- Locally owned tapas joint Firefly adds location near Summerlin (10-25-2010)
- Perseverance pays off for Firefly owner (12-3-2009)
Back when the Plaza announced it would close for $20 million in renovations last fall, many speculated the venerable but decrepit joint, like the Lady Luck before it, might never reopen. As if to prove naysayers wrong, a month later the owners bought the room furnishings from the doomed Fontainebleau on fire sale, and last month they posted images on Facebook of sleek new rooms expected to debut in September.
Alas, the news is not all good. The Plaza will return with one monumental absence that has been, in recent years, the only reason to visit: Firefly.
In what can only be viewed as a major setback for the Downtown dining scene, the brilliant tapas joint that began as a sleeper hit on Paradise near Flamingo will not reopen in the Plaza’s iconic glass-domed dining space overlooking the Fremont Street Experience. The owner, John Simmons, ran the numbers and decided it didn’t make financial sense.
“We’re going to do something else,” Simmons said, referring to plans to instead open a new Firefly on Eastern Avenue near Anthem later this year. “I just decided to pack it in. We got tons of people in there. We did good business. We just weren’t making any money.”
In fact, Simmons said, he lost as much as $300,000 on the location over the 18 months the place was open, a slow bleed he didn’t realize was so large until he shut down for the renovation.
He cited two culprits: Unionized labor and a cheap clientele. Simmons had a sweet deal with the Plaza that exempted him from paying rent, but he said staffing costs were significantly higher than at his Paradise and West Sahara locations because the hotel-casino is a union shop. All three locations boasted about 200 seats, but the Plaza room was twice as big as the Paradise spot, which meant a lot of dead space and more to clean.
That might have been surmountable, he said, except Downtown customers weren’t spending enough. The average check was about $20 to $25 per diner, versus $35 at Simmons’ other locations.
Simmons believed that’s because so many people came to Firefly at the Plaza primarily for the view. They’d “camp out and have a couple of things instead of having a whole dinner. … It was like, ‘Let’s get some snacks and watch the show.’” He also couldn’t justify raising the prices at the Downtown location because he figured locals would just go to his other places anyway.
The Plaza tried to keep him, Simmons said. They were in talks to keep the bar area in the interior of the dome as a Firefly and then turn the dome into a high-ticket old-school steakhouse. Intriguingly, that’s what it was in the first place back when Lefty and his friends hung out there, as depicted in the scenes from Casino that were shot there.
Simmons ran the numbers and decided to make a play for Green Valley customers instead. And with that, we see the likely end to what seemed a promising trend of local favorites finally invading the tourist sector. Around the same time Firefly opened, so did the Omelet House at the Plaza, Tinoco’s at the Las Vegas Club and Paymon’s Mediterranean Cafe in the space Tinoco’s had vacated in the Arts District. Today, only Tinoco’s remains.
When the Plaza-Firefly deal first happened, Simmons puzzled at why no Strip resort had come calling with offers given how beloved Firefly is among locals and Vegas executives. Now, he understands the slight. Resorts spend millions on fabulous décor alone so they can justify charging much higher menu prices, he said. It’s a massive investment that requires the surety provided, largely, by world-famous chefs and brands.
Simmons considered holding out to see if the renovation rejuvenates the Plaza, but the fundamentals were unlikely to change.
“There was a light at the end of the tunnel, and I was excited about it, but then I had other aspirations and I’m not some multimillion dollar corporation,” he said. “I’m just one guy, and I can only do one thing at a time.”