Recently Miss Debbie and I were downtown taking care of a little traffic court situation and we went to the Golden Gate Casino for some breakfast. While sitting in the diner, I was reflecting on how that used to be one my all time favorite places to go and to tell my tour guests to go for dining and gambling. Then came Derek Stevens and company and the changes he brought. At first I was a bit pissed off at what all he changed but now that the dust settled and he has moved on to other projects, you can see the beauty and the charm of the place has returned…. Almost.
Before I start, I want to be clear, this post is in no way meant to take away from all that Derek Stevens and his brother has brought to downtown Las Vegas and the Fremont Street Experience., I love the new energy and optimism they have generated and see them, Derek mostly, as the new version of Jackie Gaughan or maybe even a modern version of Steve Wynn. No, I am still mad at Derek about other things that I will explain here shortly.
Derek and his brother Greg started building their Las Vegas empire back in 2011. They came from their hometown of Detroit with the family fortune and bought into the minor league baseball team, the Area 51’s. They bought a small stake in the historic Golden Gate Casino, then set their sights on the fading clover of the Fitzgerald’s Casino. Derek is the majority stockholder and Greg the minority. It’s been Derek being the Benny Binion/Steve Wynn of the duo, always in the public eye and always doing something to get the positive attention of the media and the tourists.
The cool thing is that he never really seems to single out his properties in any promotion, he invites you to his places while also inviting you to come see what else is down under the canopy. Figuring it needs to be a joint effort for everyone to succeed downtown. Something you just don’t see too much of anymore.
It wasn’t long before Derek saw the light. He sold their share in the 51’s and plowed everything into buying the Golden Gate. Then onto the Fitzgerald and finally last fall, the Las Vegas Club. The Golden Gate was the first to feel the wrath and the love of Derek.He announced many new changes and upgrades as all new owners do. Trying to get that buzz back downtown and get people to book the rooms and plan to stay in the newest of the oldest. In most cases, this is more talk than it is action.
But Derek took it one step further and announced an expansion of the oldest hotel in Downtown. That sparked some fear in the minds of locals and Vegas lovers. You can’t expand, modernize it all while claiming to want to maintain the charm and the old Vegas flavor that radiates from the Golden Gate. Can You?
Well, Yes and no. They closed the deli bar with the promise of restoring it when done. They went in the back and built out and up. With larger and modern rooms and suites. He closed the famous Bay City Diner and leased the space to a Los Angeles landmark called Du-Par’s Restaurant & Bakery. Of course, that meant no more affordable (cheap) dining and death to a classic downtown experience that many frequent Vegas tourists counted on as part of their excursions to Sin City.
I was one of those who mourned loudly the loss of an institution like the Bay City Diner. It was one of the few reasons I would encourage my tour guests to travel down to the canopy as the Fremont Street Experience started to become home to the dregs of our society and a walled gauntlet of hobos and panhandlers mixed in with a few artists and casino properties.
But I was to be proven partially wrong. Derek and his team were able to maintain a majority of the historical charm the property held while adding a bit of modern conveniences to its offerings. I have never stayed in any of the rooms, (it’s on my to-do list) but from what I have heard directly from guests who have stayed there, the older rooms are still cramped throwbacks to a time when convenience and comfort wasn’t a travelers priority (you were in Vegas to gamble or wait for the train, not sleep). They were described to me to be charming and unusually comfortable for those seeking the nostalgic experience while the new rooms in the rear were up to their modern tastes and expectations of a 21-century traveler.
I have always loved walking through the casino. Thankfully that has not changed. It is a trip through western history with visual aides. The dark woodwork with the fine detailing, the low ceilings, and the table games all give it that 1930’s feel. You see the photos on the wall that are a mix of the 1906 San Fransico earthquake (the original owners were from the Bay area and the hotel opened at the same year as the earthquake). They even have some old room ledgers and the first phone to be installed in Las Vegas was there. (phone number was “Ring 1”). You also have a few photos of Vegas during the Rat Pack era and other moments in Downtown neon history.
Knowing how crappy Du-Par’s is at the Farmers Market in L.A., I was worried when they took over Bay City Diner. In the beginning, they tried to be like the mother-ship; “Hey, Look. We are famous, people love us in L.A. and now we are here. Sit down and be happy we even serve you” was the attitude as they immediately set out to reinvent the place. Again, a business that thinks Las Vegas works just like any other major town gets a rude awakening. This Aint L.A.!!
Now they have closed themselves off from the casino, expanded the seating area past the etched class of the original cafe while maintaining that old look and feel of the original Bay City Diner. The classic red leather booths, the old soda fountain style counter, and the friendly service has also returned. The menu is now all Du-Pars with a more reasonable price structure then they first tried to pass off. The food is actually delicious and well presented with attentive service like before it was Du-Par’s. You can sit down, have a conversation, meet new people next to you and enjoy a meal in relative peace and comfort and not break the bank.
There really isn’t much under the canopy that I can say I enjoy or would encourage me to go down there as often as I used to. But now that peace and sanity has been restored to the Golden Gate, I can say this is one of the reasons you need to go down there and visit. Derek Steven has done downtown Las Vegas proud with his first venture here.
So why am I still mad at Derek Stevens?
It may be silly, but it’s that he took away the 99 cent/$1.99 shrimp cocktail with the promise of bringing it back after all the construction. And hasn’t! That was a “Vegas only” institution! A deal that was talked about world-wide. I loved that offer. Everyone loved that deal. Plus the whole deli bar experience with the piano man just made you want to go downtown and want to go to the Golden Gate specifically. It was the shrimp cocktail at the Golden Gate and the deep fried Oreos at Mermaids that my guests always raved about on the bus back to their hotels after my night tours!
Otherwise! Love what He Has done to the place and look forward to one day staying there just to say I was there (I’m strange like that!) plus seeing what he has planned for the old Las Vegas club…