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Inside the last supper as original Esther’s Kitchen closes — PHOTOS

Updated February 29, 2024 - 2:45 pm

It was the last supper.

Esther’s Kitchen, a restaurant that showed there were still directions to explore in Italian cooking — and that downtown Las Vegas was the place to do the exploring — offered its final dinner service on Wednesday, some six years and change after opening in early January 2018 on California Street at Casino Center Boulevard.

If all goes as planned, Esther’s will reopen on March 8 in its new 10,000-square-foot premises next door at 1131 S. Main St. The buildout has cost $7 million to date.

The new restaurant will be a different Esther’s from the original that debuted six years ago — much as James Trees, the chef-owner, is a different chef than he was then, and downtown Vegas is a different place to dine than it was in 2018 (thanks, in part, to the presence of Esther’s and the global attention it has attracted).

As they filled the snugly appointed space, barely more than 2,000 square feet (including the kitchen), staff and diners remembered a restaurant revolution.

A meeting of the tribes

“Look at all the people we have here to say goodbye — and we’re only moving 20 feet away!” Trees said, taking a break from the plates of spaghetti and meatballs (an Esther’s mainstay) sailing by. “You can have all the money and talent in the restaurant business and still fail. We’re lucky to have the customers we have.”

Vegas, he continued, was really a small town, and Esther’s was a place all the tribes gathered. “It’s a family reunion, a class reunion, a reunion of friends. It’s a microcosm. This has been like Cheers.”

Keith Bracewell, the general manager, started as a bartender at Esther’s after a hospitality career in Los Angeles and San Francisco. Today, he’s a partner in the restaurant.

“I’ve always considered it a living room,” he said. And a place where someone can begin by bartending and end up with equity.

“You need to give employees a voice, so they can show their creativity,” New cocktails? “We roundtable it — we all taste it. The same thing goes for the kitchen.”

A dream of spaghetti

Justin Randall, a Vegas attorney, has been a customer almost since day one.

“After I came here the first time, I thought, ‘I love this place. I hope it stays open,’ ” he said. “The neighborhood was terrible. It built the neighborhood. I moved downtown because of Esther’s. I was living in Summerlin.” The spaghetti, he added, “is still the best I’ve ever had.”

By about 9 p.m., the restaurant had begun filling with another turn of family and friends and customers who were family and friends. And fellow restaurateurs: Kim Owens, owner of Main St. Provisions, came down the block to add to the well wishes.

AriAnna Courte, who used to live in Vegas, came, too, for the evening. “I wish we had more last days,” she joked.

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

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