Take a cool, New Jersey-ish mega-diner, add some purple neon glitz, marry it with an alluring strip club lounge and bring in a team of longtime employees who love what they’re doing and you have old-school Las Vegas that can’t be replicated. Welcome to the Peppermill, a 24-hour, three-ring circus filled with a continuously changing cast of characters. There’s food, too—breakfast, lunch and dinner, any time of day or night.
We pull up as the early sun is shining, and the front of the store is being sprayed down to keep it clean; it reminds me of early mornings in New York City, except that we’re surrounded by the SLS, Circus Circus and the remains of Fountainebleau. Greeted with smiles, we opt first for the Fireside Lounge, to prime the pump. Maurice, the bartender, has been working there for 12 years; most other bartenders have been there 20-plus. The Peppermill has sat on the Strip since 1972, a communal spot for all creatures of the jungle. Maurice gets right on two Bloody Marys as we marvel at the old music videos playing on screens throughout the lounge.
You quickly forget what time of day it is outside. The Bloody is large and slightly sweet, so I ask for some horseradish, and it’s whisked away to be remade the way I want. Love that. We descend to the fire pit surrounded by red banquettes, our neighbors feeling so comfortable, shoes are doffed as conversations are shared.
Then, off to the dining room. The kitchen is exposed for all to see, and the cooks are cranking out all kinds of comfort food as the expediter works from a spinning turnstile dupe holder—haven’t seen one of those in a long time. The female waitstaff is dressed in car-hop outfits: white blouse, suspenders and pink, blue or red skirt—their choice. The shiny pantyhose are a nice touch, too. Our server, Angela, has been working here 31 years! Before we place our orders, we’re offered a free photo by the in-house photographer. Why not?
Steak and eggs is a formidable platter, with crisp hash browns and a reasonable minute-steak thing. I get Joe’s San Francisco Special—hash browns topped with a giant mound of hamburger, egg, spinach and Velveeta. If you’re in search of a gooey mass of steamy stoner food that never seems to get smaller no matter how much you eat, this is your dish. I really like it, but can’t finish. My friend orders the Maserati omelet—10 eggs, Italian gravy, lots of herbal overtones and plenty of olive oil to keep it super shiny (and assure a speedy travel through your system). The Fruit Fantasia waffle is just funny, a mountain of whipped cream that reminds me of an old Herb Albert album cover. It all makes you feel like a kid again, except that you’re sipping on Irish coffee.
There are reasons the employees here never want to leave. It’s family, it’s very Vegas, it’s the real deal and it’s a hangout that performs a real function—a warm, welcome, comfortable place to take it all in.
When he’s not dining at classic Vegas restaurants, Rick Moonen is chef and owner at RM Seafood and Rx Boiler Room at the Shoppes at Mandalay Place.