There’s no better place than Las Vegas, a city with no limits and no judgments, to dine alone. Once, while I was playing in a poker tournament, my wife took a comp I’d received playing cards, went by herself to the bar at Michael Mina Bellagio and ordered a special tasting menu with wine pairings. Being a solo diner got her extra attention, even though she was mostly happy to read The New Yorker quietly as she sipped Qupé wines. The bartender gave her an extra generous pour of Syrah, which caused a manager to raise his eyebrows. But after he walked away without saying anything, my wife beamed at the bartender. “Don’t worry,” she told him. “I tip in cash.” She drank extremely well the entire meal.
I have a friend who likes to eat alone at Wing Lei before meeting friends at SW Steakhouse. He’ll order at least two Wing Lei entrées for himself and tell the staff he’s in a hurry because he has to be at dinner in 45 minutes, and they’ll just smile like this makes complete sense, which it does, but only in Vegas.
Eating alone has involved me doing things like: cutting my waiting time at Palace Station’s Oyster Bar down to 15 minutes during a holiday weekend; ordering 8 a.m. spaghetti Bolognese at Café Bellagio; eating miso clams off the specials menu while sitting at Raku’s counter at 2 a.m. to decompress after a good showing in a poker tournament; watching the Super Bowl while eating chicken curry at Simon and realizing I had met one of the other solo diners at Jasmine, where she was working on a night that ended in Phil Ivey and Irv Gotti coercing me into drinking too much absinthe.
All of this might sound like bragging, but who cares? Vegas is a city built on being willfully over-the-top. And no place is better at merging excess and grace than Wynn, so it’s no surprise that my top pick for solo dining is the bar at Bartolotta Ristorante di Mare.
It’s no secret that Paul Bartolotta, with his fish that flies commercial and his mysteriously sourced langoustines, serves seafood nobody else has. It’s also no secret that the chef’s tasting menus, in which he dazzles tables with fritto misto and perfect pastas and hard-to-find whole fish and lobsters before instructing servers to “blanket the table” with an insane assortment of gelato, sorbet and granita, are one reason that high rollers visit again and again.
Sitting at Bartolotta’s bar is a different experience that can be just as special. If you’re lucky, Rich, a bear of a man who’s one of the city’s finest bartenders, will be standing in front of you. He’ll know when to ask you questions, when to make friendly conversation and when to leave you alone.
My order is usually an appetizer plate of sautéed clams or fried Mediterranean fish followed by a pasta, maybe spaghetti with Sardinian bottarga or rigatoni with scorpion fish. Or when I’m feeling especially frisky, I’ll see if the kitchen will make me spaghetti topped with those famous langoustines.
The whole meal is always flawless and always takes less than an hour, even when I feel like lingering and having a leisurely chat with Rich. And then I’m done, ready to go meet friends at whatever restaurant or bar or club they’re at, knowing that it’s already been a great night and not worrying about what’s going to happen next.