June 21, 2021

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The fine art of fashion

Classic Vegas: Unstuffy sommelier has uncorked joy at Hugo’s Cellar for 37 years

Christopher DeVargas

Jon Simmons, longtime sommelier at Hugo’s Cellar at 4 Queens, is demonstrated Thursday, April 29, 2021. He suggests, “There’s practically nothing much more pleasurable than sharing a bottle of wine with any individual who appreciates wine.”

Hugo’s Cellar has had only two complete-time sommeliers in excess of the past 41 decades. Jon Simmons has been their gentleman for 37 of them.

As Las Vegas’ present-day elder statesman of wine, Simmons is now pouring eyeglasses for the grandchildren of his initial shoppers in the inconspicuous still famous wonderful eating place within 4 Queens. No lively sommelier in Las Vegas is thought to have been at it longer.

Simmons now refers to himself, cheerfully and charmingly as is his wont, as an “old geezer.”

Merely, wine and individuals have stored Simmons in his tastevin, the shallow cup often worn around the neck of sommeliers, all this time.

Customer support is at the coronary heart of advertising, not necessarily upselling, wine. Fifty bucks, $30, even $15 can be judiciously expended with skilled direction but generally toward what the customer desires.

“People are intimidated when they see a actually huge wine record,” stated Simmons, who oversees Hugo’s variety of about 350 wines and a inventory of 1,000 bottles, a not-in particular-big but very well-curated reserve. “A great deal of the sommeliers in town above the several years have been really snooty, to me. It should really be exciting. You shouldn’t intimidate shoppers. It is not serious. You like it, you never how significantly is it is it heading to go with what I’m consuming — and even that is overrated to me.”

He desires repeat prospects, not big profits, and is eager to mail again a bottle that does not healthy criteria. The tastevin allows him taste-check. Simmons is aware half of the patrons on any provided evening in the clubby, cozy dining area in which the wine checklist is in his head or printed on paper, not on a pill.

Simmons, 64, grew up in Leeds, West Yorkshire, north of London, and came to the United States in 1979 with $500 in his pocket and a wish to escape the dreary weather of his hometown and his workaday existence as an accountant. A mate had an uncle in Florida and could get the boys — Simmons was 24 years aged at the time — jobs at a pool in a Hilton vacation resort in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. 

Simmons moved into serving high-quality eating on the other aspect of the nation from his primary landing location because he was once again wanting for a thing new. Soon after a couple months as an admitted scab at Caesars Palace in the course of a strike in 1984, he turned a waiter at Hugo’s. Then he commenced relieving the total-time sommelier, then took in excess of the small wine application himself, drawing on a life time of exposure to wine from his grandfather’s wine company back in England.

Hugo’s had a 35-bottle listing then. “Dom Perignon was $90 a bottle,” Simmons stated. “Those were the days.”

At that time, Las Vegas had a inhabitants of a lot less than 200,000. The position to be downtown was under the dome of what is now recognised as Oscar’s Steakhouse at the Plaza, which had commanding, glittery sights of the uncovered Fremont Road. Hugo’s Cellar was continue to younger, but also captivated superior-conclude clientele — Rat Packers (Sammy Davis Jr. was leading-notch and generally “on,” Simmons said), on line casino moguls and wiseguys. In people times, the reduced ceilings held in a thick layer of cigar smoke.

The gentlemen wore tuxedos. The females wore gold lamé. Vegas’ change to organization tourists rarely damage Hugo’s, as corporate cost accounts pair effectively with high-quality wine.

At just one level, he was a person of only three sommeliers in town, the other individuals at Caesars and Westgate, or previous Las Vegas Hilton. The rank swelled to about 200 in the many years foremost up to the Wonderful Economic downturn. As Vegas peeks out from the pandemic, he doesn’t know how a lot of continue being. Perhaps 25. He doesn’t know how the lost yr will affect the job, but he options to remain put until eventually he retires in a several decades.

The smoke is gone. There are not as lots of tuxedos, though the servers at Hugo’s however have on them. It is normally, Simmons stated, mainly the exact same, a nook of Previous Vegas preserved 1 flooring beneath the large electronic slot equipment and sanitary plexiglas dividers of 2021 Las Vegas.

For now, he’s filling in holes in the wine record in anticipation of total reopening June 1. 

Simmons isn’t normally a lover of beer or liquor — not even scotch. Just wine.

“It’s a social thing,” he said. “There’s nothing extra exciting than sharing a bottle of wine with somebody who appreciates wine.”