photos by Blake Myers

When Michael Gaughan opened the doors to his newly-created Barbary Coast Hotel on March 2, 1979, on the site of what had begun in 1952 as the Desert Villa, he wasn’t focused on creating a luxury restaurant. The casino merely had a coffee shop that provided meals to its patrons.

Located at Flamingo Rd. and Las Vegas Blvd., on one of the most coveted “four corners” of the Strip, the Barbary Coast, housing its modest 150 rooms and suites, was surrounded by luxury resort hotels, with the Flamingo Hilton next door, MGM Grand Hotel and Caesars Palace across the street and the Dunes on the diagonal corner.

Over time, the pioneering Gaughan began to realize that he needed to “up his game” if he were to compete with his larger neighbors, so he set about creating his own high-class restaurant, and spared no expense in doing so.

He opened Michael’s Gourmet Room August 9, 1982 and it was lavish, indeed. Diners entered through a beautiful leaded and faceted glass door, which set the tone for the interior, with its red textured walls, red velvet banquettes, distinctive high-back wing chairs, glimmering chandeliers and an ornate, domed stained glass ceiling.

After Gaughan purchased the recently-built South Point Casino and Hotel in October, 2006 and divested himself of the Barbary Coast, he began replicating his Michael’s Gourmet Room at his new location. He brought both the original glass entrance door and the domed ceiling to South Point, and the restaurant opened to much fanfare on April 7, 2007.

Heading up the restaurant is Manager/Maitre d’ Jose Martel, whose truly remarkable tenure has reached 36 years. Assisting him is Assistant Maitre d’ Russell Anzevino, who has been there over 32 years. Executive Chef Fred Bielak also has been there for 36 years, and six other employees each have over 30 years’ longevity.

Not only is the restaurant’s appearance a faithful reproduction of its original 1982 opulence, but the menu also reflects classic dishes from that era. Michael’s is an epicurean throwback to the days when “fine dining” was embraced
and celebrated.

Upon being handed the wine list, I was amazed that it was housed in two thick volumes. Upon opening the first one, though, the reason for the size became apparent immediately. This compilation was not simply a listing of all the available wines; it showed all the actual wine labels, a practice employed by some upscale restaurants many years ago. 

How nice to see such a wealth of information other than just the producers’ names and locations. Facts about a wine’s appellation status, grape variety, vintage, alcohol content and sweetness level are all extremely useful when making an informed selection.

The first volume, titled simply, “Wine List,” contained the following extensive categories: Champagne and Sparkling, French Burgundy White, French Burgundy Red, French Bordeaux White, French Bordeaux Red, Proprietary Red, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Rhone Valley White/Red, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Italy White/Red, Spain, Australia/New Zealand White/Red, Argentina/Chile, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Germany–Riesling, Oregon/Washington State White/Red and Dessert. Bringing your own bottle will incur a $45.00 corkage fee.

The second volume, titled, “Captain’s Wine List,” illustrated what can best be described as containing very upscale selections for those whose budgets may have expansive limits. The categories were: Champagne, Imported Reds, American Reds, Imported Whites and Dessert Wines. 

Before you even begin to choose from the menu, you are served a large plate of tempting “crudites,” which include quail eggs, among many others. 

Menu offerings are luxurious throughout, and the sumptuous appetizers serve as a prelude to the rest of your meal. You’ll be tempted by the large Maryland Lump Crab Cake, Scampi Fra Diavolo, Coquille St. Jacques or the truly artistic presentation of the Australian Lobster Cocktail, among many others.

The numerous salad choices include the classic Caesars, which was prepared expertly for us tableside by Assistant Maitre d’ Anzevino.

All the prime meats are charcoal-grilled, and include filets and sirloins, as well as double rib spring lamb chops. But the classic presentations from yesteryear are the Chateaubriand and rack of lamb, both served bouquetiere and carved tableside.

Seafood lovers have a generous number of delicious selections: filet of wild salmon, sea bass, broiled Maine lobster and imported Dover sole, to name but a few. The comprehensive menu is rounded out nicely by chicken and various veal dishes.

If, by chance, you have left room to indulge your sweet tooth, the large dessert cart is extremely impressive, and presents numerous choices, including Carnegie Deli cheese cake from New York, fresh berries flambeed with Chambord and key lime pie brought in from Florida. And it wouldn’t be a classic experience without tableside preparations of cherries jubilee and bananas foster.

The restaurant’s name says it all. Go for a genuine “gourmet” meal.