As a part of Classics Week, Eater Vegas takes a look at some of the restaurants of yore and their impact on restaurants of today. First up, gourmet rooms.
Back before the celebrity chefs set up stakes in Las Vegas, high rollers headed to the gourmet rooms found in every casino. Much like those restaurants, they took you away from the clamor of the slot machines and into a more elegant world.
The UNLV Digital Collection has an entire section devoted to historical menus, including those of the gourmet rooms. Nearly 1,700 images of old menus and a wealth of history can be found there.
The study says that gourmet rooms got their start in the early ’60s, focusing on French cuisine, seafood, Italian dishes or steak. The first, The Sultan’s Table at the Dunes, came before places such as the Delmonico at the Riviera, the Dome of the Sea at the Dunes, the Candlelight Room at the Flamingo, the Regency Room at the Sands, and Le Gourmet Room at the Tropicana. Chefs came from the Ritz in Paris and Savoy in London.
The Sultan’s Table, which opened on March 4, 1961, was the first true gourmet room on the Strip, according to Classic Las Vegas, and at the time, "Diner's Club hailed it as America's finest and most beautiful new restaurant."
The menu here was designed to emulate Paris’ Fouquet with "La Menu Classique du Sultan" and a gold chord securing the menu spine. Renoir's "Moulin de la Galette" was on menu insert. The a la carte menu featured dishes for $7.50 to $24.
Dunes’ owner Major Riddle designed the room after Villa Fontana in Mexico City. Arturo Romero's Magic Violins played and chef Jean Bertraneau came from Beverly Hills. Celebrities including Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton ordered their meals from here.
The Dunes’ other gourmet room was The Dome of the Sea, opened on June 12, 1965. Classic Las Vegas recalls that actor Cary Grant flew in for the opening. Milton M. Schwartz, the architect behind the Dunes’ Diamond of the Desert tower, designed the restaurant that featured seafood and a woman with long, blonde hair who played a golden harp while sitting on a seashell as she rotated in a figure eight in a pond in the center of the restaurant.
While the Flamingo opened the day after Christmas in 1946, Flamingo manager Chester Simms decided to install a gourmet room in 1961, bringing the Candlelight Room with its steaks and live Maine lobsters flown in daily from Boston. That shuttered in the late 1960s during the resort’s renovation.
The Sands’ Regency Room served classic French dishes such as tournedos Rossini, duckling a la orange and steak au poivre. The Delmonico, long before Emeril Lagasse’s restaurant at the Venetian, became the design standard with its biscuit-tufted booths at the Riviera.
But the creme de la creme was the Bacchanal Room, which opened at Caesars Palace when the resort debuted in 1966. "Guidebooks of the period advised visitors to allow at least three hours for the full dining experience at the Bacchanal, which included wine service from toga-clad waitresses." In fact, those goddesses would feed guests grapes, carry wine on their shoulders in carafes and even provide shoulder massages to the weary.
Now Caesars resurrected the name at its Bacchanal Buffet with its cornucopia of food.
Gourmet rooms still exist in Las Vegas. Michael’s Gourmet Room, which opened at the Barbary Coast 33 years ago, moved to South Point and still offers table side service in a red velvet tufted jewelry box of a room. And Downtown, head to Hugo’s Cellar at the Four Queens for that tuxedoed service and a rose handed out as ladies enter.