Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020 | 2 a.m.
When the venerable Ellis Island opened its shiny new indoor-outdoor beer garden the Front Yard in December, it gave the family-owned property just east of the Strip a lot more flexibility to provide a different kind of entertainment experience.
Now open daily from 4 p.m. until midnight, the Front Yard may have been stripped of some of its capabilities by pandemic restrictions, but it’s attracting crowds for Vegas Golden Knights hockey games and receiving increased attention from locals and tourists looking for a comfortable, airy experience.
“It really is a sports and entertainment venue for us,” said Director of Marketing Christina Ellis. “It’s great to watch [games] inside the casino but such a big part of opening the venue was the ability to do all the things we couldn’t do with our space. Here you can hang out and watch the game and we have great specialty beers and an awesome menu of game-day food. We are lucky sports are back and we’re enjoying that business and the energy of those crowds.”
Now a casino with a sportsbook and multiple bars and restaurants and a hotel and brewery, Ellis Island originally opened as the original Village Pub tavern in 1967. The company also operates 15 taverns around the valley, four of which are currently open with full kitchen service, as well as the Mt. Charleston Lodge on Kyle Canyon Road, which has also reopened.
The long design and construction process that erected the Front Yard over the casino parking lot fronting Koval Lane started with the simple idea of a patio for the brewery operation and snowballed into a much more dynamic venue. The bar and restaurant is riddled with TVs, including an 18-foot big-screen in the corner, and the atrium-style second floor has a private bar built for special event bookings. Wall and ceiling panels are retractable all around the venue and the summer format splits the difference with open-air areas at either end plus cooling systems.
With outdoor areas in high demand during the COVID era, the Front Yard is well situated.
“The patio atmosphere really gives people a sense of comfort. You’re getting air flow and it’s cooled so you don’t feel like you’re outside when it’s 111 degrees,” Ellis said. “This is definitely a time when everyone is adapting and having this open space gives us an area to put more people in a place where they can feel more comfortable.
“We really took the time during the closure to perfect the menu, too, and perfect the team here. You don’t often get a chance to have a second grand opening so we used that hindsight to get this where we want it to be.”
Live entertainment from bands and other artists was also part of the Front Yard masterplan. The casino reinstalled live music on Friday and Saturday nights upon the initial reopening but pulled back a few weeks ago to streamline operations. Ellis said there are plans to bring it back as soon as September.
Ellis Island is also well-known for karaoke inside a casino bar but that is also on hold. Health officials recently shuttered karaoke operations that didn’t include private, closed rooms, Ellis said.
Overall, the casino has been busy with restricted capacity and its other restaurants — Village Pub and Café, Ellis Island BBQ, Julio’s Tacos and Metro Pizza — are all operational. And Ellis said it’s enjoying some new guests along with the loyal locals that have been coming for years.
“Over the past few years we’ve noticed non-local business slowly creeping up, whether it’s from people doing their research before they come to town or things like bartenders on the Strip suggesting us. Taking care of locals and treating tourists like they are locals are a big part of our messaging,” she said. “But we’ve always had strong local clientele and we’ve now seen a lot of locals bouncing right back to how often they visited before, which is great. And with the Front Yard, there are people looking for a place off the Strip with that patio that feels comfortable and maybe they didn’t get a chance to check it out before.”