It’s early on a Saturday night, but Battista’s Hole in the Wall is almost full. Big groups of families and friends are working through bowls of minestrone and oil-and-vinegar salads, anticipating manicotti and meatballs to come. I’m at the bar sipping a Peroni, marveling at the kitschy Italian decor that’s been in place for decades, wreaths of garlic and basket-bottles of chianti hanging everywhere.
Battista’s has been here on Audrie Street just east of the Strip for 44 years, and you don’t have to do much research to figure that out. Four ladies sitting nearby, straight from the pool with damp hair up and glasses on, are watching Jeopardy! and planning to order lasagna and chicken Alfredo—again. They’re regulars, and they’re from out of town. A mother walks her daughter to the bathroom and stops to point out a special booth: “This is where your mom and dad ate on the night we were married, right here in Las Vegas.” Gordon Jaffe, a diminutive, Buffalo-born accordion player in his 80s, has been strolling through the dining room, entertaining Hole-in-the-Wallers for more than 30 years.
Things don’t change much at Battista’s, and that’s by design. But as it goes on the Strip, things always change. Right now this nook, home to the restaurant and the Stage Door Casino, is surrounded by the new. The Cromwell opened recently in Battista’s backyard, and construction is booming in front of Bally’s, just across Flamingo. Towering above it all is the High Roller, the centerpiece of the Linq, an entertaining strip of its own just a block away.
“Change is one thing we don’t like,” jokes Doug Morgan, manager at Battista’s. He’s joking because these changes have been good for the restaurant. There’s more foot traffic going through and past Battista’s as Strip walkers find their way to the wheel or visit the Cromwell for the first time. On my visit, a foursome waiting for their table passed the time by listing the Linq spots they wanted to hit—Yard House, Brooklyn Bowl, Sprinkles Cupcakes.
“Things grow up around us, but in here, everything stays the same,” says Morgan, who has been here since Battista’s opened.
Battista Locatelli bought the lot where his restaurant resides in 1978. The Stage Door, a tiny casino with two bars and an adjacent liquor store and sundries shop, had opened in 1976. When Locatelli retired in 2005, he sold the entire center to Harrah’s, now Caesars Entertainment, which owns many of the properties on the east side of Las Vegas Boulevard and developed the Linq and the Cromwell.
The Stage Door is known for its cheap shots ($2 Jägermeister) and $3 hot dog-and-beer specials, and for advertising on its outdoor signs how much longer it will be “here to serve you.” That info isn’t up right now, but general manager Alan Hoffman says he’s going to put it back on the marquee soon.
There are 16 years left on the Stage Door’s lease. Once Caesars became the landowner, there was obvious speculation that the gaming and hospitality giant would eventually build something bigger and flashier at the site, or at least use the land to complement its surrounding properties.
“People thought we were going to be torn down,” Hoffman says. But if that’s going to happen, it will have to wait until 2030. Hoffman doesn’t expect Caesars will extend the Stage Door’s lease past then. Morgan says he expects Battista’s will stay put “for the foreseeable future.”
As odd as it seems to have this old-school Italian eatery and dive bar/casino sprinkled between the behemoths on the Strip, it would be even more weird for them to be gone. The Stage Door offers increasingly rare cheap drinks and is also one of the only places construction workers “can come in dirty and hang out,” according to Hoffman.
Spend some time there and you’ll likely see workers from the Linq’s restaurants and bars chilling post-shift with a $3.50 Corona. In the parking lot, you might catch superheroes or Minions from Despicable Me getting dropped off for a “night’s work” on the Strip.
Somehow, among the giants of recent development, this little slice of strange still belongs.