Monday, Oct. 24, 2011 | 5:05 p.m.
Even when it was enjoying its greatest success throughout the '90s and early aughts, Ruth's Chris (and it's owner Marcel Taylor) never received enough recognition for being the gastronomic game-changer in bringing national attention to Las Vegas' restaurant scene. Spago always gets credit for shaking the gourmet ground under us when it opened in late 1992—and thereby starting the culinary tsunami that brought so many gourmet eateries to our desert shores—but the little-known fact is, the rumblings really started three years earlier, when Taylor, then a dealer at Caesars, convinced Ruth Fertel (founding owner of Ruth's Chris Steakhouse and one of his regular big players) to let him have a Ruth's Chris Steakhouse franchise on Paradise Road.
"Her board of directors didn't want to do it," Taylor told me several years ago. "They thought no one would want to leave the hotels to get something to eat. But Ruth was a big fan of Vegas and convinced them to do it, and within a year they saw how much business we were doing."
They weren't the only ones. Taylor said word spread very quickly among the liquor, produce and meat suppliers, and in short order, Morton's opened an outlet in the Fashion Show Mall, followed by Palm in the newly opened Forum Shops. Their success signaled there was gold in them thar hills to chefs and restaurateurs across the nation, and by 1994, when MGM brought in Emeril Lagasse and others, the stampede had begun.
Over the years, Ruth's Chris' star has gradually dimmed as carnivore's choices have expanded with a plethora of prime from the likes of Prime, Carnevino, Craftsteak, Delmonico, Cut et al. The lines of limos and taxis that once filled the parking lot across from the Hughes Center got shorter with each passing year, and you knew the conventioneers that once packed the place had found other beef emporiums at which to sate their cravings. As business dropped, litigation ensued, and with its closing today, an iconic piece of Las Vegas' culinary history will be no more.
Sadly, it will be recalled, if at all, solely as another franchise that folded its tent. But it was so much more, and deserves to be remembered as such.