Opinions of Gastro Pubs by Major Chefs by John Curtas
As one who joined the comments section of the Curtas article, some of the ideas can be kicked around here. And it can start with a pretty basic point - Las Vegas is not Manhattan. Now if we could get the property owners and restauranteurs to repeat that out loud three times we might be able to get somewhere.
Las Vegas was not Manhattan in the 60's, 70's, 80's or most of the 90's. But when that "Boom" period set in for about a decade or so, senses of proportion got lost - on the Strip you could throw almost anything against the wall and it would stick. That was a crest of a wave that so many got swept up in, and there perhaps is not a better example of the failure to grasp the true realities than the fact that MGM Grand and Caesar's combined are now carrying debt loads of more than $40 billion. One shudders to think where the Wynn and Adelson bottom lines would be right now if not for Macau.
The celebrity chef explosion came right around the same time of that boom, and now many of them are now caught in the same ringer. There was an audience for about a decade that paid very high tariffs in order to experience the cuisine of chefs they had heard about, or watched on television, and we have some old Chowhound threads referencing the stratospheric price points - places like Mesa Grill were charging more for the same entrees in Las Vegas than they were in their Manhattan locations. They got away with it for a while, but it is now an ebb tide, and the city is not likely to ever come close to getting back to those heights. The numbers just aren't there.
So now the question becomes what does the consumer actually want, and our opinion is that many of the operators are missing the mark. Gordon Ramsay, Michael Mina, Todd English, Rick Moonen and others have joined the "Gastropub" parade, with more casual food and lower prices. Moonen was quoted in the Las Vegas Sun as having said “Las Vegas diners want comfort food at lower prices, and we have to give them what they want.” There may be a lack of understanding in that - it is not necessarily "lower" prices, but rather "fairer" prices.
Some of these new "pub" offerings are actually even worse offenders than their higher-end predecessor's. It is one thing to charge $35 for an entree that might have a genuine value point of $25-28, because there is a degree of creative art involved that makes it difficult for the consumer to make an exact equation. But at the pub level, the $15-18 item that may have a real value of $10-12 is much easier to pin down.
Let's start with Mina's 1842 as an example. Want an appetizer of fried pickles? That will cost you $8. A wedge salad is $12. A burger will set you back $18, and if you want an ear of corn, or a baked potato, to go with that they are $9 each. Or over to Moonen's "RX Boiler Room", where a side of Onion Rings or Fries run for $9, as does a "Quick Saute of Zucchini". The burger may only go for $14, but if you want cheese, that is a full $4 more. Cheeseburger and Fries? $27 clams. And you can top it off with an order of "Cookies & Milk" for $9 more. Gordon Ramsay's Pub gets you "Fish & Chips" for $28, which you can wash down with a $7 Coors Light.
What is the future for those concepts? They are not offering tourists anything all that different that they could not get in their home towns. Yes, the quality is going to be a little better, and there is creativity at play in enhancing some of the comfort dishes. But the value points are such an egregious slap in the face to the consumer that it is difficult to envision any kind of sustainability.
This fault does not go just to the Chefs - they have high rents to maintain. There also has to be a cooperation from the property owners, who at some point have to accept what the realities of the 2013 marketplace are, and what they will be going forward. Not only do adjustments have to be made for the spending patterns of the visitors, but also to try to incorporate the locals into that mix. Two friends going to RX Boiler Room to each have a cheeseburger, split an order of fries, and each have one of their hand crafted cocktails, before sharing a dessert is at right around $100 with tip. Do not expect to see a line forming for that.
End of rant, with a general wrap-up that the current "Pub" trend has the makings of being an abject failure, to the point of almost showing a contempt for the consumer that they say they are aiming to please. Their flaw is in enabling the consumer to see and feel that contempt, which creates the kind of ill will that a $45 dish with sea urchin did not.
WOW, excellent piece QAW! You are spot on the entire way. It is amazing to me how these restaurants continue to gouge the consumers. Mario Batali charging $150 for a steak for two (that was the original price at Carnevino when it first opened), Scott Conant charging $28 for a pizza at D.O.C.G, and the list goes on to this day. I have been going to Vegas for well over 20 years and will continue to go (like I will be in 2 weeks and can't wait!) but what I have found over the last five or so years is that we rarely dine on the Strip anymore and end up (gladly may I add) at places like LOS, Raku, China Mama and so on. LOS has been excellent for MANY years but I do not think it is a coincidence that in the last couple of years it has been almost impossible to get into at night without a reservation considering the stratospheric prices that the Strip restaurants are charging.