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José Martel on 32 Years of Michael's Gourmet Room

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Jose Martel
Jose Martel
Cal Bingham

Welcome to a special The Five Days of Meat edition of Lifers, a feature in which Eater Vegas interviews the men and women who have worked in the restaurant and bar industry for the better part of their lives, sharing their stories and more.

Think back to the 1950s when every casino rushed to open a gourmet room, their version of a high-end restaurant that offered much more than a coffee shop or steakhouse. The Flamingo opened the Candlelight Room with steaks and Maine lobsters flown in daily. Bacchanal at Caesars Palace was ushered in by Nat Hart, who became a local celebrity chef with his cooking schools. And then came Michael's Gourmet Room, opening in the former Barbary Coast in 1982. José Martel came on board a year and a half later as a waiter to give the gourmet room an elegant touch. Now the Vegas legend has a home at South Point, where it opened seven years ago appointed in rich red velvets that give this jewelry box of a restaurant with 50 seats a romantic vibe. Here, step back in time as Martel, now the maître d' of the restaurant, talks about what it's like to dine at Michael's Gourmet Room with its his and hers menus, its elegant table side service and what keeps the restaurant going strong.

Can you tell me about the history of Michaels?
Michael's opened in 1982. I came a year and a half after Michael's opened. When it opened at Barbary Coast, it was not as busy as anticipated. But word got out pretty quickly. Barbary Coast would get a lot of high rollers from the other properties. The pit bosses would ask, "Would you like to try our new restaurant, Michael's?"

A gourmet room is different. What makes us stand apart from the other gourmet restaurants is that we don't do volume. Other restaurants are a cattle run where everything is prepared to the hour. Here it's like an hour and 45 minutes to two hours for dining. We have table side service salads. We have a tuxedoed captain, two waiters and a bus boy for every five tables. We have 15 tables here.

We have his and her menus. Chivalry is alive and well at Michael's. That's what a gourmet room is to us. You go to the restroom and you get a new napkin. There's constant supervision, constant attention to details. I'm always watching from the steps. We have a captain when it's busy. Our chef been with us since the beginning. He was the No. 1 hire. He's been here 31 years. His assistant, the broiler cooks and pantry people have been here many years. We want you to feel that passion to make sure that when you leave, you had the most fantastic meal you ever had don't want to wait to come back.

How do you remain one of the hottest restaurants in Vegas?
The service, the food, the ambiance, the familiarity with the people. All our regulars, I seat them in the same table all the time so it feels nice and comfortable.

Why is this such a locals' favorite?
The romantic view of it. That's why Valentine's Day is such a hard ticket.

We're not hovering over you with service, but there's always someone within eyesight try to anticipate what your request will be.

What percentage of your guests are locals?
Our here at the South Point, we have 85 percent local. Compared to Barbary Coast, where it was more like 15 to 20 percent. I don't go to the Strip unless I have out of towners. We have new customers from MacDonald Ranch and Southern Highlands.

What changes have you made over the years.
Never. Change? That word doesn't exist here at Michael's. We are so predictable that it's boring in a way.

So, what's the busiest time right now?
The busiest time is November through May. Summertime slows down. Fridays and Saturdays are always busy.
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Michael's Gourmet Room

9777 South Las Vegas Boulevard, , NV 89183 (702) 796-7111 Visit Website

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