Downtown bids adieu to Andre’s

Art Goldstrom remembers the night in June 1980 when he and his wife, along with two other couples, were the first guests at Andre’s in downtown Las Vegas, named for chef and proprietor Andre Rochat.

It seemed strange that someone would open a fine French restaurant in the city at all, much less in an out-of-the-way, residential location away from the bright lights and tourists, and one of Goldstrom’s dining companions said as much after dinner.

“Real nice place,” he said. “Wrong location.”

That turned out to be both true and not true.

The restaurant thrived for years, attracting locals, celebrities and accolades for its fine food and distinguished service. Rochat’s success allowed him to branch out with restaurants at the Monte Carlo and the Palms.

But as the city and the Strip has grown and changed, and as celebrity chefs have moved in with high-profile and highly marketed eateries, business at the original Andre’s location dwindled until Rochat made the painful decision to shut it down. The last customers were served there New Year’s Eve.

“I’ve been thinking about it for a couple of years,” Rochat said. “It’s my heart and soul here. It would be great to run it for 35 years … but there’s more to life than that.

“I’ve been cooking for 51 years. Never a Christmas, never a New Year’s, never a holiday. You just work, work, work.”

The work has had its rewards: Michelin one-star ratings in 2008 and 2009 for Andre’s and Alize, at the Palms, and consistent four-diamond ratings from AAA for all three of his restaurants.

Rochat is particularly proud that he did it independently, not only cooking and building his business, but doing a lot of the work to remodel the old house that he turned into his restaurant.

It’s not just that downtown business is slower. Rochat, who is 64, found himself shaken by the deaths of people he knows in the industry, people who were younger than he is.

“You look at that and say, ‘What am I doing? What am I trying to prove?’ ” he said, sitting pensively in an upstairs office next to a room that, later in the evening, hosted a party of 30 rowdy New Year’s revelers.

“Twenty-nine years is a long run. The place had its lows and its highs, and now it’s time.”

The downtown employees will move to the Monte Carlo. Rochat still will be involved in his other restaurants, but he insists — despite his penchant for wanting to be “in the center of the action” — that he will play a reduced role in the remaining restaurants.

Rochat grew up and was schooled in cooking in France, where he got his start in the industry.

He came to Boston in 1965, traveled and worked across the United States and eventually landed in Las Vegas, working for a time at the Sands and then opening a bakery in 1973.

He later sold the bakery, then acquired the house on Sixth Street that would become his signature restaurant.

Ironically, business started booming after Rochat announced that he was closing the location.

“It’s been crazy. Everybody that got engaged, that got married here, whatever — we haven’t stopped,” he said.

And, he added, there’s been plenty of people saying this: “We know about you. We’ve lived here all our lives. We always say we’re going to go, and we never go. Now that you’re closing, we had to come and see. Finally.”

That, said Rochat, is just what you have to deal with in Vegas.

“Everybody wants to go to the who’s who. To me, downtown is the heart of the city. But Las Vegas is a different place. I just hope that the downtown will come back to what it was.”

Goldstrom and his wife, Shirley, have been friends with Rochat since the bakery days. Shirley remembers helping Rochat get the gas turned on back in 1980.

Art Goldstrom celebrated a streak of birthdays at Andre’s — his 49th, 55th, 60th, 65th and 70th — and, while waiting with a large party on New Year’s Eve to see what culinary surprises Rochat had for them, said he wished his 75th took place sooner than next year.

“This is home to us.”

For longtime customers Bonnie Nolan, Virginia Richardson, Peg Crockett, Betty Carpi and Ginette Jaramillo, the closing of Andre’s took them down memory lane.

Crockett recalled marshy land and tules outside Las Vegas High School (now Las Vegas Academy), as well as a time when you could hit every place on the Strip and “get home cold sober, because there weren’t that many places.”

“The town we knew is totally different than the town we know today.”

Andre’s, said Carpi, “is a locals place. He’s got two places on the Strip, but this is local.”

The ladies tucked into their foie gras, and a couple dabbed at tears as they expressed mixed feelings about the closing.

“It is sad,” Crockett said. “I can understand why he wants to cut back, needs to. He’s got a lot of living to do yet.”

“Mine isn’t mixed,” chimed in Nolan. “I think it’s horrible and I’m sad about it.”

Richardson said the people who will miss the place have only themselves to blame.

“Downtown is not pulling in business the way it used to, and that’s our fault,” she said. “We’ll just wish Andre the best.”

“He deserves it,” said Crockett. “He’s earned his right.”

Contact reporter Alan Choate at achoate@reviewjournal.com or 702-229-6435.

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