While it would be satisfying to smugly name-check all the greats that you missed (my mother loved Lillie Langtry’s at the Golden Nugget, which, she insists, lost its luster when it moved upstairs during a late-’90s remodel, and exists today as the more pedestrian-sounding Lillie’s Asian Cuisine), their number is far too great. So, after a few bourbon-fueled brainstorming sessions, here’s a (non-inclusive) list of those still serving: Hush Puppy, Battista’s, Verrazano Pizza, Bob Taylor’s Original Ranch House, Golden Steer, Hugo’s Cellar, El Sombrero, Dona Maria’s, El Burrito, Bootlegger, Chicago Joe’s, Ferraro’s and the Peppermill.
I enjoy them all to differing degrees, but find myself most often at the final four. The Bootlegger offers a Monday talent showcase that transports you back in time to old Vegas, Chicago Joe’s has been a great date spot for as long as I can recall, Ferraro’s ramped up its food and atmosphere considerably when it moved to Paradise Road—and the Peppermill, well, it’s the Peppermill.
What has Las Vegas lost in the past 25 years that it can never get back?
Much of it is the same stuff other cities have sacrificed as growth and homogenization spread around the world: small-town character. Leaving doors unlocked, having back-fence chats with neighbors, letting kids ride their bikes anywhere and everywhere (my first ride to Red Rock Canyon came at 14), street Frisbee, sell-out crowds at Friday night high school football games (Gorman usually won, even then), locally owned shops, coffeehouses, diners and bars …
But we also lost things particular to Las Vegas—namely the interesting characters who populated the town and made it a unique place. Local color included gamblers and risk-takers of all stripes and types who made their way to Las Vegas. Living here was once like living in a Coen Brothers film co-written by Hunter S. Thompson, Michael Ventura and P Moss. Everything seemed intriguing, everybody had a dream and a game, and the rules seemed to bend right in front of your eyes. Glorious, wonderful and weird. And, likely, gone forever.