John Curtas is …

Case in Point: The Bourbon Room

Comparison is the root of all unhappiness. – Cicero

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Fun with Bourbon!

Before we leave our misty-eyed, hyperventilation about Chicago for good, our staff thought we should use a post to refute one of the comments made by one of our loyal readers.

In a somewhat disjointed but pointed retort to our “My Kind Of Town” post, When are you moving writes:

I think its a bit crude of you to slap Vegas upside the head on your way back in from your reports of Chicago.


You say Vegas Chefs basically dont stand a chance in hell and are second rate and you give no advice on getting forward, to place you deem as good.

So why dont you start with the overall weak beer selections amongst strip and local drinking holes. Vegas needs more pubs with more small batch breweries from amibitious brewers in the NW, California, UTAH, Midwest. IPA’s galore, sour beers.

You’re quite contradictory. what do you want, the best tuna tartar or awesome pig ear salad? You praise places like hash house that serve cardboard and calories.

You want LV to be like Chicago, why dont you take responsibilty as a food critic and a member of the food community in LV (since you’ve earned it) and make Vegas a better dining scene rather than settle your palette on mediocrity.

Dont see you encouraging local bars to get inventive with news beers, drinks, simple yet good menu options.

You are like a non encouraging father to a kid that gives his best, but its not good enough for you. Move to Chicago since its so great, enjoy the terrible weather. Maybe the other food critics will let you play with them.

Vegas is a great place and has great chefs. There is more consitency on the strip than the whole of most major cities. As well LV has fostered many chefs that have moved on to become greater chefs, but Vegas always lives in their heart. For a guy that knows Vegas, you know nothing about about the soul of cooking.

ELV responds: The point is, Vegas isn’t doing its best. It is following (by pandering to the lowest common tourist denominator) not leading — especially in the beer and booze department. And the “consistency” you’re so enamored of on the Strip is no substitute for interesting.

Case in point: The just-opened Bourbon Room in the Venetian. It looks like a snazzy and swanky joint that will soon be filled with middle managers from across America — amazed to find that there are brands other that Jack Daniels and Maker’s Mark. It carries 28 varieties of Bourbon and ELV is looking forward to trying all of them(!) and the cocktails they inspire.

But it isn’t Longman & Eagle — a joint that seats maybe 100 people at a time that has (according to our rough count) over 120 different bottles of bourbon on its list.

120 bourbons. In a 100 seat pub.

We rest our case.

There’s no reason on god’s green earth why the Bourbon Room couldn’t have a hundred labels on its wall….but it’ll do just fine pushing whatever highly-advertised brands its distributors want it to — while pretending to be the end all and be all of bourbon bars. (In other words, while being a copy of a copy of a bourbon bar. “Copy of a copy” being a phrase that pretty much defines our eating and drinking scene, with the exception of our fine French restaurants and steakhouses.)

That’s the difference between a mature, metropolitan food (and bar) scene and Las Vegas.

Here, we are about numbers and nothing but. There, they are all about money too, but they’re making in with thoughful, compelling innovation, not the same old same old, repackaged, recycled stuff.

We’re more in agreement than you think, as it is ELV’s hope that his drawing attention to these things might be a wake up call for people in a position to actually make a difference.

As for praising mediocrity, wethinks you haven’t been following us for long if that’s your opinion.

If you want to hear the mediocrity praised, go to another website.

SEVEN and the Review-Journal online are just as free as we are.

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15 Responses to Case in Point: The Bourbon Room

  • I agree that Las Vegas has a lot of work to do when it comes to creative food & drink options. It feels like the bar, grill & slots cookie-cutter establishments seem to scare away people that might want to think outside the box. I would love to be able to get a craft beer after work, but that isn’t happening at any of places near my part of town.

    I want to be optimistic. Even Reno has a handful of cool bars popping up with killer drink menus and very diverse beer selections. If Reno can do it, so can Vegas, right? It seems crazy that will all of this vacant commercial/retail space all over town, someone wouldn’t take a chance and break the PT’s mold.

  • Do any of those Vegas bars sell moonshine? I think that would be quite a selling point for a “bourbon bar”.

  • I was just there yesterday. An odd combination of a decent selection of bourbon, accompanied by 80s hair band music videos playing on giant screens. I am not sure what was more fun. Drinking the bourbons or making fun of the videos (which were made the decade I grew up in)

  • I really have to agree with ELV on this point regarding “originality” in the Vegas dining scene. Even the really great eatting establishments are “copies of copies” of either other locations in the US or Overseas, or they are catering to the tourista looking to grab the “feel” of a Italy or a France or NYC? Just look around the town… its built on “themes” and celebrity names. The whole Vegas genre was/is built on “fantasy” and escape. I really doubt Vegas as we know it and who have lived here for over 30 yrs will ever see the type of experimentation found in the Chicago, Portland or even SF. Sorry, but try as he may ELV is pushing that preverbial rock up the hill. Now what is here you do have to love….when dining at the better establishments, you will be whisked away to Paris, London, Hong Kong and cusine that at least gives you “tastes” of these far away places and exciting flavors.

