LAS VEGAS, Nevada – Du-Par’s Restaurant and Bakery is far from the flashiest attraction at the Fremont Street Experience, the old-turned-new entertainment district that was the original Las Vegas, but it is at the top of my list.
You can have the SlotZilla Zip Line and the army of showgirls, superheroes and guys in Elvis costumes who will pose in photos with you. Give me a down-home restaurant with a pie of the month, waitresses in 1950s-style uniforms, steaming bowls of oatmeal and plates overflowing with omelets and hashbrowns.
If you have to wait in line to get in – not an uncommon experience – the pastry case you must stand beside really sets the stage. Gigantic pies beckon, and the oversized doughnuts make Krispy Kremes look positively wimpy.
The restaurant’s address – One Fremont Street – tells a lot. There’s been a hotel/casino/restaurant on this corner since 1905.
The original was the Hotel Nevada, which expanded in 1931 and became the exotic-sounding Sal Sagev. Ideas of exotic evaporate when you realize that “Sal Sagev” is “Las Vegas” spelled backwards.
There was a watershed moment in 1955 when a group of Italian-Americans from San Francisco bought the site and created the Golden Gate Casino. That explains the framed photos of cable cars and other San Francisco scenes on the walls of Du-Par’s.
The hotel’s original restaurant was the Bay City Café (there’s still an etched glass panel with this name near the Du-Par’s counter for solo diners), and it claims credit for introducing shrimp cocktails to Las Vegas in 1959.
While all of this was going on in Las Vegas, two San Franciscans moved to Los Angeles to open a restaurant in 1938. They were James Dunn and Edward Parsons, and Du-Par’s uses parts of both partners’ names. The original continues at the Los Angeles Farmers Market, and there are four other Los Angeles-area locations.
The home cooking and bakery treats of Du-Pars hopped over to Las Vegas in 2010, bringing comfort food to Sin City visitors 24 hours a day by occupying the Bay City Café space.
Du-Par’s brags on its buttermilk pancakes, daily soups and chicken pot pie, but it’s the bakery pies that are so special in today’s world of commercial sameness.
Consider this partial list: Green apple, peach, cherry, rhubarb, blueberry, boysenberry, gooseberry, pumpkin, mince, sweet potato, coconut custard, pecan, lemon meringue, coconut cream and banana cream – plus three flavors of cream cheese pies.
As wholesome and down-home as Du-Pars is, there’s no escaping that you’re in Las Vegas. Proof was a table tent in December that promoted the pie of the month (Bartlett pear) and solicited votes for a provocatively clad candidate for Miss Santa’s Helper.
Visit the website of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority for a jackpot of information about the whole city.