It’s 6 p.m. on a Wednesday night and already Hugo’s Cellar at the Four Queens is gearing up for a busy night. The restaurant remains one of the old vestiges of the gourmet room days of Las Vegas dining. Table side service is a must when ordering here, mainly for the show, the flairs of fire, the dance of making a salad, the pageantry of a banana’s Foster, all created by tuxedoed waiters.
This is a restaurant that doesn’t change, standing still in time with its low ceilings lit with Tiffany lamps with roses on them and banker’s lights. Maybe the booths get reupholstered. The menu doesn’t budge. Every dinner comes with a salad and dessert. Every woman gets a rose. Every employee has been here an average of 20 years.
When Terry Caudill took over the Four Queens three years ago, he said he would close the restaurant before he would change it.
Hugo’s opened in 1973 as Hugo’s Rotisserie, part of the Hyatt chain. The hotel changed hands but the name Hugo’s remained. Note: Don’t ask manager Richard Assalone if he’s Hugo; he’ll seat you on the loading docks.
Slip into one of the seats at the bar and Dean Erickson, who’s been behind the bar for 18 years, will ask what mood you’re in and prepare a cocktail to match. A Grey Goose martini comes with an extra pour waiting in an ice-filled vessel. Want bleu cheese in those olives? They’re stuffed at the bar.
Chicken liver pate and smoked cheddar with bacon and pimentos appear to go with the crackers sitting on the bar.
"I used to get free drinks. When I sell three, I get one free," says Victor Hutchings, a fixture who’s been at Hugo’s Cellar for 38 years. Ask for him for the best show with your dinner.
Jon Simmons, the sommelier of Hugo’s for the past 30 years, stands behind the bar too, wearing a silver Tastevon. When he started, the city only had three sommeliers. He’s grown the wine list from 20 to 30 to more than 400.
Ready for dinner? Walk over to Assalone, who hands out a rose to every woman who enters. Walk through the low-slung ceilings to tables where every dish is a show. That rose goes in a vase on the table.
Out rolls the salad cart for a dish prepared table side. Hutchings runs through the ingredients — artichokes, hearts of palm, pine nuts, tomatoes. He’ll toss in whatever you want. For dressings, creamy Caesars, peppercorn and an orange honey vinaigrette. He’ll mix all three together if you want. "Do we have a winner?"
Next it’s the duckling anise flambé, again served table side. Rashard Miller went to culinary school just to learn how to cook dishes in front of guests, he says as he makes a mandarin orange sauce with VSOP cognac for that fire effect.
In between courses, a lemon sorbet as a palate cleanser, then hand towels.
Out rolls the dessert tray, decked out with figs covered in white chocolate and dried apricots and strawberries in dark chocolate.
Then it’s banana’s Foster, a dish made famous by Brennan's in New Orleans. Here it’s a show in itself with butter sautéed in a pan table side followed by brown sugar and the bananas. A little Captain Morgan and cinnamon caramelizes and goes into a goblet of vanilla ice cream. When you ask Hutchings where he learned how to cook table side, he says, "My pop showed me."