David Clawson closed late last week after a one-year run in a hideous location; Tapas by Alex Stratta is about to close after operating for less than a year at a jinxed one. Neither news was a shock, but both closings reaffirmed long-held suspicions and have caused more than a little reflection around the Eating Las Vegas offices.
One can discuss and dissect the reasons for these failures til the cows come home, but the bottom line is that the bottom line was in the red, and neither owner wanted to continue to fund a money-losing proposition.
Clawson was the bigger surprise. We ate there three times and it was always packed. TBAS started strong, but tailed off quickly, and we had recently received reports of nearly empty dining rooms on weekend evenings.
Both restaurants faced uphill struggles from the start.
When David Clawson opened, I purposely avoided going there for months, both because of my antipathy towards Henderson, and my cynicism about its prospects for success. Turns out I was right on both accounts.
David Clawson — the chef — opened his own joint because he wanted better food in the cultural wasteland that is Henderson. He made the bold move of opening in an out-of-the-way shopping center (20+ miles from the ELV palatial manse), at the top of the Anthem loop in the deepest recesses of Hendertucky. For a customer base, Clawson (the man and the restaurant) was seeking to lure the early-bird, coupon-clipping, cheapskates away from their one-foot-in-the-grave mentality to a chef-driven spot with great food at reasonable prices.
What a glorious, noble fool he was. Anthem residents, along with the franchise-loving families that make up the rest of the Eastern Avenue shithole….er….uh…we mean corridor, couldn’t wrest themselves from their self-imposed enslavement to the cult of cheap, predictable protein. They are the biggest losers of all: folks who give lip service to wanting quality vittles but won’t pay for them.
People get the restaurants they deserve, and Henderson residents deserve the gastronomic hell they’ve created for themselves.
In more subtle ways, Alex Stratta — the restaurant and the chef — had the deck stacked against him as well.
Tivoli Village is a graveyard of good chef’s ambitions and Stratta is only its latest casualty. The only place that has succeeded there is a “concept” steakhouse with lousy meat, cheap ingredients and even lousier sausages. The frightening thing is that Sum-R-lamers flock to Echo & Rig for its soccer mom food (similar to what Honey Salt gets away with) and because of its no corkage fee policy. Neither restaurant cooks anything unique or memorable, but to their credit, at least they are cooking from something other than a franchise agreement. So there’s that.
As much as I loathe Downtown Summerlin (that is is neither a town, nor down, or downtown of anything), at least it seems to be succeeding with food — go any weekend night and you’ll find all 86 restaurants packed to the gills.
Tivoli Village is a charmless place (which is expanding!), that was overbuilt with restaurants from the start. It’s not easy to park, the shops are terrible (unless you’re a teenage girl), and there’s precious little reason for any adult to walk around. Bad feng shui is a bitch and this place has it in spades. Joël Robuchon, José Andrés and Guy Savoy could all open baby bistros in the place tomorrow, serving world-class food at twenty bucks a pop, and they would fall on their face faster than you could say paella alla Valenciana. The only thing that’s keeping Made LV alive are its slot machines.
I knew all of this a year and a half ago when Stratta told me he was opening at Tivoli. First it was going to be in the old Radio City Pizza spot — a place with feng shui so bad it makes North Korea seem like the Champs Elysee. Then it moved to the more visible spot it now occupies — that had failed once with atrocious food (Greek) and then with a fusion-confusion menu (Poppy Den).
Between Stratta’s announcement of his new place (about a year ago), and its eventual opening (last April), he and it were beset with business issues, partnership problems, and format changes, none of which boded well for future success.
But restaurants and restaurant customers are fickle entities, and sometimes you roll the dice and hope for the best.
Alas, it was not to be.
I have nothing but the greatest respect for Alex Stratta. He’s come through trying times both personal and professional, and always has gentle smile and kind words for everyone he meets. Neither he nor Clawson are exactly spring chickens (then again, neither is the person typing these words), but both of them seem like resilient men who know full well the vicissitudes of being a chef. They deserve admiration and respect for trying to make Las Vegas a better place, and for continuing to fight against the odds in doing so.
I regret not telling Stratta, before he opened, that he was making another big mistake, but I couldn’t bring myself to tell David Clawson, when he told me about his closure two days ago, that he was going to be our Restaurant of the Year. (sigh)