Sunday, Oct. 21, 2012 | 12:21 p.m.
Because of PT’s, I was introduced to Roberto’s Taco Shops.
That development alone is enough to celebrate the anniversary of PT’s. The city’s ubiquitous tavern brand turns 30 this month, having opened its first Las Vegas outpost on Palm Street on the east side of town, near the point where St. Louis Avenue turns into Palm Street, in October 1982 (that business today operates independently as BT’s Pub).
By the mid-1990s, PT’s was known as a place to hang out and quaff beer and shoot pool and lose track of time. They were usually tucked conveniently into strip malls and often shared a wall with a Roberto’s Taco Shop. Through a sliding window, one could order authentic Mexican food prepared in the time it took to chalk a cue.
In those days, PT’s was owned by Phil and Tom Boeckle. I knew many bartenders who worked for Phil and Tom. Too many to be deemed healthy, as it turned out. But the first time I ever watched a UFC bout was on a VCR at a PT’s on West Sahara, and I’m certain that back then I shot more pool at PT’s than anywhere in the city. A few days ago, I happened to visit the Neon Museum in advance of its opening this week and looked up at the tall, brown-haired guy holding a pool cue and wearing jeans and a long-sleeved Hawaiian shirt. That artifice looks like me at PT’s in 1997.
Over time, PT’s would evolve, in pure numbers and in its corporate identity.
In spring 2002, Phil and Tom (along with their 50 percent partners, Canadian investment firm Revenue Revenue Properties Co.) sold their 23 PT’s locations to Golden Gaming founder Blake Sartini. At that point, PT’s began an image makeover — or maybe enhancement is a more fitting term — as Sartini began to broaden the company’s targeted customer base to what today is a chain of more than 40 taverns and restaurants.
As he moved to purchase the PT’s owned by Phil and Tom, Sartini reviewed prototypes for a pair of PT’s taverns the company officials had drawn up. These plans were for a “new tavern experience,” to use the company jargon you and I would apply to “fancier bars.” One was on South Decatur and the other in Silverado Ranch.
“When we saw the opportunity for a purchase of PT’s, it was the largest traditional tavern brand in the valley,” Sartini said in a phone conversation last week. “It was a natural move for us, from that perspective. It was a purely local model for us, and I’d seen these prototypes that I liked. They were for taverns that were a little larger and higher-end in terms of design.”
Sartini kept the PT’s brand, readily recognizable across the valley, and refined the company’s image and enlarged its scope. Beginning with PT’s Gold on Hualapai and Twain, Golden Gaming focused on sprucing up the taverns and managing the kitchens themselves. The new PT’s would be more, shall we say, inventively conceived than pool clubs linked to quick-serve restaurants.
The original concept of a simple neighborhood tavern blossomed into PT’s Gold and, later, PT’s Place and Sierra Gold, bars and restaurants. For starters, Sartini hired the company that painted the sky-scape ceilings at the Forum Shops at Caesars to work on the new, higher overhead designs.
“We started work on unique bars and back bars, unique artwork,” Sartini said. “In the process, PT’s Gold became casually upscale.”
The company took control of its menu, building kitchens into the new taverns, and the locations were no longer wedged into available strip-mall spaces. That is the most obvious method of distinguishing the more recent PT’s taverns from the original bars Sartini snapped up a decade ago.
“The nuance of the brand might not be initially recognized by consumers,” Sartini said. “As we have marketed PT’s Gold, PT’s Places and Sierra Gold, we have focused on unique menu items (in the original PT’s, you would not be able to sit at a booth and order Mardi Gras chicken or an Ortega turkey melt). Probably the most noticeable change is our locations were different. PT’s Gold brands are freestanding, not inline and in shopping centers.”
Video poker machines are still lined up at the bar, as Golden Gaming also is the state’s largest slot operator.
PT’s continues to expand, and a new tavern to be named PT’s Ranch has opened at South Eastern Avenue and East Pebble Road. This is the first of four PT’s Ranch taverns planned to open in four quadrants across the valley.
It was formerly occupied by a Roadrunner Saloon. Sartini plans for a modern Western concept. The tavern already is Western-themed, and Sartini is quick to tie his business’s image with that of his home state.
“We want to work on a real Nevada design, a Western design, and have flat-screen TVs and a private meeting room,” Sartini said. “It will have a real modern feel.”
And if you want that old, original PT’s Pub feel, there are plenty of those taverns still operating around town, too. As we say, call your shot.