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El Cortez celebrates 75 years of vintage Vegas style5 December 2016
The iconic neon sign has remained the same since 1952, making it look like a set for a prototype mob movie. The scent inside screams "old school" — and so does the smell of prime rib flowing through the air at the signature restaurant. The sound of actual coins dropping into slot machine trays is not only vintage Vegas, but a true rarity among casinos throughout the city, both in neighboring properties downtown on Fremont Street and three miles south on the Strip. Your newly renovated Designer Suite upstairs features what's called a "mobster chic, 1950s glam" design, with a retro layout and aesthetics. And a stroll around the casino at any time of the day is likely to find customers of multiple generations, as well as one of the proud owners or department directors working the floor, interacting with guests.
No, there aren't any dancing fountains or erupting volcanos outside El Cortez, and inside, you aren't going to find a restaurant branded with a Food Network celebrity's name or a nightclub booming techno music and charging an outrageous cover charge.
It's been that way since El Cortez was built with a Spanish Colonial Revival feel for $245,000 and the doors opened in 1941 as one of the first properties in Vegas to include hotel rooms and dining options. The property officially celebrated its diamond anniversary with a ceremony last month, and if it remains the city's longest continually-run casino for another 75 years, you can safely wager a large handful of those classic slot coins that’s the way it will remain.
"It's why I love coming to work here every day," says Director of Marketing Adam Wiesberg, who got his start at the casino dealing blackjack and roulette. "It's really like walking through a time capsule. It’s family-owned, and they are all very much hands-on. They know the customer base very well. So that creates a very friendly, welcoming environment."
While the building may be 75 years old and the only casino listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the owners have made it a point to continuously update the look and feel of El Cortez, and to offer unique promotions; rare, value-laden gaming odds; and an upbeat atmosphere.
A prime example is the new drink service at the table games area on Thursday nights and weekends. Owner Kenny Epstein, who bought the property from iconic Las Vegas casino operator Jackie Gaughan in 2008, came up with the idea to drag huge coolers of ice-cold beer into the gaming pits, with a server manning each one.
"There's literally no lag in the drink service at our tables; all you do is make eye contact with one of our servers and the next complimentary drink is yours right away," adds Wiesberg. "It's kind of ironic that while many of the big, corporate casinos around town are now using new technology to evaluate play and see if their players qualify for a free drink, we're making it even easier to get your next drink. Needless to say, this has created a whole new following."
The folks packing the El Cortez gaming floor are there for much more than just easy access to chilled Bud Lights. The property has become renowned for its ultra-loose slots, $1 roulette bets and full-pay, 3-to-2 single- and double-deck blackjack tables.
"We've got the best blackjack rules in the country," says Wiesberg. "When our players sit down with $100 and play $5 to $10 a hand, they're going to get a full night of entertainment. At most other properties, a $100 bill is just going to get you started.
"We aren’t making as much per player, and we have to be very cognizant of advantage players. But in the end, our players keep coming back and we've started to attract a much younger generation of players, because they're getting an entertaining gaming experience they won’t find anywhere else."
Right up there with the appeal of favorable odds at the tables at El Cortez is the $10.95 prime rib at Siegel's 1941. The signature restaurant opened last year and pays homage to infamous mobster Bugsy Siegel, who owned the property in the 1940s and used the purchase and sale to fund construction of The Flamingo Las Vegas. The special comes with a vegetable and potato and is available 24 hours a day, so it's no surprise that more than 2,000 are ordered per month. And now that it's stone crab season, the "never-frozen" mercenaria flown in fresh each week from Florida is a nice alternative for non-meat eaters.
Next door, at the swanky Parlour Bar, you'll find live music, $5 appetizers and 2-for-1 drink specials, as well as the popular $5 margarita, which has a new themed flavor each month.
The Race and Sportsbook offers $2 beers and hot dogs on Monday nights and the daily $9 Build Your Own Bloody Mary Bar is also a big hit that won't put a dent in your gambling bankroll.
Siegel's 1941 and the Parlour Bar are prime examples of the enhancements made by the Epsteins in recent years, along with the boutique, nongaming and nonsmoking Cabana Suites located across the street — and more changes are on the way.
According to Wiesberg, the gaming floor will be expanded and reconfigured to how it appeared decades ago. There are also plans in the works for remodeling the main bar and creating a sports bar-type viewing area near the current keno bar, which the owners hope will continue to attract younger generations to join the core, local customers the casino typically draws.
"It's just so cool to have this historic, 75-year-old building with dealers and bartenders that have been here 20, 30 or even 40 years, and there they are serving this new generation of customers that are sometimes half their age," marvels Wiesberg. "To me, that's kind of El Cortez in a nutshell. The older generation meeting the new, and everybody having a good time. It's not something you're going to see in many other places."
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