One of my favorite places in Las Vegas—and possibly on earth—is Ellis Island Casino & Brewery, located a block east of the Strip at 4178 Koval Lane, just south of Flamingo. Ellis Island has been a come-as-you-are type of place for 34 years now; you never have to fret over what you’re wearing even if you’ve been hiking out at Red Rock all day or threw on a baseball cap to hide an unruly mop. Trust me, nobody cares. And though I generally prefer to go solo when exploring the Las Vegas nightlife, Ellis Island is one hot spot that’s better shared with friends.
Upon arriving, head to the rectangular bar in the casino, where you’ll mingle with all sorts of interesting characters from crusty Korean War veterans to dusty construction workers to in-the-know visitors who’ve had enough of the busty tourist haunts. Order one of the generous 20-ounce selections from the on-site microbrewery—the stout is delicious, and the fact that it costs only $1.50 makes it even tastier. The price recently went up from a dollar, but even this 50 percent increase hardly warrants a trip to the ATM. Leave a hefty tip for the perpetually busy barmaids and you’re out three whole bucks.
Ellis Island offers three dining options, not counting the hotdog stand on the casino floor, and they offer something for everyone: a Metro Pizza counter, a chicken-and-ribs barbecue on the brewery patio, and a traditional casino restaurant, which I usually opt for. On weekends there can be a wait of up to an hour to be seated (that goes for the patio as well), so give your name to the hostess and be sure to listen for your number to be called over the intercom while you’re enjoying your suds at the bar.
Once you’ve made your way to the restaurant, don’t even bother to open the menu. Just push it aside and tell your waiter you’d like “the secret special,” a locals-only deal that appears neither on the menu nor on the list of specials at the dining room’s entrance. You’ll get your choice of soup or salad, a huge hunk of filet-cut sirloin and a potato cooked the way you like it, garlic-buttered green beans and another delicious 20-ounce microbrew beer—all for $6.99!
I like to whisper when ordering the secret special, but that’s just the drama queen in me. If you check out the plates of your fellow diners, you’ll see almost everyone else has ordered it, too, so I’m not sure just how secret the special is. Don’t worry about showing your ID or a player’s card; this bargain is yours for the asking.
You’ll be happy to tip nearly 30 percent for the wait staff’s friendly and efficient service, so leave a 10 on the table before moving to the lounge off the restaurant for the entertainment portion of the evening. Consistently voted “Best of Las Vegas” in the Las Vegas Review-Journal readers poll, the fun starts on Ellis Island’s karaoke stage every night starting at 9.
Chances are you’ll be too full for another beer, so get yourself a soda, settle into a cozy red vinyl booth and enjoy the “faux library” wallpaper designed to simulate the appearance of bookshelves. Though this is hardly a joint where singles prowl for potential mates, the Ellis Island lounge marks the place where I got the best pickup line ever. One night, after eyeing me a while from the bar, a mustachioed fellow approached my table and asked, “What show did I see you in?” What show did he see me in? Only in Las Vegas! (I just hope he wasn’t referring to the show currently playing at the Hilton: “Menopause: The Musical.”)
As with any karaoke venue, the vocalists range from those who perform in earnest (even your first time there, you’ll be able to spot the regulars) to the silly partyers simply hamming it up. One person you’ll never see following the teleprompter is me. Although I occasionally take the microphone to perform stand-up comedy, my rule for this particular entertainment outlet is, “If I was drunk enough to do karaoke, I’d be too drunk to do karaoke.” (The same principle applies to the Macarena.) On second thought, my singing—which sounds like a cross between a fax machine and an untrained bagpipe player—might just invoke as many laughs as my comedy. Hmmmm … maybe I should save myself the trouble of writing all that material.
At some point you’ll have had your fill of amateur songsters, and if you’ve been following my itinerary, you’ll still have a couple of bucks in your pocket to gamble away before leaving the casino. Try your luck at the penny or nickel slots and you might even win back the little money you’ve shelled out. Unfortunately, you’ll have to win a lot more to pay for the gas it will take to get home.