I've always been a fan of old-school Las Vegas my entire adult life, but sadly, as the years roll by, more and more of Vegas' legendary landmarks have been razed by dynamite or re-purposed beyond any recognition of their former being. When friends visit, I'm always excited to tour them on my Vegas bucket list of must-see vintage venues including the downtown casinos, mid-century martini lounges and time-honored first-class restaurants. Included on my list is the famous Golden Steer Steakhouse located just down the street from the former Sahara Hotel & Casino.
When the Golden Steer approached me to redesign their website, I jumped at the opportunity thinking how great is this? The idea of revamping their online presence, to introduce the next generation of patrons to this gem of a restaurant while paying visual homage to its past. This project fell right into my wheelhouse of Las Vegas food photography, restaurant web design and my enthusiasm for old-school Las Vegas.
A little back story about the Golden Steer Steakhouse: Opening in 1958 just west of the Las Vegas Strip on what was formally named San Francisco Avenue (renamed to Sahara Avenue after the opening of the legendary Sahara Hotel & Casino) the steakhouse quickly became the off-Strip hangout for the mob and countless celebrity entertainers who all had long-standing shows on the Las Vegas Strip. Performers like Sammy, Dino, Frank and Elvis dined so often they began to request ahead of time specific booths, for their post-performance dinners with friends and colleagues. With the restaurant located just off The Strip and away from the lights, glitz & glamour, these regulars knew they could relax in the dimly lit atmosphere and dine in anonymity. Today, brass plaques on the wood paneled walls identify these prized booths of real estate within this historic Las Vegas restaurant.
I played around with several website design concepts knowing the end result had to be fully compatible with today's mobile devices, but couldn't be too modern; the website had to keep a vintage feel but perform globally with today's mobile browser requirements. One of the things I've discovered with Las Vegas restaurant website traffic is the high number of visitors using mobile devices. Using Google's Analytic metrics, Las Vegas restaurants get more hits from mobile devices than any other city. This should come as no surprise since most visitors search for "best steakhouse in las vegas" once they are on the ground, while trying to find a dining option.
Sitting in Sammy's booth one afternoon, during a website design meeting, I commented on a neighboring framed Rat Pack poster hanging above Frank Sinatra's booth, saying the image must have been taken around the time the stars made the original Ocean's 11 movie, back in 1960. Many years ago at a movie poster restoration studio in Los Angeles, I recalled seeing an original U.S. 6-sheet movie poster for Ocean's 11 being linen-backed for preservation. I always thought that movie poster would be the ultimate art piece for any Vegas establishment to display. It got me thinking - how about a website landing page, similar in design, but with the Golden Steer's images replacing the movie's cast images. How apropos since they all dined there and the movie was about a Vegas casino heist.
[ "Though I love the luxury of the Waldorf Towers, room service there doesn't do soul food." - Sammy Davis Jr. ]
I spent several long days photographing the Golden Steer's food, cocktails and dining interiors. One of my biggest challenges for Las Vegas food photography is lighting. Rarely do I find a venue with natural light, as the majority of the restaurants are located deep inside the major casinos away from the windowless exterior walls. (Pssst, hey pally, we don't want you to know what time of day it is ...just keep drinking and gambling for our sake.) As for the Golden Steer, which stands relatively alone off The Strip, there are no windows by design. This guarantees a consistent envelope of mood lighting for your dining pleasure.
For the restaurant's architectural photography, I utilized multiple strategically placed daylight balanced strobe lights gelled in color temperature orange to match the low-wattage incandescent proprietary lighting. Yes, shooting with a higher ISO would help, but I really try to avoid the reciprocating digital noise factor that accompanies higher sensor sensitivity settings. Further white balancing and color correction was done in post, to best replicate how the rooms look to the human eye. You have to remember that cameras cannot capture what the eyes see especially in low light situations. The Golden Steer's architectural shots where the most challenging since the brightest bulbs found were 40 watts or less.
The food photography session, of their classic steakhouse menu, was somewhat refreshing since I normally spend my time photographing highly stylized haute cuisine in Las Vegas. At first I thought, how should I food-style this plain grilled rib-eye, sitting on an old-fashion white plate, green garnish adjacent atop a bright white linen table cloth? The answer was, just as it appears. One of the great concepts at the Golden Steer is to leave things alone. Why change what's been working for nearly 60 years and counting. If you're looking for a shrimp cocktail severed in a fountainware paneled glass bowl, with the proverbial laced paper doily underneath, like your grandparents enjoyed it, you've come to right place.
My recommendation when visiting - request an early table reservation to best ensure sitting in your favorite entertainer's personal booth, town car or cab it over and arrive 20 minutes prior to enjoy a Bourbon Old-fashion at the bar first. Once seated, dine like you're suppose to - course it out and take your time. Start with Champagne and choice of Appetizer. Next, Caesar Salad prepared tableside. For your entrée, it's all Prime, so you can't go wrong. Accompaniments, Twice Baked Potato and Cream Corn all the way. Desert, without hesitation Bananas Foster Flambé. Lastly, dress like it's an important occasion (even if it isn't) otherwise your mother will smack you with a wooden cooking spatula if you dare arrive in your work clothes! (Speaking from experience here of course.)
Below, an original U.S. 6 sheet movie poster for Ocean's 11 and Frank Sinatra's booth at the Golden Steer Steakhouse.