As a bartender for 27 years at Palace Station, Henry Gauger is a Las Vegas institution.
Since 1984, Gauger can be found tending bar Monday through Friday at the Trackside Bar, which is better known among his friends and co-workers as “Henry’s Bar.”
“I came over in 1977 as beverage director, but a few years later I just wanted to get back into bartending,” he said. “I consider myself a bartender.”
While he’s not a creator of cocktails or a mixologist, he said his favorite drink to make is a vodka martini but that he’ll mix anything you ask him to make.
“It’s a knowledge of how to make a drink,” he said. “It’s more than putting on an apron and serving whisky drinks. It’s like becoming a wine aficionado, but for liquor.”
Gauger said his customers prefer drinks made with “the whites,” rum and vodka. While only a fraction of his business is whiskies and bourbons.
“When I started in this business as a bar back in 1971, it was all whiskies and bourbons,” he said.
These days, customers have become more selective in the brands they order. In the old days, he said, a customer was fine with whatever you poured.
He’s also been in Las Vegas long enough to bars without poker machines and guests who would dress up for a night on the town.
“I stopped here in 1967 when I was going to Vietnam. I finally moved to Las Vegas in December 1971 and have been here ever since,” he said. “When I was first here it was an adult playground … it has totally changed.”
Over the last 40 years, Gauger, 64, says the town has become less sophisticated as gamblers in tailored clothes have been replaced by tourists in shorts, T-shirts and flip-flops.
“It was much more charismatic when you dressed up to go out and see the town,” he said.
Gauger joined the company on July 7, 1977, and now is No. 4 on the list of longest serving employees at Station Casinos. Rose Bell, a house person, and Erma Jackson, a guest room attendant, both from Palace Station, have been with the company for 35 years.
Mike Manning, shift manager at Santa Fe Station, is third on the list, followed by Gauger then Marci Gibson, a bingo agent at Boulder Station.
Lori Nelson, a spokeswoman with Station Casinos, said about 40 of the company’s 13,000 employees who have been with the company for at least 30 years.
“I’ve been lucky. It’s been like a big family for 34 years,” Gauger said. “We’ve hired people, watched them have babies, then their babies are having babies.”
His only other employers during his 40 years in Las Vegas were Circus Circus and Slots-A-Fun.
“I’ve never wanted to transfer to another Station casino,” he said. “I’m in my zone here.”
Gauger said it’s hard to believe Station Casinos is now 35 years old. The company, which recently emerged from bankruptcy, began on July 1, 1976, with a 5,000-square-foot casino simply called The Casino. That property went through a few name changes and now is home to Palace Station. It is one of Station Casinos’ 17 casino properties in Southern Nevada.
Today, the company is run by its founder’s sons, Frank Fertitta III, who is chairman and CEO, and Lorenzo Fertitta, who is vice chairman. It all started with a novel idea in the 1970s: Frank Fertitta Jr., a dealer at the Stardust, wanted to create a gaming and entertainment venue for locals.
As the years rolled by there was a name change. The company was taken public, before it was taken private again in 2007. Property was acquired and new resorts were built.
“Our 35th anniversary is certainly a nostalgic time to celebrate, but more important, serves as a reminder to us that our success was built on staying true to Mr. Fertitta’s founding principles to provide friendly service, value and great entertainment to the locals,” Station Casinos Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Kevin Kelley said. “As we look forward, we will continue to reinvest in our existing properties and refresh our entertainment offerings to give our guests new and exciting reasons to come back.”
As Palace Station continued to expand over the years, Frank III and Lorenzo had the opportunity to learn the gaming business from their father. They also studied how the town was growing and developing.
In 1993, Frank III took the company public as Station Casinos Inc. His father retired and Frank III took over leadership of the company.
Station Casinos received national recognition a few years ago. In January 2005, it became the first gaming company named one of Fortune magazine’s Best 100 Companies to Work For.
The nonunion company repeated that milestone four years in a row.
But, the company’s fortunes were hammered along with the local economy. Two years before the company filed bankruptcy, the Fertittas and Colony Capital LLC reached an $8.8 billion deal to take it private.
In July 2009, the company filed for bankruptcy owing its creditors and lenders about $6 billion. Today, the Fertittas own 45 percent of the new Station Casinos that has a debt level of some
Frank III has maintained it was the economic collapse in late 2008, not debt, that forced bankruptcy. Whether or not it was the debt load that led to the company’s bankruptcy filing, for Gauger it’s business as usual at Palace Station.
“I was very lucky, everyone who hired me has been great to work with. I’ve also enjoyed good relationships with my customers,” said Gauger, who added he plans to “hang it up and retire in July 2013.”
Contact reporter Chris Sieroty at
email@example.com or 702-477-3893.