

“We’re an open information center, as my dad always said,” she says. “You’re free to speak about anything without being gawked at. You want to share a story, please come in and share it with us. We’re not going to look down on you for it. We’re going to embrace it.”

This is no more apparent than during its Thanksgiving potluck. All are welcome to feast at the Little A’Le’Inn—all West asks is that you buy your booze, join in on the conversation, and listen with an open mind. After dinner, the crowd will huddle around fire pits and gaze up through the branches of cottonwood trees at the night sky. They’ll trade theories, search for explanations, and wonder how they ended up in the Nevada desert, asking these questions. 

When it comes to dividing people into believers and skeptics, Connie still isn’t sure which camp she fits into. But she’s seen things. 

“I live a few miles from the most publicized top-secret military installation in the world, most of what I’ve seen, I know it’s military.” she says. “ There’s been one… crazy evening. I watched a star turn into a ball of light. What it was, I don’t know. I’m not schooled in that, but I know it was a crazy encounter with whatever it might have been.”

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Krista Diamond is a freelance/fiction writer who lives in (and often writes about) Las Vegas. Her writing has been featured in The New York Times, HuffPost, Eater, Business Insider, Fodor’s, and Desert Companion.
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