An Instant Classic

Time-tested Du-par’s coffee shop opens a tasty new/old era at the Golden Gate

On the way into Du-par’s, the new coffee shop at the Golden Gate Hotel, grab a souvenir menu from 1938—the year the restaurant debuted in Los Angeles—and compare it with today’s. Amazingly, it is relatively unchanged, except for inflation, of course. Then eyeball the fresh, double-crusted fruit pies in the display case behind the counter. Whether it’s the buttery cinnamon rolls in the cake holders or doughnuts straight from the fryer, you won’t find anything comparable in this town.

The main dining room looks like a scene out of the days when McCarran was our senator, not our airport. It’s staffed with waitresses clad in mostly white uniforms and frilly caps. It’s a long room with red leatherette booths, a floor-to-ceiling beveled mirror, and framed black-and-white pictures of San Francisco, circa 1906—the year of both the Great Earthquake and the founding of this hotel.

Du-par’s is the only true Las Vegas example of that vanishing breed, the Great American Coffee Shop. Imagine a place where burger meat (pure chuck steak) is ground to order, where the jams are made in house, and where the hotcake recipe is so closely guarded that the owner, Biff Naylor, actually bought the company to obtain it.

Du-par’s, which still has the original L.A. location at the Farmer’s Market, and another in the San Fernando Valley, makes most of their menu items from scratch. The staff squeezes orange juice to order. They make their own boysenberry and strawberry jelly. They grind their own corned-beef hash. They make their own meatloaf.

So when Golden Gate President Mark Brandenburg decided to give Las Vegas’ oldest hotel a face-lift and tear out the moribund Bay City Diner, it was serendipity that he was contacted by Naylor, whose father, the legendary Tiny Naylor, was one of the casino’s original 22 partners.

Biff, a hale and hearty 70, actually built the kitchen here in 1964, and was confident he could make it all work. But just for safety’s sake, he brought in his daughter, Jennifer, onetime chef at Wolfgang Puck’s long-shuttered Granita restaurant in Malibu, Calif.

Breakfast is my favorite meal here, but the entire menu is served 24/7. Many Du-par’s customers tell Naylor his hotcakes are the best they’ve ever tasted, and I’m on the same page. Fluffy, tangy and drenched with clarified butter, a full stack—five giant cakes—is a lumberjack’s feast.

If you like the bacon at the Original Pancake House franchises, this is the same product, sliced thinner here. This corned-beef hash has crisp edges, and it must be at least 90 percent pure meat. “Why would you want potatoes in the hash,” Naylor asks, “if you serve hash browns with it?” Hmm, good point.

Entrées can be single-crusted chicken pot pie—all cream, carrots and white-meat chicken—or a chicken-fried Harris Ranch steak, doused in a cream and sausage gravy. There is a traditional turkey dinner and a grainy, homemade meatloaf. If you like your burger, try the patty melt; the rye bread is also made in the kitchen, and it’s the best rye bread in town.

If you’ve got room for dessert, there are more than 20 fruit- or cream-based pies to choose from. If you’ve ever wondered what Americans ate three generations ago, wonder no more.

Du-par’s Restaurant, in the Golden Gate Hotel, 1 Fremont St., 385-1906. Open 24/7. Breakfast for two, $15-$23.

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