Thursday, March 12, 3:10 a.m.
Parties in restaurants are typically recipes for disaster. So who could have foreseen that what began as a simple French patisserie in a quiet West Sahara strip mall would become a unique gem in the late-night lounge scene? Certainly not I. I’m wary of parties at restaurants and other dual-purpose events, which usually come about because of an owner’s desire to fill the hours before his club opens or the hours after his restaurant closes.
But Café Soleil’s new owner, Evgene (pronounced “Ef-GAIN-ee,” though he prefers “Gene”) Stoytchev, likes to party. The 32-year-old Bulgarian entrepreneur and his 25-year-old brother, Ivor, took over the pastry shop—an homage to all things typically French, as still evidenced by the photo shrine to the Eiffel Tour on one wall—just two years ago (“On my mother’s birthday,” he recalls). Since then, he’s made many improvements, adding modern leather furnishings like a sleek leather-and-chrome back bar, slowly slipping Bulgarian specialties onto the menu and collaborating with local DJ Keith Evan on Taste Wednesdays.
Skipping right to the end, I’ll say that I’m a huge fan of this very simple new party, which begins with a sold-out dinner/drinks vibe at 9:30 p.m. and continues with Keith and rotating guests spinning downtempo, lounge, dub, Brazilian and deep house until 4, 5 or even 7 a.m.
At around the four-week mark, I arrived on the early shift, three ladies in tow. The late-night menu yielded a spectacular supper of burek (stuffed, roasted red pepper with feta cheese and eggs), babek (dried Bulgarian sausage) and the extremely non-kosher kufte grill (a trio of minced pork and veal patties). But Café Soleil hasn’t entirely shed its Frenchness—we also downed a Nutella crepe. And even with two bottles of quaffable Bulgarian merlot, it all costs less than a round of vodka Red Bulls at a nightclub on the Strip!
Returning for the late shift, this time at 3 a.m., I find the Duneville Street parking lot full. Though the bulk of the crowd has headed out, a purely Eastern European crowd remains. In the curtained-off VIP nook with faux-stone walls and seating for at least 20 of your best comrades, one lingering VIP has offered to purchase one more bottle if Gene will switch over to Serbian and Bulgarian tunes for his predominantly Serbian, Macedonian and Bulgarian posse. Just before 4 a.m., Eastern European house and even hip-hop replace the more domestic variety, and the dance party officially begins.
That’s when the bistro chairs come out, and from that perch, two ladies perform hip isolations reminiscent of a belly dance while the boys clap or mock-spank them to the song’s lustful, unintelligible keening. The tall, fierce-looking blond cocktail server balances her tumbler of vodka on her forehead and, arms outstretched, travels slowly across the dance floor, smoking all the way.
Between drinks and drags on endless cigarettes, beautiful women in tight black dresses and gorgeous men with soulful brown eyes pair up to get down to whatever song the blond cocktail server selects next on the house laptop. She and her fellow corseted servers flit back and forth effortlessly among English, Bulgarian and smoking. Bartenderess Yonita is trying to show Keith how to shake his hips like hers. Still riding the high of yet another good week, he lets her.
“Every time he changes some things,” said Gene, from behind dark sunglasses, on the day after my first visit, of Keith’s constant improvement of Taste. “And that’s great.” With a background in hospitality and a diverse worldview that has included extended stays in Cyprus, Russia and Louisville, Kentucky, Gene has plans for further renovation, a new kitchen and more ethnocentric parties for Vegas’ loosely affiliated Bulgarian population—about 10,000, Gene estimates. “I’m trying to create this little community.” Let the music bring them together, he figures.
Night after Grey Goose- and tourist-filled night I have prayed for something different, something to remind me that I love house music, world music and, well, watching Eastern European men dance. The only way to improve upon this success—for me, anyway—would be to incorporate the world vibe into the earlier party. For the staff, anyway, I know it would be the icing on their burek.