Welcome to Las Vegas Cracker Barrel!

The first of two Cracker Barrel Resturants in Las Vegas opened its doors today to a small crowd who braved the heat.  Situated at the end of the parking area, just down from the Bass Pro Shops at the Silverton Casino, sits the 10,000 square foot store, slash country store.  Popular in the south with 639 locations in 43 states.  For us in Las Vegas, the nearest Cracker Barrel was either in Kingman, Arizona or St George, UT.  Both about a 90-minute drive from here.

The second Cracker Barrel restaurant that I was told would open at the same time, will instead open in September in North Las Vegas. Many of us transplants have been waiting a long time and was getting tired of that drive to other locations for a fresh plate of Chicken and Dumplings or their hash brown casserole.  Now they are just a little drive down the road from the Strip!

90 minute wait for a table at cracker barrel Las Vegas

Playing checkers, waiting for a table

I stopped by at about 4pm to see what the line was like. The place was filled with a 90-minute wait. Most people didn’t seem to mind as they relaxed on the front deck, kicking back in wooden rocking chairs that you could also buy for 20% off.  A few kids also occupied the over sized checkerboard tables.

If you are curious to know what all the fuss is about, the address is 3333 Blue Diamond Road.  Just look for the Silverton Casino off the 215 and Blue Diamond.  The store is open 6am-10pm Sunday – Thursday and 6am to 11pm Friday and Saturday.

I’m Still Mad at Derek Stevens


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.
Gambling at the Golden Gate in Las Vegas
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.

Golden Gate Slot Machines

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.

No More Bay City Diner

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…









Gilley’s is now open!

Phil Ruffin welcomes you to Gilley's

Phil Ruffin welcomes you to the new Gilley’s

Back in 1998, Phil Ruffin wandered into Las Vegas and plunked down $100 million for the New Frontier hotel and casino.   Ten years later he sold most of the property and the hotel for over $1 Billion and left town, smiling all the way.

The biggest concern most people had with the transaction was “What about Gilley’s?”  The famous countrified Honky-Tonk inside the old place.  What about the Gilley Girls and the riding bull?  Where will the cowboys be, come PBR and NFR?

Well, when the city hit the skids and MGM management was dumpster diving, trying to find cash in every seat cushion, plastic bottle return deposit and coin slot they could, Phil came back with cash in hand and an idea.

The Treasure Island could be had for a song and just the right amount of cash that Phil happened to be dangling.  MGM kissed the pirate show good-bye and Phil went on a remodeling spree.

Now all is well with the cowboys, buckle bunnies and wanna-be Bull Riders.  Phil opened Gilley’s front and center of the place.  Literally front and center.  Right next to the pirate show.  He even put a front porch out there so you could see the pirates and his girls.

Phil is never one to miss an opportunity to show off HIS place… he invited the boys from the PBR over to the new 22,000 square foot digs and introduce them back to the Gilley’s Girls and to let the world know he is back in business.

Gillies is open in Las Vegas

PBR Founding member and President Ty Murray

Sometimes its nice to be a cowboy!

111: Things from the Strip. NASCAR, NFR, Garth & More

The Grind the best Gourmet Hamburgers and naked juicy lucy

The year is quickly coming to an end and Las Vegas always slows down for a few weeks. But Not Before NASCAR, NFR and Garth Brooks hit the Strip. Plus that big white elephant, City Center opens.

Links and Notes from this Podcast

  • A Cruise to Die For. Dennis Griffin
    Look for more notes to come.
  • The Grind, gourmet burger bar
    Great food for a price. Good marketing??
  • Vegas has Cheap Rooms
    They keep dropping.
  • Sazzy shoots NASCAR on the Strip
  • NASCAR Party Overview.
    Great time for this new fan friendly event
  • Garth Brooks opens in Las Vegas
    Looks like a new style show is coming