  • Why do you continue to bash SEVEN, another thinly veiled swipe at me. I’ve told everyone all along how great the food (and drink) scene in L.A. is compared to ours, and now, because you finally got off your ass and went somewhere, you’re suddenly an expert? Please. What it comes down to is this. You’re mean spirited, and I’m too soft. Anyone who reads us regularly can make that distinction.

  • ELV responds: We continue to “bash” SEVEN because it is a publicity machine (when it comes to our restaurant scene) thinly disguised as a cutting-edge alt weekly. When we read a critical word (or thoughtful analysis) coming off its pages, we’ll back off.

    As for “getting off my ass and going somewhere,” we’ll put our international and national restaurant travels up against any writer’s in Vegas….the difference being, we put our money where our mouth is (usually pay our own way)….instead of writing fluff in exchange for a plane ticket.

  • You continue to write for VEGAS, which pays you to do the same thing. That’s fine, of course, in your world, because you have the moral high ground. As to paying one’s own way, since you are a full time attorney, and can rely on an income real writers cannot, you are one-up on me there. I do take occasional sponsored trips, though I do pay my own way for my travels more often than not. But consider the following. Where’s your money come from?? THE LAW! Case closed.

  • ELV, are you a RICH lawyer??!! You (and your wallet) have been holding out on me. :)

  • Well, I fully believe Vegas has the capibility to play catch up on a swift level, and I think JC has the power to influence that.
    Vegas has a history of progression. Its a town all about build it, tear it down, rebuild it bigger and better. If the bean counters would start waking up and introduce new ideas into the F&B programs on the strip perhaps the whole vegas valley would evolve. Get your head out of the dark ages and quit money hoarding.
    Maybe even wake up SWS to wake up to stocking more small batch liqours instead of big box stuff. If Vegas is all about making money, its time to start thinking of better ways. Its a new generation of consumer. That when in vegas, they want to be reminded of the qualities of home, such as their food and alcohol choices.
    Maybe the big shots on the strip should start scouting regional cuisines in places like chicago, seattle, portland, new orleans, kansas, etc..

  • It bears noting here that this Bourbon Room joint is less of an essential bourbon drinking joint and more of a promotional vehicle for Rock of Ages. The play is coming in December to replace the blue men. Its primary function will be to let children of the 80′s rock out to Def Lepard as opposed to gents in white suits looking for a Chicago bourbon experience. From what I hear, as an 80′s bar, it is pretty fun.

  • There are Chefs and restaurants in Las Vegas that can satisfy the tastes of persnickety critics like ELV and yours truly. Yet as I’ve come to learn over the many years I’ve travelled to Las Vegas in search of culinary enlightenment, the treasure at the end of the rainbow doesn’t consistently hold forth a pot o’gold.

    Of course, there are exceptions. Chef Brian Howard is doing amazing dishes at Comme Ca, and from what I witnessed in May he has the support of the Executives who manage the Cosmopolitan. (A standard other bankers in town could learn from).

    Chef Howard is crafting dishes on a level that is every bit as good as the top levels of other young Chefs in America in “hip” cities like Portland. (By the way, the Portland food scene is good, yet terribly over-hyped by many who haven’t eaten anything in the Rose City). Yet one has that bubbling feeling that someday soon Chef Howard will leave Las Vegas to find his culinary fortunes in another city….like, uh, Chicago.

  • Hey – you guys made the cover of today’s NY Times dining section – above the fold! Quit fighting!

  • I agree Portland food is terribly over hyped. Same menus for the last 5 years and most of it was inspired by places like Las Vegas. I only enjoy the mainstays like the Heathman and Bijou for breakfast. But its inspiring (good or bad) to see city blocks designated for apocalyptic carnival food dining, that is completely over priced (but its organic). And its interesting to see the park your bike and have a beer style tap houses.
    I just think that Vegas is in an interesting spot to throw unique twists and grow on what other cities are doing but wish they could really do. If that make sense.
    I’m still wanting a restaurant in LV to throw together the most amazing veal bone reduction poutine

  • What is unfortunate about the current Portland food scene, (an illness shared by other “trendy” food cities), is that in all the fury to be hip by vending bacon-glazed donuts out of a truck, some Chefs have forgotten that the most beautiful, native Oregon marionberry is growing on a vine just steps away.

  • Speaking of bacon… One of my friends ordered a flight of bourbon. It was served with a piece of bacon on a stick, along with a few nuggets of caramel popcorn.

    Actually, the bartender gave us all little bowls of caramel popcorn, and kept them nicely filled. We spent a decent about of time there.

    Should the “Bourbon Room” be judged like a fine dining restaurant? I don’t think so. It’s basically a casino bar, but a better than average one. Unless you don’t like 80s hair band music videos.

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