Local favorite Firefly won’t reopen at the Plaza

John Simmons, owner of Firefly, opened his downtown location in August 2009.

Back when the Plaza announced it would close for $20 million in renovations last fall, many speculated the venerable but decrepit joint, like the Lady Luck before it, might never reopen. As if to prove naysayers wrong, a month later the owners bought the room furnishings from the doomed Fontainebleau on fire sale, and last month they posted images on Facebook of sleek new rooms expected to debut in September.

Alas, the news is not all good. The Plaza will return with one monumental absence that has been, in recent years, the only reason to visit: Firefly.

In what can only be viewed as a major setback for the Downtown dining scene, the brilliant tapas joint that began as a sleeper hit on Paradise near Flamingo will not reopen in the Plaza’s iconic glass-domed dining space overlooking the Fremont Street Experience. The owner, John Simmons, ran the numbers and decided it didn’t make financial sense.

“We’re going to do something else,” Simmons said, referring to plans to instead open a new Firefly on Eastern Avenue near Anthem later this year. “I just decided to pack it in. We got tons of people in there. We did good business. We just weren’t making any money.”

In fact, Simmons said, he lost as much as $300,000 on the location over the 18 months the place was open, a slow bleed he didn’t realize was so large until he shut down for the renovation.

He cited two culprits: Unionized labor and a cheap clientele. Simmons had a sweet deal with the Plaza that exempted him from paying rent, but he said staffing costs were significantly higher than at his Paradise and West Sahara locations because the hotel-casino is a union shop. All three locations boasted about 200 seats, but the Plaza room was twice as big as the Paradise spot, which meant a lot of dead space and more to clean.

That might have been surmountable, he said, except Downtown customers weren’t spending enough. The average check was about $20 to $25 per diner, versus $35 at Simmons’ other locations.

Simmons believed that’s because so many people came to Firefly at the Plaza primarily for the view. They’d “camp out and have a couple of things instead of having a whole dinner. … It was like, ‘Let’s get some snacks and watch the show.’” He also couldn’t justify raising the prices at the Downtown location because he figured locals would just go to his other places anyway.

The Plaza tried to keep him, Simmons said. They were in talks to keep the bar area in the interior of the dome as a Firefly and then turn the dome into a high-ticket old-school steakhouse. Intriguingly, that’s what it was in the first place back when Lefty and his friends hung out there, as depicted in the scenes from Casino that were shot there.

Simmons ran the numbers and decided to make a play for Green Valley customers instead. And with that, we see the likely end to what seemed a promising trend of local favorites finally invading the tourist sector. Around the same time Firefly opened, so did the Omelet House at the Plaza, Tinoco’s at the Las Vegas Club and Paymon’s Mediterranean Cafe in the space Tinoco’s had vacated in the Arts District. Today, only Tinoco’s remains.

When the Plaza-Firefly deal first happened, Simmons puzzled at why no Strip resort had come calling with offers given how beloved Firefly is among locals and Vegas executives. Now, he understands the slight. Resorts spend millions on fabulous décor alone so they can justify charging much higher menu prices, he said. It’s a massive investment that requires the surety provided, largely, by world-famous chefs and brands.

Simmons considered holding out to see if the renovation rejuvenates the Plaza, but the fundamentals were unlikely to change.

“There was a light at the end of the tunnel, and I was excited about it, but then I had other aspirations and I’m not some multimillion dollar corporation,” he said. “I’m just one guy, and I can only do one thing at a time.”



Previous Discussion:

Discussion 5 comments

Only trusted comments are displayed on this page. Untrusted comments have expired from this story.

  1. I assume it's not quite as trendy, but the Tinoco's mentioned in the article was just a delight when we ate there a few months ago. We would stay at the Golden Nugget and go eat at Tinoco's. Great food at a comparitive bargain price. Even though it's in the back of the skanky Las Vegas Club it's well worth the effort.

    Shame about Firefly. Without doubt, it was the classiest, most high profile thing to happen to the Plaza since Jackie Gaughan sold out in 2004 and probably well before (with the possible exception of when Larry Manetti of Magnum P.I. had a restauraunt there with his celebrity Sunday brunch).





  3. This is relatively old news, and it is indeed too bad that Firefly will not return to the Plaza. But the fact remains that (a) Firefly will continue to attract central valley locals to the Paradise location, and (b) the Plaza is pulling in a lot of other local operators for the bars and restaurants when they return to full operation around Labor Day. Both entities will do well, if not at the same location.

  4. Like the idea, but the location was bad, if it was near the Arts district it would have worked. The everyday tourist doesn't understand this concept. They would have to be bombarded with 20 ads before they go. This restaurant fits better in the Arts district. If Firefly is trying to replicate the Paradise location they are going to have to look at why people go to that one and it's not for the view outside, but for the small, busy and bustling restaurant feel inside. We waited an hour for a table at the Paradise location and it was doable because the service, food and price were all great. We never leave with a bad experience.

  5. Unionized labor is not cheap. Union bartenders go for $16+ an hour whereas non-union bartenders can go for $2.85+ tips or something in that area. Tie the high wage with a low profit margin, and a lot of dead space and even free rent won't stem the tide of losses. It's simple math: If you're expenses exceed your revenue you will go out of business.