The California Hotel & Casino
& the Redwood Bar & Grill
The following article was
posted by Jim on
Chip Board on January 8th, 2010
I picked John up at the airport. An airport I hoped never
to see again. What a mess! As I drove down Tropicana and
turned right on Las Vegas Blvd to give John the tourist
trip. We passed the many monstrosities and mausoleums that
replaced the quaint and intimate hotels and casinos that
once dotted the “Las Vegas Strip”.
My friend John asked me…”What happened?” “Where did it go?”
He was referring to the Las Vegas he experienced during the
late 60’s and 70’s. John had not been here in over forty-
years. The last time he was here we shot dice at the Jolly
Trolley and gorged ourselves on filet mignon cut to order.
John came to visit me and spend some time in the town he
remembered when he was a ‘kid” and we were back in college
together. He realized we were not getting any younger so he
decided to come out while he still could.
Everything he enjoyed, all the old time casinos with their
bargain quality Champaign brunches and/or buffets were gone.
Only to remain in the past experiences of those who visited
and enjoyed those many happy moments they provided. 50 cent
Heineken beer at the “…Shoe” was gone and so was the Mint
400 as well as the Mint. Signs of the Bird Cage were not
We talked about the ole Sunday Sand’s Champaign brunch. How
we parked across the street at the Castaways and I used my
VIP pass to get us inside and seated before the brunch
officially opened to the public. Come on Jim there must be
something left of the old days John inquired. I thought for
a second and decided I would take him later in the evening
downtown to the California Hotel & Casino. The California
Hotel & Casino was one of the last places that still used
coins for their slot machines. It was a place that still
maintained ties to the “ole” days. It had Keno (a casino
game that was all but dead everywhere in town) and a Keno
lounge, an open cage where coin was counted and one of the
best old time gourmet rooms ever created – The Redwood Bar &
I called with my cell phone and made reservations for 5:30,
for three, at the Redwood Bar & Grill. It would be John, my
wife Rena and I. As we pulled up at my home, John and I were
still reminiscing about school, work, former marriages and
of course Las Vegas. We started to talk about downtown Las
Vegas and the conversation turned to the California hotel &
Casino. Since John was never even inside the place he wanted
to know everything I knew about it and why my wife and I
still went there.
I began my story with when I arrived in Las Vegas close to
40 years ago.
John was also a retired IRS Agent so he
already knew I was brought to Las Vegas from Chicago to
conduct the Howard Hughes audit. While waiting for the
scheduled opening conference that was months away I had to
write the audit plan for the Hughes Entities and sub lament
my remaining work time with auditing a small downtown place
that was named the California Hotel & Casino. It was a very
long time ago. There was no Boyd Group… there was no Sam’s
Town. Sam Boyd was still alive and his son Bill was a young
man. The plans for Sam’s town were already created and the
shovel was in the ground. Perry Whitt was the chief
financial officer and one of the nicest men I ever met.
Back then, one of the first steps in preparing the audit
plan was to learn as much as you could about the history and
background of the entity you were going to audit. The
California Hotel & Casino was no exception. Fortunately or
unfortunately, I never got the chance to conduct the audit
because I was pulled off for an important assignment.
However, previously speaking numerous times with Perry Whitt
and Sam I learned a great deal about the California Hotel &
Casino as well as many “war” stories about Sam’s earlier
It was common knowledge that Sam had personally cultivated
the Hawaiian trade. That he had brought the Hawaiian
customers to the California Hotel & Casino where they were
treated like royalty and with the upmost respect. In return,
the Hawaiians remained loyal to Sam and the California Hotel
& Casino. This bond that was created many years ago between
Sam and the Hawaiians still exists today. It is obvious when
one walks through the Hawaiian packed casino that no other
entity has ever punctured this gaming base. I doubt any
gaming entity ever could.
Sometime during the late 70’s or early 80’s the California
Hotel & Casino opened the Redwood Bar & Grill. At that time
I had no intention of going to such a place for dinner out.
After all, who would want to go to a place with “grill” in
its name? I visualized a glorified hamburger joint.
Around the time of the Redwood’s opening, Bob Stupak and
Gus Giuffre were touting their “Dine-Out Las Vegas”
promotion. It was a 2 for 1 promotion that allowed you to
pay for one dinner and receive the second dinner free. The
book of 25 or 30 coupons was $25.00 or $30.00 dollars and
couldn’t possibly be for any good restaurants, right?. I
figured since Stupak was involved I would just pass.
However, one of the agents who worked on the Hughes case for
me subscribed to the Dine-Out Las Vegas package and brought
the coupons to work to show them to me. Boy! Was I wrong.
Many of the restaurants were quality places that my wife and
I had previously been to.
Among the coupons was one for the Redwood Bar & Grill.
Jerry asked me if I would like it. After much insistence on
his part I said all right I’ll take it. That evening my wife
and I went. What I am about to describe existed 30 years
ago. It has changed. However, the one thing that has not
changed is the quality and portions of the food.
It was winter and very cold outside. As we went into the
Redwood the first thing that caught my eye was the very
large fire place in the back of the restaurant with a
roaring fire burning. The tables and booths had linen table
cloths and napkins with a burning candle highlighting the
beautiful ambiance of the interior. We were seated quickly
and our waiter Brian inquired if we would like to see the
wine list. Meanwhile the back waiter brought steaming hot
bread, butter and a bountiful relish tray. After a few
minutes Brian returned and described the type of beef
served…it was Black Angus. My wife and I ordered
respectively the large and small cuts of prime rib, side of
mushrooms and the “redskin” potatoes. Our salad was brought
to us with the house dressing that was cucumber based.
The service and the meal were magnificent. The portions of
prime rib were the largest I have ever seen served in a
restaurant. We took most of it home. The bill was shocking
because it was so small even before it was reduced by 50%. I
couldn’t get over what a bargain and how thankful I was to
Jerry for insisting on me in taking the coupon. I asked our
waiter Brian how this can be? He smiled and said the
Hawaiians love a bargain and Mr. Boyd gives it to them.
John was excited and looked forward to going there for
dinner. I had to warn him that certain things had changed.
There was no more fire place. No more back waiters, no more
table cloths, no more relish trays and no more cucumber
dressing. All of these things had been eliminated to keep
the price down. The only meat that remained Angus was the
prime rib. However, Brian was still there and the service,
by him, was still superb. John smiled and asked about the
price. I said the three of us will get out for less than
$175.00 and that will include a bottle of wine. John smiled
and said dinner was on him. Of course I replied, you never
miss a bargain…do you John?