ELV note: One of the great thing about blogs is you can instantly correct or revise them. In traditional media, once words are spoken or printed, making corrections or apologies can take forever, if they happen at all. Or, as we like to say around the ELV offices, it’s pretty hard to unring a bell. But we’ve thought long and hard about our withering critique of this joint, and decided a revision and a…er…uh….apology (of sorts) was in order. So scroll down to the end of the review for a conclusion that brings a bit more perspective to the party.
In 1983, about a year after it opened in the Barbary Coast, we had our first meal at Michael’s. Three weeks ago, in the South Coast, we had our last. In between we’ve endured three other evenings amidst the fake pomp and stupid circumstance of this place, and will…ahem… share them with you now.
That first dinner was memorable for a roach crawling out of the fruit bowl they present at the end of every meal. Management’s response to our horror was to offer a free dessert. Those same, uneaten, stale fruit bowls still appear, but we can confidently state that management seems to have gotten the roach problem under control.
Two of our next three meals here were in the ’90’s, courtesy of a client who was the very definition of nouveau riche. Short, stubby, insecure, profane and possessed of a little man complex in all its glory, he had come into a boatload of cash in the early nineties through a mail order business of dubious distinction. His weaknesses were showing off, hookers and cocaine — which ELV…uh…er…tolerated — when we weren’t being awakened at 3 am with screams that police were crawling on his roof. His favorite restaurants (which he loved to brag about) were Il Mulino (another place of questionable value) and Michael’s. Then, as now, the lighted shrimp cocktail would elicit ohs and ahs from his rented dates. (Yes, we once had dinner here with him and two ladies of the evening – neither of whom was reserved for ELV.) LBM (Little Big Man) would beam, point to the outrageous prices with feigned outrage, and take great pleasure in making sure everyone knew how much money he was spending.
In other words, he was a typical Michael’s client.
Another meal came courtesy of another philistine that proceeded without incident, but for two stunning brunettes being escorted across the room to an adjoining table by the (always) over-solicitous maitre d’. At that table was a well-dressed gent of a certain age, and a younger fellow, also in a suit and tie. They resembled neither high rollers, vacationers, nor the usual casino reprobates, but rather a couple of bankers after a hard day of deal making. Nevertheless, as the women were brought to their table, the men remained seated as the maitre d’ announced sotte voce: “Mr. Miller, allow me to introduce you to Amber and Storm.” Seats were taken, glasses clinked, and ELV would’ve given his eye teeth to see if someone whipped out an eight ball later that night.
No matter how many assignations have been arranged here through the years, what they’ve been unable to do is give this place an ounce of warmth…or charmth. Or soul. Because despite the trappings and the frippery and solicitousness, the very raison d’etre of Michael’s is to lighten the wallet of high rollers and the occasional rube (or old Vegas mandarin with more money than taste) who stumble in, ready to be ripped off, looking for a gourmet meal circa 1972.
You see, Michael’s is what used to be known in Vegas as a “comp room.” A restaurant whose sole purpose is to eat up the comps of the hotel’s high rollers. Any idiot who comes in spending his or her own money is treated just the way one would expect….with a mixture of polite surprise/derision on behalf of the staff. They know that anyone willing to pay $25/person for a Caesar salad, or $54 for a chicken breast is a fool who either is, or is about to become, someone from whom money should easily be parted.
Nowadays, every restaurant in every hotel is a comp room, and the guys in the green eye shades have gotten much more sophisticated in how they measure how you (someone who has dropped enough money at a stupid game of chance) can be most quickly separated from the supposed “freebies” the hotel offers you in exchange for your tomfoolery. It’s the reason wine prices are so insane in our better restaurants — the faster to use up the comps and get you dropping your coin again. (ELV would love to be a fly on the wall at the meetings between the wholesalers, the wine directors, and the casino managers wherein they calculate just how absurdly high they can go on bottles before even the rich folks start to scream.)
And scream you will when you dive into white/pale green leaves/ribs of romaine lettuce in a Caesar salad that is done twice as well at the Golden Steer for half the price. One bite of huge, tough shrimp — supposedly fra Diavolo, but possessing no heat — and you’ll squeal like a pig — especially when you realize you can overcook four of these suckers yourself, in a tepid tomato sauce, for a lot less than $25.
Perhaps, to calm yourself, you’ll ask for a glass of house wine. Then, you’re told a glass of B.V. cab, or Cambria pinot or Frei Brothers (yes, the same Frei Brothers you get at Smart and Final Iris) merlot will set you back $19. So you look at the geriatric set in the dining room basking in all this pretentious mendacity, and you start weeping quietly to yourself. Because Michael’s isn’t just mildly mediocre and overpriced. It is insanely mediocre and delusion-ally overpriced.
But before we dismiss its existence out of hand, let’s consider the intelligent design behind this place. Even though it’s a dinosaur, perhaps it’s a T-Rex other hotels should consider reviving. Why spread your comps throughout the hotel? Why not have a single restaurant, populated by gents of a certain age in cheap tuxedos, in every major Strip property whose sole purpose it is to devour the comps of all those people with more money than brains (or taste)?
You could even make it an attraction in its own right. Place it in the middle of the casino (or tuck it away in a corner), frame its front with a huge, one-way mirrored wall, a let the turistas observe the way people ate in 1975. It could be a history lesson for the masses and a way to concentrate all of the absurd comp-driven prices into a single restaurant…and thereby restore some sanity to the price/value ratios of other eateries.
“Look honey, there’s that coked-out, Asian-American business guy from Omaha pretending to be hungry, sitting in front of a $76 veal chop!”
“OMG, look at those four dudes talking on their cell phones, ignoring the four bottles of Cristal on the table!”
“Wow, did you see those ‘escorts’ try to get that guy to give them some of his $500 chips while he was eating a $64 piece of salmon covered in sliced celery? And who knew Vegas gourmet rooms used to feature so many mass produced cakes on their ‘fantasy pastry carts?'”
We take it all back, and owe Michael Gaughan an apology. This place is pure genius.
Every casino should have one.
The meal for two seen above, with no booze but for a single glass of warm wine in questionable stemware, came to $300. Slapsie Maxie paid.
In the South Point Hotel and Casino
9777 Las Vegas Blvd. South
Las Vegas, NV 89141