Las Vegas Sun

November 17, 2019

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End of an era: Auction closes book on The Green Shack

If the crowd that packed The Green Shack restaurant for its liquidation auction Monday had showed up there more frequently for dinner, the historic eatery might have survived into the 21st century.

"A lawyer called me the other day and said 'I didn't know you guys went broke, what happened?' " said Jim McCormick, a lifelong Las Vegan who in late May closed the restaurant his family had operated for 69 years. "I told him 'It's because you haven't come here to eat since 1960.' "

More than 300 people were on hand for the auction at the tiny, pale green stucco supper club at 2504 E. Fremont St. McCormick declined to say how much was raised by the auction, conducted by J.D. Watson.

As items like 70-year-old cast-iron skillets, 15 tables acquired from the old Hoover Dam Commissary in 1934 and about 300 other fixtures went on the auction block, McCormick talked philosophically of The Green Shack's demise.

"This is not just a restaurant going out of business, this is a death -- a death of a Las Vegas landmark," McCormick, 59, said of the restaurant his great aunt Jimmie Jones and her mother, Effie, opened on Christmas Eve 1929.

Those on hand for the auction included a number of longtime Las Vegans who were heartbroken over the end of an era in Las Vegas dining.

"It is the loss of our history and a part of our community," said Kerin Rodgers, a Las Vegas resident for 36 years. "I used to eat here all the time. It is a shame that something couldn't be done to save this place."

Nancy Lamb, ex-wife of former state senator Floyd Lamb, said she too was a regular patron of The Green Shack and noted that all of the town's elite used to gather there regularly.

"If the walls of the bar could talk I would bid a million dollars for them," Lamb, a Las Vegas resident of 35 years, said.

Both Lamb and Rodgers said their favorite Green Shack dish was chicken livers.

Others attended the auction to grab a piece of history. Wally Bellows, a Las Vegas resident of 20 years, had the honor of winning Lot No. 1, a pair of rusty ore carts for $500 plus 10 percent commission and 7 percent sales tax.

"These carts actually were used to mine the Potosi Mines," Bellows said. "They date back to the early 1900s and they have long stood in front of The Green Shack. So there is a lot of history there."

Originally called The Colorado, The Green Shack sold fried chicken and bootleg booze to construction workers en route to the Hoover Dam project.

Jones' recipes were used at the Green Shack for seven decades -- right down to the lard in which the chicken was fried. For more than half a century, the butter bacon biscuit dough was mixed in the same huge tin bowl by the restaurant's food preparers, including longtime cook Ma Casey.

McCormick said the business, also known for its steak and battered-fried shrimp dishes, has lost money the last three years.

"My wife Barbara and I are just tired," he said. "We are retiring. It's sad for us because The Green Shack has been a part of our family for so long."

The building was not auctioned Monday, but instead will be sold through a real estate agent.

McCormick, a member of Bishop Gorman's first graduating class in 1957, said whoever buys the building, which was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1994, gets the right to use The Green Shack name.

Prior to the auction, McCormick sold the liquor license for $65,000.

A second auction will be held, possibly in October, to sell the restaurant's antique Christmas tree ornaments that were admired by generations of locals and visitors.

The Green Shack, which featured a hitching post outside its front door, stood for most of the 20th century as one of the town's more charming eateries and an important link to Las Vegas' colorful past.

It was listed in issues of "Gourmet" magazine. Mobster Bugsy Siegel ate there regularly while his Flamingo Hotel was being built.

The Green Shack long kept much of its old charm, including horseshoe exterior decorations; a Rockola jukebox that played Frank Sinatra, Liberace and Dean Martin -- all longtime Green Shack patrons; and hand-sewn lace window curtains.

Jimmie Jones came to Las Vegas from California in the late 1920s after her husband died. As construction on the Boulder Dam began, Jones saw the potential for a restaurant that would cater to the workers.

In 1932 she bought a barracks from the Union Pacific Railroad, which she said looked "like a damned old green shack." The barracks formed the bulk of the dining room. A year later, Prohibition ended and Jimmie added the bar.

After Jimmie died in 1967, her nephew, Frank McCormick -- Jim McCormick's father -- took over. When he died three months later, the business was left to his wife, Elaine.

Jim and Barbara McCormick took over the restaurant in 1985, the year Elaine died, and ran it until it closed.

The McCormicks long maintained that The Green Shack under their management was Las Vegas' oldest and best kept secret, mainly because it failed to bring in the crowds of its glory days.