The Palms’ newest celebrity chef restaurant, Mabel’s BBQ from Michael Symon, is designed to be a casual party spot. Communal portions of food are served on metal trays alongside paper plates. There are plenty of screens for watching whatever game a few dollars is riding on. And the outdoor patio is equipped with ping-pong and shuffleboard tables, plus a stage for live music. Every once in a while, however, a tuxedo-clad employee can be seen approaching a customer or two at the bar and escorting them through a hidden door in the paneled wall. Those lucky enough to get that tap on the shoulder, will discover a completely different experience on the other side.
“Sara’s is our little speakeasy,” explains Symon, “almost like a secret little restaurant within a restaurant.”
Guests who walk through the pair of doors that separate Mabel’s from Sara’s, or enter directly from the Palms parking lot after hours, will find a surprisingly elegant experience. Sara’s, named after the mother of Symon’s partner Doug Petkovic, seats only about 40 to 50 people in its small lounge and patio areas. The limited menu spotlights elegant interpretations of classics, many prepared or finished tableside, while a formally-dressed mixologist holds court at a gorgeous walk-up bar.
“Bartenders will be behind the bar in tuxedos. It’ll feel a little bit of James Bond almost. But we’re gonna do a full menu here, probably until 11 every night. And then from 11 until really when we see fit, it’s going to turn into a speakeasy, where we’ll just do shellfish towers and a secret burger and great cocktails.”
Sara’s isn’t the only hidden gem tucked away in a corner of the newly renovated Palms. Mr. Coco, is a stand-alone speakeasy by a respected mixologist who has heretofore labored behind the scenes. Francesco Lafranconi ran Southern Glazer’s Wine and Spirits’ mixology and spirits education program from 2000 through 2018, educating countless local bartenders in their craft. As The Palms courted celebrity chefs for high-profile restaurants to anchor its ongoing food and beverage re-launch, he quietly took control of a third-floor space that can be accessed exclusively through a dedicated elevator.
To reach it, however, guests must first have their credentials verified at a podium just off the casino floor. Once their reservations are confirmed, they’ll pass through a special entrance.
“We’ll open the door and allow the guest to walk through this corridor, which is very contemporary in design, with a wavy ceiling and soft lighting,” Lafranconi explains of the room, in which soft music and a custom-designed fragrance set the tone.
“It’s a detox moment, a place where you close the door behind you and leave the burdens of life on the casino floor. You walk through this detoxifying 20- or 30-foot walk. And the hostess will check you in, open a custom-designed armoire, and offer you an amuse bouche drink made with Bocelli prosecco and seasonal fruit in hand-blown glass from Italy.”
Finally, drink in hand, you’re ready to experience Mr. Coco.
Secrets, of course, are synonymous with Las Vegas — after all, the town’s official slogan is “What Happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas.” Perhaps it’s a nod to the romanticized notion of “Old Vegas,” where knowing the right name and shaking the right hand unlocked any door, or to modern casino hosts who offer high-rollers experiences few of us could imagine. Whatever the reason, new attractions at the Palms aren’t the only secret spots for those in the know. Here are a few more worth checking out.
When The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas added a food court-style collection of restaurants on its second floor dining promenade last year, it reserved a secluded space behind the communal dining area for New York mezcal bar Ghost Donkey. Guests brave enough to venture through a door in the back, adorned only with a festively attired cartoon donkey, will find a south-of-the-border-themed party room.
Unsurprisingly, the valley’s most historically accurate speakeasy is located in the basement of The Mob Museum. Ostensibly an exhibit examining the history of Prohibition, The Underground mixes education, alcohol and fun in a distinctly Las Vegas style. Guests enter by day via a staircase from the museum lobby. At night, however, those in the know traverse a staircase accessible through an alley on the building’s east side, ring the bell, and convince the doorman peering out a sliding peephole that they aren’t with law enforcement. Once inside, cocktails are passed to patrons through hollowed-out books or shots of moonshine brewed in the on-site still are sampled, all while soaking up a bit of history about flappers, rum runners and G-men.
The Laundry Room
While The Underground feigns exclusivity, access to this speakeasy in the back of Fremont Street’s Commonwealth is truly difficult to secure. “You have to be looking for it to find it, and you still have to do appropriate things (to gain entry),” explains lead bartender Anthony TK.
Admission is by reservation only, and the room frequently books up two to three weeks in advance. Those reservations only can be secured by texting a secret number. Most customers are friends of past guests who had the number passed along. But spend any time downtown chatting with employees of various bars, and it’s likely someone will share it. Once inside, expect an interactive, period-specific experience with the bartender. The menu features more than 40 Prohibition-era cocktails, but the team prides itself on getting to know customers and creating drinks on the spot to suit individual tastes.