The storied Starboard Tack returns for another voyage — rum, rattan, and all
Las Vegas is more nostalgia than city at times, considering people’s endless fascination with the era of mobsters, eccentric millionaires and raucous Rat Pack misadventure. Icons such as The Sands, The Mint, The Desert Inn and The Stardust were usually the center of the action, but there were countless watering holes off the Strip where the party continued after the show was over.
The Starboard Tack was one of those spots. Tucked among nondescript apartments off Sahara and Pecos, the original Starboard Tack opened in 1971. Under Bob Kostelecky, who purchased the bar-restaurant in 1973, the place quickly became known for its generous pours, fresh seafood, graveyard specials, and lively clientele.
“The main improvement was giving everybody a fair-sized drink. They called it a bucket,” recalls Judy Stewart, Kostelecky’s spouse at the time. “It was usually a two-hour wait for dinner,” she adds.
One reason for the wait: The Kosteleckys had a friend in La Jolla who would send fresh swordfish to the Starboard Tack twice a week. Legend has it that entertainers from Bobbie Gentry to Ringo Starr would end up at the Starboard Tack on the graveyard shift for a round of drinks and a “Bait Plate” featuring filet mignon tips. Another late-night tradition: furtive trysts in a booth hidden behind the bar. And the Starboard Tack’s legendary annual Halloween party was nothing less than a freewheeling, costumed bacchanal.
The Starboard Tack also figures into Vegas history’s darker chapters. It was the site of an attempted car-bombing in January 1977, presumably stemming from a labor dispute between the restaurant and the Culinary Union, then led by the pugnacious Al Bramlet, whose body was discovered in the desert outside Vegas a month later. (One theory is that Bramlet had refused to pay the arsonists for the defective bomb, for which he paid the ultimate price.) But such drama only seemed to fuel the Tack’s allure. In fact, Kostelecky eventually opened a sister restaurant on West Sahara, the Port Tack.
‘We fell in love with it’
Pulling back from the business, Kostelecky leased out the Starboard Tack in 1990, and the new operators changed the name to Gilligan’s Hideaway in the late 1990s. When Gilligan’s Hideaway closed last year after a run as a respectable neighborhood bar, it was a fateful moment for two locals who’d dreamed of reviving the Starboard Tack.
“We were coming in and checking out Gilligan’s, and we fell in love with it,” says Bryant Jane, who co-owns the new Starboard Tack with Lyle Cervenka. Jane is a Las Vegas native familiar with the original Starboard Tack and its lore; Cervenka was lead bartender at Velveteen Rabbit for several years. “I knew the history of the Starboard Tack,” Jane says. “I had never been, but I had been to the Port Tack. It was one of the fancy places you go to when you’re young in Las Vegas.”
Jane and Cervenka aren’t new to the bar business; most recently, they were partners in the short-lived amaro bar Retroscena in the back of Radio City Pizza downtown. In landing the storied space, it also helped that Jane and Cervenka had a connection: They knew Bob Kostelecky’s son Milo, who owns the building. “They were ahead of the curve, because they would ask me questions about the old Starboard Tack, and they were curious if it was ever going to become available again to lease,” says Milo.
The Starboard Tack had its soft opening in March, and the result of Jane and Cervenka’s work is a retro revival complete with floral wallpaper, rattan furniture, a tropical cove mural by local artist Spencer Olsen — and the bar’s original stained-glass boat scene that began its life behind the bar almost 50 years ago.
“Everything has a good tropical vibe,” says Cervenka. This extends to both the beach-worthy cocktails and the food. A rum bar was a natural fit for the nautical theme. “It’s a rum bar, 100 percent,” says Jane. The Black Tot Last Consignment Royal Naval Rum is just one bottle behind the bar that backs him up. The $1,000-per-bottle Black Tot is from the British Royal Navy’s remaining stock from the days when it used to issue daily rum rations to sailors. Of course, beyond the rum drinks, there’s a full bar as well. (And they also brought their amaro collection from Retroscena.)
The dining menu includes bar staples such as a burger and fish and chips, but there are tropical twists, too, with a Thai hot dog and a spicy West Indies fried chicken sandwich. The Pu-Pu section is more adventurous; with daily oysters and poke, it brings back the top-quality seafood the original Starboard Tack was known for.
“We still want to keep that neighborhood bar feel,” says Jane. “That’s our essence more than anything else.” It’s a perfect fit for the return of an institution that began in the same spirit.
The Starboard Tack
2601 Atlantic St.