Taste

Addio Spago: Dispatches from a culinary farewell party

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Spago will serve its final smoked salmon and caviar pizza at the Forum Shops on January 27, before moving to Bellagio.
Photo: Erik Kabik / Courtesy

Saturday night tourists in athleisure tracksuits strolled down the grand hallway of the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace. They walked past Spago without even looking, possibly on their way to the Cheesecake Factory or the gelato stand. And like that, they missed out on the most important culinary closing bash in Las Vegas history.

I watched them as I waited my turn to pose by the framed chalkboard that read: “The Last Supper at Spago by Carlos.” I pretended to cry while I held my stomach in for the photo. The Carlos in question is most likely the award-winning chef Carlos Salgado. But I didn’t ask because I wasn’t there as a food writer; I was there for the party.

This was a chance to watch “real life” recede beyond the veil, floating away into the filmy category of Old Vegas. And the entire town turned out to wish it bon voyage. Casino execs mingled with Strip entertainers; food critics with publicists; old friends reunited or avoided each other. The crowd skewed older—perhaps peopled by patrons who loved this restaurant when it opened 25 years ago. Spago was the sourdough starter that spawned Vegas’ thriving, world-class culinary industry.

I can remember my every visit to Spago, although the older memories have yellowed and grown hazy with age. It was that kind of place where every visit was special and worth remembering. The last time was a few years back, when I met singer Matt Goss at his favorite table to interview him during the quiet time between lunch and dinner. Being in that dining room, I felt like royalty. I remember looking up in awe at the giant Tim Bavington painting. And here it was again, on closing night, watching over a room crowded with partygoers.

You can’t go to one of these events without running into people you know. I ran into Shannon, and we stood around a table while she told me about the time her high school boyfriend offered to take her to Spago. It was the only time he truly impressed her. Her response: “But kids don’t go to Spago!” But these kids did; it was still the era when parents could get free tickets because they were connected.

We sipped an exquisite selection of free wines and champagne. We nibbled on passed hors d’oeuvres—food that was perhaps cutting edge decades ago, but now seemed par for the fancy-party course: Miniature sliders, risotto balls, tiny crab cakes, steak slices and Spago’s signature pizza. The night wore on and the crowd grew, skewing the guest-to-free-food ratio in the wrong direction. It was time to say a final goodbye. So I did and I didn’t look back, at least not for too long.

One of the best and worst things about Las Vegas is that it doesn’t let you get too attached to anything. The constant reinvention keeps sentimentality from setting in. The second we love the past, it will hold us hostage—boom! We’re Atlantic City. In true Vegas fashion, Spago isn’t dead, it’s just hibernating for the winter. It will be reborn in the summer at the Bellagio, and it will be young again.

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