What started as a tiny, late night New York City brasserie is now an empire. And though Bruce Eric Bromberg’s newest Blue Ribbon has multiplied in size and is located in a casino, it hasn’t forgotten its roots.
Blue Ribbon Las Vegas may dwarf the size of the original brasserie, but devotees will recognize the vibe.
When Bruce and Eric Bromberg closed their Blue Ribbon Sushi in Cosmopolitan to go back to basics—replacing it with a larger version of their Blue Ribbon Brasserie that has held late-night court on New York’s Sullivan Street since 1992—they knew they were doing a dangerous dance with the brand. After all, in a town whose expertise lies in importing successful concepts and Epcotifying them, they risked losing the feeling of the original. “We started with this tiny little box with 48 seats in it— a controlled environment with a cozy, welcoming feel. When you adapt that to Vegas, you have to take a lot of things into consideration,” says Bruce Bromberg. After all, Blue Ribbon was built on its vibe as much as its food, and replicating that would involve orchestrating certain intangibles, like building a connection between staff and guests, and making the room feel as lived-in as the original. Then again, the Bromberg brothers’ kingdom now spans 19 restaurants and bars from Los Angeles to New York to South Beach and Las Vegas, so they’ve had some practice maintaining that energy.
When they began building the first Blue Ribbon, Eric had come back from France five years earlier and already had his own restaurant, and Bruce flew back from France to help build it. “At that time, we knew that there was this whole underbelly of New York society that was looking for food late at night. But for the city that never slept, there was nothing,” he says. “We had no money, so we weren’t going to be able to build a La Coupole or a Balthazar-looking thing. Our image was what we could do—it was just based on the grand brasseries that were open until 4am.” The idea: Open only for dinner (“We’re night people”) and serve faultless brasserie food—piles of oysters, comfort food like bone marrow, the hanger steak that calls to you after a long night—and man the place themselves until everyone went home. “It was kind of a slow burn, but it resonated. [Drew] Nieporent brought in [Wolfgang] Puck. David Burke came in; Mario [Batali] and his team were there with Jean-Georges [Vongerichten] and Bobby [Flay]. It was a welcoming place where people congregated around the bar, and it was the meeting place, pre-celebrity chef.”
It’s a Monday night at Cosmopolitan, and Blue Ribbon Brasserie has the same vibe. The entrance has been blown open, transforming the more “guarded” sushi atmosphere into a bustling bistro—the bar front-and-center, and little tables spilling out onto the modified street scene that is Cosmopolitan’s restaurant-packed third floor. Curtains can be pulled across some sections of the restaurant to sequester them, or push the action up front. Cozy booths in the back are new, separating the main room from a soundproofed private room that seats 40. The menu, too, draws on the original favorites. Aside from the massive, Vegas-only Cosmopolitan platter (at $999, it essentially scoops up half the ocean and serves it with Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame 2006), you’ll find mostly untinkered-with favorites, such as fondue, platters of charcuterie, a rustic country pate, and a perfectly traditional steak tartare with capers, cornichon, egg yolk and crispy waffle chips. And of course, the kitchen works overtime keeping up with the demand for the brothers’ famous fried chicken. “Our father used to say that he could have saved a lot of money on culinary school if he knew that our calling card was going to be fried chicken,” Bromberg laughs. And though he estimates that a solid 95 percent of the menu draws on dishes that have been in place since the early ‘90s, “No matter what trends and hip new things happen in food, this menu for 25 years has been at the forefront of every movement. It’s what we know, what we love cooking, and so far, it seems to be working.” That crowd at Cosmopolitan seems to agree.