Living Las Vegas: Last Night at the Golden Steer
Walking into the Golden Steer is like visiting the ghosts of Las Vegas pasts.
If these walls could talk, just imagine the stories they could tell.
Last night’s motley crew guest list included Andy Rich (Golden Nugget Poker Manager), Todd Anderson (Creator of television show Poker Night in America), Vin Narayanan (who’s doing some lucrative deal in Hong Kong that’s succeeding despite making no logical sense whatsoever) and yours truly. Our frightening foursome plopped down in a red-leather booth. Almost instantly, we had appetizer cocktails in one hand and dinner menus in the other.
Now, that’s service.
The Golden Steer has been in business for like — forever. It’s a really weird location, helplessly bookended into a seedy strip mall right off Las Vegas Blvd., on Sahara. A few doors down there’s a busy cigar bar that you can smell from a block away. The restaurant, in the shadow of the new Lucky Dragon casino, is bordered by ghetto apartments. Fortunately, there’s a spindle of rusted barbed wire atop a cinder block wall separating the slums from the Golden Steer. That way, we can all feel safe while feasting on dead animals.
If these directions don’t make any sense, then try this: Look for the giant sign with the fat cow out in front. Everyone in town knows the fat cow. Err, steer — whatever.
Years ago, the Golden Steer was the favorite hangout of the Rat Pack. Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis, Jr. and company used to dine here regularly. The trio of crooners even had their own private booths (each still in place and memorialized with plaques).
The Golden Steer has undergone a sparkling facelift since my last visit a few years ago when it seemed the old cow’s best days were way behind her. While the inner decor has been updated, it still screams “Old Las Vegas.” You don’t see places like this around anymore because they’ve all been bulldozed and paved over by an all-too-crowded kitchen of celebrity chefs.
Now that you know a little something about the Golden Steer, here’s where the story really gets good.
While Andy, Todd, Vin, and I were solving the world’s problems last night while trying to get away from our own, the scene across from us in the opposite red leather booth caught our attention and kept us captivated nearly to the point of becoming a distraction. About 15 feet away, a scruffy bearded man wearing a brown western hat dined with a young lady. The man’s coat looked disgustingly filthy. His hat was bent out of shape and wouldn’t fetch $2 at a garage sale. If you examined this scene for no more than five seconds, you’d have made a reasonable guess the man was homeless.
No big deal, really. This is Las Vegas. You see a lot of weirdness in Las Vegas.
At some point, the scruffy man asked the waiter to remove a portrait from the restaurant wall (yes, I’m serious). Then, he requested the portrait be positioned next to him and his lady friend, in the booth. If the scruffy man wasn’t a curious sideshow to watch before based on appearances, well now he had our full attention — at least as much attention you could muster without turning into a gawker.
So, the large framed portrait of a movie star was nestled into the booth while the scruffy man feasted on supper. It was hard to tell who this was exactly in the picture, but after some artful eye-dodging, someone in our party finally recognized the portrait was of the late actor Charles Bronson.
The scruffy man, the lady friend, and Charles Bronson’s portrait all seemed to be quietly enjoying themselves, although Bronson didn’t say much. Bronson also didn’t eat or drink anything. Those delicious delights were left to the other two, who emptied at least one bottle of expensive wine followed by a bottle of champagne. I tried to catch a glimpse of the labels to see what they were drinking, but I didn’t want to seem too nosy. One can only gawk so much without causing a scene.
Of course, we had to play the whispering game of speculation. Who in the hell is this guy? He sure looks like a pauper, but he’s dining in a fancy restaurant, guzzling down wine and champagne. Who could make such a wild request to have a portrait removed from the wall — and then have that request honored by the staff? And the woman really seems to dig him!
An eccentric billionaire?
The owner of the restaurant?
A perverted Charles Bronson fanatic?
Who was he?
Just as we were preparing to leave, the scruffy man and his friend got up also. They made a swift bee-line for the front door, hopefully not leaving stoic and speechless Charles Bronson to pay the bill.
Consumed by curiosity, we stopped the waiter in mid-stride cold in his tracks.
“Who in the hell was that scruffy guy in the hat? Do you know him?” we asked.
“Oh, that was Nicolas Cage. He’s a regular here. He comes in all the time.”