With contemporary Las Vegas dominated by spectacular but anonymous corporate mega hotel-casinos, it's heartening to find the family owned and operated Ellis Island Hotel, Casino & Brewery not just existing, but positively thriving, right off the Strip.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of Ellis Island's humble beginnings as the original Village Pub (now a brand throughout Vegas), back when its Koval Lane location was practically a dirt road. Founder Frank Ellis passed the property to his son Gary in 1985, who changed the name to Ellis Island and expanded into a full casino. In the 1990s the property's karaoke became a local staple. In 2014, the family took over the adjacent Super 8 Motel and completely renovated it to create Ellis Island Hotel with 289 guest rooms and 12 suites.
"It's not just our family members that make the property so based in tradition," said Christina Ellis, director of marketing for Ellis Island (and Gary Ellis' daughter). "Ellis Island is what Vegas used to be," she said. "Five-dollar blackjack, $2.50 beers, amazing food, bartenders who are going to remember your name and your drink order, and a genuinely fun atmosphere."
In 1998 -- far ahead of the microbrewery mania of the mid 2000s -- Ellis Island opened an on-site brewery. "If you sit down at a machine at Ellis Island to gamble, you're going to get a free drink," said Ellis. "Since we were giving away so much beer, we decided to start brewing it ourselves - it's cheaper."
While rooted in pragmatism, the results were spectacular. Today, the 2,200-barrels-per-year Ellis Island facility is recognized as Nevada's premier brewery and has been voted "Best Microbrewery" by readers of the Las Vegas Review-Journal year after year.
Enhancing Ellis Island's ample charm will be its new two-story Front Yard beer garden, set to open in early 2019. Stretching along the property's frontage, this will combine a casual brewpub vibe with food, live entertainment and a perfect view of the Strip.
Another attraction is the marvelously unpretentious Ellis Island BBQ, with essentially just two menu items, ribs and chicken. "We sometimes have up to a two-hour wait for the barbecue," said Ellis. "We've toyed with the idea of adding new things to the menu, but really sometimes the secret is just to keep it simple." Ellis Island's food has benefitted from the greatest modern compliment of all: word-of-mouth recommendations by actual visitors on review sites and social media.