During the Rat Pack era, on any given night, you’d probably find Frank Sinatra there sipping a blended Scotch whisky and serenading patrons. He and his pals Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop made it one of their go-to places for dinner, drinks and a little debauchery. As time went on, visitors changed but the restaurant kept its charm.
Golden Steer valet Sal DeFilippo describes the iconic restaurant in the ’90s as “lots of tuxedos and high-end cars and usually at least one celebrity. … B.B. King loved it there. He would let me valet the car and say, ‘Do what you want with the car. My guitar is my baby.’”
That unique feeling of familiarity and awe is what continues to define the beloved Vegas steak house and Italian eatery. But where does it come from?
Gino Ferraro, owner of Ferraro’s Italian Restaurant and Wine Bar says, “You’re recognized when you come through the door at Ferraro’s. I believe that restaurants like mine have to give that whole experience. Not just great food or great service, but you have to give them the whole package. … That’s why people have been coming back for 31 years.”
As Ferraro says, the key ingredient is passion. “You don’t teach passion. You don’t learn passion. You are born with passion.”
The Rat Pack-style spirit of the “old Vegas” lives on at places like The Bootlegger Bistro, Golden Steer, and Ferraro’s Italian Restaurant and Wine Bar. But they aren’t the only places that you can get your fix. Piero’s Italian Cuisine, featured in the movie Casino, became another stomping ground for Rat Pack types and politicians in the ’80s. With it, places like Chicago Joe’s and The Steak House in Circus Circus have all made their way through history and carry with them the stories of the past.
A DASH OF DASHING: GOURMET ROOMS
Once, “gourmet room” meant white tablecloths, dinner shows, tuxedos, ball gowns, chandeliers and multicourse meals served by waiters who felt more like butlers.
This era in dining started in the 1960s when an increasing number of eyes on Las Vegas woke the entrepreneurial spirit of a couple dreamers.
A lot of people agree that Major A. Riddle brought gourmet rooms to the Strip in 1961. Riddle knew how to create a buzz. He started by inviting 6,700 locals to the Dunes’ grand re-opening in 1956 for free food and dancing. Next, he scheduled Minsky’s Follies, a risqué showgirl act, for a run in the showroom.
Not surprisingly, his gourmet room, The Sultan’s Table, attracted similar attention. It was recognized on Esquire magazine’s “Gourmet Feast” list in 1965. And called “America’s finest and most beautiful new restaurant” by the Diner’s Club. Beautiful, indeed. Eloquent music. Elegant décor. And chef Jean Bertraneau’s food attracted celebs like Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. They enjoyed entrées with names as sophisticated as their table settings: “Paupiette of Filet of Sole Marguery,” “Long Island Duckling à l’Orange,” “Prime Filet Mignon aux Champignons,” and “Medallion of Veal à la Sultan.”
Unfortunately, this isn’t one you can still visit. The last meal at The Sultan’s Table was on January 26, 1993, when the employees were invited to enjoy a free prime rib dinner before Dunes closed for good.
In 1966, Jay Sarno became Caesar of the Strip. He was the mastermind behind Caesars Palace.
Sarno’s fantasy for a royal empire included greetings by Cleopatra, Roman décor, palm leaves fans, massages from goddesses, and other, you know, general royal treatment. Entertainment was at every twist and turn of the property. And that extended to the culinary experience.
“When Caesars initially opened, it was where every man could feel like a Caesar … you could just walk into the restaurant and get amazing food. … In its Bacchanal Room (gourmet room), there was a menu, but you could order anything,” says editor-in-chief at Wendoh Media and author of many articles on Caesars Palace, Melinda Sheckells.
At the time, entertainment attracted people to Vegas. Not food. So how do you get people into your fancy restaurant? Usually, a dinner show would suffice. But Sarno dreamed up something else.
“There was a long-standing rumor that, originally, Jay Sarno wanted to have a piranha pond in the middle of the restaurant. So the bussers could empty the food into the pond and the piranhas would eat it and it would become part of the show. The food was the spectacle, but a great way to keep the customers happy, to offer them something extra special,” says Sheckells.
Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. Luckily, the royal treatment was enough to attract a significant crowd. Gourmet rooms existed elsewhere too. Pamplemousse Le Restaurant is a great example that you can still visit today. But what really struck a timeless chord is the idea from Sarno’s Bacchanal Room at Caesars Palace that we can all be royalty. With this, he helped transform the perception of the city − from a gritty, Wild West town, to a more refined, cosmopolitan destination.