Welcome to The Gatekeepers, a monthly feature in which Eater roams the city meeting the fine ladies and gentlemen that stand between you and some of your favorite tough-to-get tables.
Brad Brown manages one of the top grossing steakhouses in Vegas. It’s a debate whether SW Steakhouse, his baby at Wynn Las Vegas, or STK at Cosmopolitan of Vegas holds the top spot. Brown comes to Vegas by way of Lubbock, Texas, where he was born and raised. Sixteen years ago, he made the moved to Vegas, where he opened Gallagher’s Steakhouse at New York-New York, then Circo at Bellagio and Delmonico Steakhouse at the Venetian before he landed at Wynn Las Vegas. There he came on board as a manager and maitre’d seven years ago at SW before becoming the general manager of Botero at Encore Las Vegas, then Lakeside in 2011 and now general manager of SW. Here he shares some of the secrets to getting a table at the hot steakhouse.
So, what’s the busiest time right now?
Right now, during the summer, the busiest time is between 9:30 and 10 p.m. With sunset not happening until 8:30 p.m., many people don’t like a steak dinner before they go to the show or whatever event they also might have planned for the evening. During the winter, it changes with sunset happening around 5:30 p.m., so 6 p.m. and 7:30 are my busiest times.
As one of the hottest restaurants in Las Vegas, you’ve surely been offered gifts or cash in exchange for reservations or a table. What have people tried?
Honestly? They’ve tried everything! I’ve been offered stacks of casino chips, cash, etc. for tables. I’ve seen what happens when you try to navigate that slippery slope. We don’t sell tables or reservations. We try to help as many people as we can?but bribes at the door don’t work. In fact, they usually will guarantee you DON’T get a table.
Tell us about your favorite customers.
Hmmmm?we have a huge number of repeat guests from all over the country and all over the world. I love them all. I love anyone who appreciates what we do and takes the time and effort to come join us over and over again. I love meeting new people too and I love introducing new people to what we do and who we are. We are unique in all the world in what we do, so those customers that come in with an open mind and open hearts are my favorite. People that come to have a good time and enjoy their experience.
How about celebrities?
We are the signature restaurant in one of the most incredible hotel/casinos in the world?and one of the hardest reservations to get. It would not be farfetched to say that celebrities are visible on any given evening. That being said, we treat them like normal people and strongly discourage other guests from interfering with their dining experience. We believe that they are normal people and treat them as such and we feel it’s important that they can enjoy their meal as they see fit.
How do you deal with VIP’s when there are no tables to give?
LOL, good question. That being said, there are ALWAYS tables to give within a few minutes. Part of being good at what you do and being successful in an environment like this is knowing how to seat the room so that there’s always something about to happen and free up. Sometimes a little patience might be required or a quick cocktail at the bar, but luckily we are only a part of people’s plans on a typical Vegas evening?someone always has somewhere else to be, so tables are always coming available.
How often does Mr. Wynn come in to dine?
It’s his name on the door! So we see him on a regular basis. He has his favorite dishes and favorite areas to sit based on who he’s dining with and what type of night its going to be for him, business or pleasure.
So, what’s the strangest request that you’ve accommodated at SW Steakhouse?
Honestly?I probably can’t answer that question. Anyone in the business knows that the top destination restaurants get all kinds of requests, from the ridiculous to the sublime. It’s just part of the business?after a while, there’s nothing really crazy anymore. We have some of the top gamblers in the world come through the door?most of them have something specific that they want/need or can’t possibly have. All that being said, it’s not a circus?we are still a fine dining restaurant and we won’t turn other peoples dining experience into a negative experience.
Do you ever get any requests for vegetarian dishes here at SW? How do you accommodate them?
It’s funny?but we would argue that we have the best vegan and vegetarian menu on property. As a steakhouse, you probably wouldn’t expect that. We have a menu specifically catering to vegan and vegetarian diners and it’s actually part of our regular menu, so anyone can try items from that menu. Two of the menu items on the vegan and vegetarian menu are two of my favorite dishes we currently serve.
What’s the most popular dish right now?
Well, we are a steakhouse?so the filet mignon is always the most popular. That being said, four of our top five sellers are cuts of beef, with the scallops dish in the mix also.
So when you’re not at SW Steakhouse, where are you eating these days?
I love to cook and we have some great farmers’ markets here that have come to town recently. There’s one downtown that the chefs and managers all head toward on Friday mornings. Downtown 3rd I think it’s called. When I do go out, I go for things I can’t cook easily at home. I love great Thai food. Archi’s is one of my favorites. It’s BYOB, but mom still cooks at one of them and it’s great. I love Indian food and Samosa Factory is my favorite in town. Mexican is probably Mundo at the World Market Center. I love “hole in the wall” places and mom and pop restaurants.
What’s the must-order dish at SW?
I’d start with the tomato salad right now. The heirloom tomatoes are amazing during this time of year. The New York steak is my personal favorite cut at this restaurant because the chef does an incredible job with the char and seasoning. I’d have the creamed corn as a side and the funnel cakes as the dessert. Those are probably all of our most popular dishes. If you prefer seafood or shellfish, the scallops are incredible.
Were there any reviews that led to significant bump in service, or a change to the type of clientele?
Not really. I read Yelp religiously. We check most of the online review sites on a regular basis to see trends in dishes people like and dislike, or general feedback. Forbes is important to us, and we get reviewed by independent companies that let us know how we are doing based on certain standards. We were recently the No. 2 rated restaurant in Las Vegas for Trip Advisor behind Le Cirque and made the Eater 38!
At the end of the day, what’s the one Gatekeeper tool you need to get the job done?
I’m not sure there is just ONE tool. You have to be able to do a little of everything. We are psychologists, engineers, crisis management, leaders and entrepreneurs. You have to be able to multi-task and stay calm. Quick decisions are a must. They won’t always be the correct decision, we all make mistakes, but you have to be able to think on your feet and always smile — no matter what. Everyone is watching you, staff and customers alike. They all feed on the energy, excitement, professionalism that you bring to the room.
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Brad Brown [Photo: Chelsea McManus]