Aloha in Vegas?


Recently, our sister site wondered why Downtown’s California Hotel has an island theme that reaches all the way to Aloha Specialties, its popular Hawaiian restaurant. A Las Vegas casino, opened by an Oklahoma gambler, sporting the name of California and the theme of Hawaii? Only in Vegas!

Built in 1975, the California was the first of many casinos that built Boyd Gaming’s success. But Sam Boyd’s $10 million investment—located off Fremont in an increasingly seedy Downtown—wasn’t an immediate hit. To survive, Boyd, who had learned gambling in Oahu before it was outlawed, ingeniously decided to cater to the relatively ignored niche of Hawaii-to-Vegas travel.

Boyd quickly downshifted and changed direction, introducing the relaxed aloha spirit to the California by way of restaurants slinging sticky rice and oxtail soup rather than prime rib, and dealers sporting Hawaiian-print shirts versus the upscale style of other gambling floors. He also created vacation packages for Hawaiians wanting to visit Las Vegas (and even a travel agency to book them), offering chartered flights for as low as $9.90, provided the traveler stayed at the California.

Forty years later, it’s said that around 80 percent of Hawaiian visitors stay at a Boyd property. Boyd is also credited with an influx of thousands of Hawaiian expats, making Las Vegas the so-called “ninth island.” For a detailed look at this fascinating history, see the book California Hotel and Casino: Hawaii’s Home Away From Home.

Let’s Get Nautical

Sticking with the oceanic theme, longtime Las Vegans will be interested to hear that the Starboard Tack is on its way back. The spot just off East Sahara Avenue (along with its shuttered sister spot, the Port Tack, on West Sahara Avenue) was among those iconic Vegas joints often honored in the same breath as Chateau Vegas, Alias Smith & Jones and the Alpine Village Inn. Owned by Bob Kostelecky, the Port and Starboard Tacks were quintessential Vegas: dark and stylish overnight taverns offering steak and seafood to an at once egalitarian and elite Vegas crowd. The Kostelecky family still owns the building (which spent the last few years as Gilligan’s Hideaway), and two of Downtown’s most passionate bartenders, Lyle Cervenka and Bryant Jane, formerly of Retroscena, are behind the relaunch. The Facebook page calls it “Starboard Tack Rum & Provisions,” which indicates grub will chase the booze, as before.

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