A painful trip to Las Vegas.
If you read the news, you have heard about how hard hit Las Vegas has been by the Credit Crisis. But you don’t really know how bad it is from home. Sure we have restaurant closings and California has them, but the bulk of the closings are marginal operators, a nice way of saying its mostly the weak places that are being weeded out. A healthy culinary thinning of the herd.
On my recent trip, yesterday, Las Vegas’ plight became a personal culinary calamity written on the streets and in the shuttered kitchens of Vegas! Baby, whole blocks and shopping centers were vacant. Strong chain outlets were gone, strong local operators were gone. Casino sponsored vanity restaurants were gone. Three of the big losses I found in the Summerlin suburb of Las Vegas hit me hard and personally.
In the “Go-Go” days the Restaurant Hannah was in Summerlin. Located in Boca Park, at Fort Apache and Charleston Blvd, Hannah was owned by the sister of the family that owns Crustacean in Beverly Hills & San Francisco. More importantly, they had see through acquarium floors, great buzz and “those” noodles. It was a fun, upscale, fusion dining amusement park. R.I.P. Hannah.
The biggest emotional punch in the stomach I’ve had in a few years was the absense of the Salt Lick Restaurant at the Red Rock Casino, an outpost restaurant surely but an outpost (only 4 hours away) of what in my mind is the best BBQ joint in the country. The Las Vegas location, captured the roadhouse feel, and after some opening week kinks, served some real Salt Lick quality BBQ. I guess the remaining locals did not appreciate the gem they had. I expect they wanted BBQ slathered in KC Masterpiece sauce, served in a chain’s, faux folksy, country atmosphere. Sure Las Vegas is not a BBQ town, I get that, but I am a bit peeved (it may be the grief talking) that the number one BBQ place, according to Urban Spoon, in Las Vegas is a Lucille’s chain outlet and the second is a Famous Dave’s chain outlet. I like Lucille’s and dislike Famous Dave’s but come on Las Vegas couldn’t you have had some originality and flair in your BBQ and spared a beauty like Salt Lick?
I am feeling raw. Sure I am adult enough to put two and two together. I knew that Station Gaming was having trouble. If asked, I could have predicted that the locals, the Red Rock Casino’s mainstay, wouldn’t support fine Texas BBQ, especially with the added financial strain of the financial crisis. Vegas has the same problem with BBQ as New York does. Everyone dreams BBQ but in a cosmopolitan melting pot, drawing from so many regions they all dream in different colors of smoke and different colors and styles of sauce. I knew this but still the optimisitic kid in me dared to deny the facts, to dream of the Salt Lick Las Vegas cooking away just a 4 hour drive from home.
Now, that dream is dashed. There is a ”Yard House” sign over the former Salt Lick of my BBQ dreams. It hurts. I can afford another lost slice of innocence & optimisim, like I can afford losig blood. I can barely write.
Parked slewed in the lot, I stared slack jawed, as though at Frankenstein’s Monster. A brew house sewn into that casino backed temple of BBQ. Say it isn’t so, Joe. Clinging to optimism like a life line I pulled out the Smart Phone and surfed desperately for the rumored second location at Santa Fe, Station. Thank goodness it was still in Google. Hoping beyond hope, I dialed and got the hotel operator. Location 2 had not been spared.
I couldn’t even go into Red Rock to say my good bye’s. I have to admit it was too much for me.