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October 16, 2017

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Celebrity diners, traditional atmosphere, classic food are common ingredients at Las Vegas’ oldest restaurants


Christopher DeVargas

A view inside Golden Steer, 308 W. Sahara Ave., just west of the Las Vegas Strip on Sunday, March 23, 2012.

If given the voices, the wood-paneled walls at The Golden Steer probably would reminisce like tuxedoed waiter Fernando Camacho does, sharing stories about the steakhouse’s famous patrons, including Elvis Presley, Muhammad Ali and Tony Spilotro.

The restaurant at 308 W. Sahara is one of Las Vegas’ longest-running restaurants and remains a pocket of preserved Las Vegas history. Red velvet chairs wait tucked under tables displaying elegantly set dining ware.

The Golden Steer was established in 1958. Not much has changed there in 54 years, and for good reason.

“This place means something to people,” said Camacho, who has been at The Golden Steer since 1979. “They know they are going to get the same service and the same wonderful meal they got years ago.”

The menu, the décor and even the wait staff have not changed much since Joe Kludjian bought the joint in 1960. Kludjian owned the restaurant until he died in 2006 at age 81.

“He worked so hard,” said Camacho, adding that Kludijan left behind employees who take pride in their service, food and professionalism.

The combination seems to have struck an everlasting note, luring the return of celebrities and locals alike.

Strip stand-alone restaurant The Peppermill, with its glowing neon lights, also has attracted stars and others through the years.

Jerry Lewis, Frank Sinatra and Debbie Reynolds are just a handful of celebrities who’ve stopped in the 24-hour eatery that opened at 2985 Las Vegas Blvd. South on Dec. 26, 1972.

Assistant Manager Martha Montague, who started out 40 years ago as a waitress at The Peppermill, attributes the restaurant’s longevity to large portions, friendly service and a few special attributes.

“The girls wear short skirts; I’m sure that has a lot to do with it,” she said.

Click to enlarge photo

The Peppermill in Las Vegas on Friday, March 23, 2012.

Tourists — straight off the plane — head to Peppermill, as do late-night clubbers looking for a midnight (or later) snack like Peppermill’s fruit salad or a mixed drink at the lounge, Montague said.

“People have so many memories of this place,” Montague said.

A sense of nostalgia seems to simmer at every longstanding restaurant that has stood the test of time in Las Vegas, a city constantly redeveloping itself.

“Anyone who knows Las Vegas has known of the Ranch House,” said Jeff Special, owner of Bob Taylor’s Original Ranch House, 6250 Rio Vista St. It’s a 57-year-old steakhouse that’s remained fixed in a developing area of the valley.

“It’s one of those local niches,” he said. “I believe it’s the oldest-existing restaurant in Las Vegas.”

Bob and Ila Taylor were the original owners and opened the restaurant in a converted ranch house.

Special said the location was once regarded as being in the middle of nowhere. But over time, the city developed around it and a residential neighborhood emerged near it.

Special bought the restaurant in 1980.

“It’s been a locals’ place forever,” Special said. “It’s homey, comfortable and rustic.”

The smoked prime rib is a favorite among customers, who continue to bring family members and friends to a place to relive memories of camping trips and cabin stays.

Reliving memories is a common bond among loyal customers at the city’s oldest restaurants.

“It brings back memories that this was the place to go,” said Camacho, remembering a time when an elderly gentlemen had started weeping while smoking his cigar inside The Golden Steer.

When Camacho asked what was the matter, the man had told Comacho his father would bring him to The Golden Steer when he was alive. For that customer, Camacho said, “it’s a place to say goodbye to him.”

Newer restaurant patrons are starting to emerge, hoping to make their own memories by sitting in the shadows of the past.

At The Golden Steer, guests often will ask to sit in Elvis’ booth, and some now ask for Muhammad Ali’s booth.

There was a time when The Golden Steer even reserved a room for members of the mafia.

“Anybody who was anybody was there,” said Camacho, adding that lawyers, politicians, families, movie stars and athletes still find their way to the Golden Steer.

Camacho reeled through a list of celebrity customers, including boxer Floyd Mayweather, actress Jennifer Love Hewitt, baseball star Joe DiMaggio and race car driver Mario Andretti.

“When I was a busboy I saw Dean Martin,” Camacho said.

The Golden Steer wait staff is accustomed to high-profile guests.

Part of the 1995 movie “Casino,” starring Robert De Niro and Sharon Stone, was filmed in the restaurant.

In February, when Ali was in town for his 70th birthday celebration, the former boxing champ feasted on chicken soup, a specially requested dish.

“He tasted it,” Camacho said. “It was so good.”

The steakhouse, though, is void of celebrity memorabilia. No signed photos hang on the wall.

“They can come relax and nobody’s gonna bother them,” Camacho said. “They like to have their privacy.”

A longtime staff seems to be another ingredient for a restaurant’s longevity in Las Vegas.

The Golden Steer staff has about 10 waiters and about 15 people working in the kitchen. In the past 20 years, the restaurant has hired one new waiter, and that was five years ago.

“It’s never going to be the way it was,” said Camacho, comparing business to the early ’80s when between 300 to 500 meals were served on a good night.

But word of the celebrity guests, uniquely traditional atmosphere and classic food dishes continues to drive customers to stop by.

“It’s Old Vegas,” he said. “It’s like a museum.”

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