Originating in the 1940s at the original El Rancho Vegas with a simple, Western-themed Buckaroo Buffet (late night only, just $1!), by the 1970s the all-you-can-binge buffet was as much a Las Vegas icon as slot machines and showgirls. Before the dedicated buffet restaurant became a thing, daily buffets were such a no-frills scene that they were often set up in unused banquet rooms.
But brunch was different. Billed as “Sunday Champagne Brunch” to distinguish them from the lesser buffets, brunch was a lavish affair, especially for Vegas kids lucky enough to be spit-shined and invited along.
Brunches were often staged in the glorious showrooms of hopping spots such as the Riviera and the Tropicana, where deep, enveloping booths whispered stories about the night before, and the rooms were replete with ice sculptures and cascading fountains of champagne and fruit juice. Where else could one enjoy freshly roasted turkey other than grandma’s house on Thanksgiving? Where else was mouthwatering prime rib sliced to order by a knife-wielding chef in a tall white hat? Where else did a kid have access to an endless supply of desserts—slices of freshly baked whole pies, tiered trays of French pastries—without hearing “That’s enough!” After all, when mom is indulging at the champagne fountain, who is she to say no?
Nostalgia only goes so far. The lavish showrooms are gone, and hotel dining has surged so upscale as to make temporary setups seem cheesy. And brunching itself has changed, going mainstream and suburban, with nearly every independent restaurant bragging about its version. Sticking with on-Strip, weekends-only, all-you-can-eat places, the most classic Vegas experience is the Sterling Brunch at Bally’s (pictured). Dating back to the 1980s, it features Alaskan king crab, lobster and, yes, prime rib and champagne. Similarly, the throwback vibe found at the Jazz Brunch on Sundays at the Country Club at the Wynn is exceptional. With indoor-outdoor seating, live jazz and a buffet, plus a menu of special items brought to your table, it’s a modern take on old Vegas style. The country club vibe continues at the Four Seasons’ wonderful Veranda and their weekend brunch buffet, but this non-gaming hotel feels more like California than Nevada. I’ve also heard that Border Grill (inside The Forum Shops at Caesars Palace and at Mandalay Bay) does an excellent brunch as well, but you’ll have to try it and let me know!
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