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Southern hospitality

We live in a destination city. People come here from across the world to play, eat and relax. With all of the megaresorts on the Strip, we can be transported to almost anywhere to enjoy these guilty pleasures. We can go to a foreign country, a major city, a fantasy land or even travel through time.

Sometimes you just want to take a moment to get grounded and feel like you are down-home. For a whole generation that down-home feeling translates to Lynyrd Skynyrd. We just want a beer, some barbecue, to listen to some of our favorite music and be reminded of what Southern hospitality really is.

Until now it wasn’t possible to do that on the Strip. The recent opening of Lynyrd Skynyrd BBQ and Beer inside the Excalibur has provided all of that and more.

The restaurant/nightclub is designed to look and feel like Hell House, the legendary place outside Jacksonville, Fla., where the band spent its formative years composing and perfecting that unmistakable sound that has been rocking the “Skynyrd Nation” since the beginning. Hell House was named because it lacked air conditioning in the sweltering Florida summers. Fortunately the current embodiment has both air conditioning and two incredibly large barbecue smokers, both of which work nicely to accommodate the soulful food from Kreuz Market Barbecue and Sausage of Lockhart, Texas.

Rickey Medlocke, one of the few remaining band members from its early days, was in Las Vegas recently to attend and enjoy the grand opening of the restaurant.

“Nobody in the band has ever attempted something like this,” Medlocke said. “What’s really cool is that the restaurant designers we worked with were already fans and had made plans for things like designing it to look like the old house.”

Michael Frey and Craig Gilbert, the owners who designed the restaurant that doubles as a club after 10 p.m., are not new to the Las Vegas food community. With Rhumbar, Casa Fuente, American Burger Works and Tacos & Tequila on the list of successful accomplishments, the team’s latest offering is destined to be a strong force in the current food and entertainment arena.

Gilbert started out on the Strip peeling vegetables and worked his way up to vice president of food and beverage at the Rio. After deciding he needed to go out and do his own thing, he partnered with Frye. They both grew up listening to Lynyrd Skynyrd and consider themselves barbecue aficionados.

“We had an idea that people like us remember where they were, what girl they were with and what car they were driving when they first heard a particular Skynyrd song,” Gilbert said.

“We read every bio (biography) and watched every video to try and capture the heart and soul of Lynyrd Skynyrd. We never wanted to sell out and wanted to create the biggest backyard band garage in the world,” Gilbert said. “We are most aware of not hurting their reputation and creating an experience that pays homage to them without creating a shrine — just to have a good time.”

While munching on some of the many barbecue items offered at the Kreuz barbecue station inside the eatery, Gilbert and Frey discussed the driving force behind creating the “entire package from the dyed concrete floors to the barn wood tables and metal sculpted chairs all the way to the lighting and the video screen which constantly shows either Skynyrd or that genre of music videos.”

Barn wood also covers the walls, along with pictures of the band, paintings of classic album covers and Southern relics such as license plates.

The interior of the eatery is designed to serve as a restaurant during the day and is family friendly with a moderately priced menu and the ability to accommodate groups of most any size.

“The whole world knows about us but not about our pricing,” Gilbert said.

After 10 p.m. the attitude and atmosphere switches to a dance club with a hard-driving Southern Rock pulse and, just like the band’s storied Hell House, the Jack Daniels flows freely. The smooth floor allows dancing almost anywhere in the club and there are areas all around to have a seat and enjoy the drinks and watch the action. There’s also a concert stage, which features a variety of bands along with special performances from Lynyrd Skynyrd.

“We hope to someday to have Ronnie’s (Van Zant) car and Billy Powell’s piano displayed out front and we will stop in from time to time to do live spots and enjoy what we helped create. Who knows? If this one is successful, it may not be the only Lynyrd Skynyrd BBQ and Beer.” Medlocke said. “We are just happy to be where we are.”

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