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‘100 cancellations a night’: F1 congestion throttles Vegas restaurants

Updated November 13, 2023 - 7:15 pm

In July, during a scorching weekday afternoon, an Uber driver proceeded (inched, really) west on Flamingo Road toward the Strip. The traffic, a result of construction for the inaugural Formula One Las Vegas Grand Prix running Nov. 16 to 18, encased the car in red lights and honking horns and palpable frustration.

“This is as bad as Manila,” the driver said to his passenger. The driver was a native of the Philippine capital, famous for its bludgeoning traffic, so he knew from snarl and congestion and backups with backups. It was a strange sort of binary that an event featuring some of the fastest race speeds in the world was being made possible by momentous traffic slowdowns.

For restaurants directly on the 3.8-mile Formula One circuit — almost all of them along the Strip section between Sands and Harmon avenues — race-related construction has been baked into the cake, so to speak, any challenges offset by the 105,000 people expected to be on the boulevard daily during Formula One weekend.

But what about off-circuit restaurants along arteries within construction zones or nearby: Harmon Avenue, Flamingo Road, parts of Paradise Road, and west to a stretch of Sahara Avenue? How has traffic had an impact on them?

The answers vary more than one might expect, although it’s likely every restaurateur (even the many who would not speak on the record) is wondering: What happens when the race finally arrives?

Diners, hours, tips: All down

Battista’s Hole in the Wall, perhaps more than any other independent restaurant in the city, has had its business disrupted by Formula One construction. Battista’s lies at the corner of Flamingo and Linq Lane, always a heavily traveled location in the best of times, but since June that congestion has climbed because of construction, including the Flamingo Road bridge over Koval Lane just to the east.

The restaurant typically does 550 meals a night, owner Randy Markin said. When construction began, about 100 reservations were canceled nightly, he said, and only 100 reservations are on the book each night of Formula One. Staff hours have been cut because of the drop in business, and because of that drop, tip totals per employee have fallen about 20 percent to 25 percent, Markin said.

“We’re in the worst street with what’s going on. A cab won’t take you to the area, a car service won’t take you to the area. If you’re a tourist, you say, ‘I won’t fight that.’ And no locals will come. This is brutal for my staff. This is how they pay their mortgage. This is how they support their families.”

Markin said he wished Formula One organizers had directly acknowledged the effects of construction on his restaurant.

“I understand, as small businesses, we might need to take it in the shorts a bit if it’s better for Las Vegas as a whole. But I would have liked for the F1 people to at least come by and say, ‘We’re sorry this is impacting you so much. Can we do something to help?’

“And to think we’re going to be doing this for 10 years.”

Can customers get here?

Lotus of Siam, the famed James Beard-winning Thai restaurant, lies farther east on Flamingo, away from the most intense scrum of construction. Penny Chutima, whose family owns Lotus of Siam, said business hadn’t been disrupted by construction, but she was far from sanguine.

Chutima has attended Formula One in Singapore, where “you really had to stay in your area,” and she wondered to what extent the same would be true in Vegas.

“My main concern when they actually shut off the Strip, a lot of guests who are in the casinos or staying at resort properties, I don’t know if they’ll be able to come over. We don’t know if we’re supposed to get the foot traffic that is supposed to come in. We can’t really see the outcome yet, but I think everybody’s still hopeful. I am, too.”

Being proactive

Sahara Avenue lies north of the main construction zone, but of course, traffic effects spill over, and one recent afternoon, it took 12 minutes to travel from the Commercial Center on East Sahara to the corner of the Strip, about a mile away.

Golden Steer Steakhouse, the Old Vegas icon, lies just west of this confluence. Co-owner Amanda Signorelli said the team had taken steps to address or forestall customer concerns about accessing the restaurant.

“We were aggressive early on, telling people, ‘Call ahead; there’s construction. You should anticipate taking at least 30 minutes to get here where you’re coming from.’ ” The restaurant also extended seating periods and grace periods on reservations to accommodate delays.

“However, I would say what we are all a little bit concerned about is people getting on and off the Strip,” Signorelli said. “For F1, we have planned quite a bit for a lot of people to come to town not realizing where they want to be (for dining). We believe there will be a decent amount of overflow.”

Good thing the Golden Steer, celebrating 65 years in 2023, just debuted an expansion, the first in nearly 50 years, with two new dining areas.

Cancellations to the west

The effects of Formula One construction have emerged in places that might be surprising.

Joe Muscaglione owns Shanghai Taste, the James Beard-nominated xiao long bao temple, and Sea Fresh, a seafood bar, in Chinatown. He’s unofficially called the Mayor of Chinatown, and as a champion of the neighborhood, he speaks to dozens of restaurant owners a month.

On his popular Chinatown Vegas blog, Muscaglione recently reported that F1 preparations have significantly disrupted traffic in Chinatown. “These disruptions, combined with ongoing construction at Spring Mountain intersections and perplexing traffic light timing, have created a challenging situation for commuters and visitors alike.”

What’s more, the removal of pickup locations for buses traveling from the resort corridor to Chinatown have resulted in “reservation cancellations up and down Spring Mountain Road,” the main drag of the neighborhood.

Asked this week to sum up the situation, he offered this: “It’s a cluster.”

Contact Johnathan L. Wright at jwright@reviewjournal.com. Follow @JLWTaste on Instagram and @ItsJLW on X.

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