I visited the Heart Attack Grill on Fremont St. in Las Vegas in December, while on assignment for Bloomberg BusinessWeek. On Saturday night, a man suffered an actual heart attack there while eating a “Triple-Bypass Burger,” in the worst titular irony in the restaurant world since a waitress was observed being mean in 1994 at a Friendly’s in the Wilmington (Del.) area.
The ’50s-style diner is situated right at the border of where downtown Vegas shifts from cut-rate casinos and strip clubs to pawn shops and crime-riddled destitution. Patrons wear hospital gowns and are attended by waitresses in cleavage-revealing nurse uniforms. Owner Jon Basso presides in a doctor’s gown and stethoscope, which are evidently only ceremonial. Wheelchairs are on hand to assist those who have become immobilized by a triple- or 8,000-calorie, two-pounds-of-beef, $12.94 quadruple-bypass burger (three or four patties, plus American cheese and optional bacon—15 or 20 slices of the latter).
The rest of the menu is similarly nutrition-averse (fries are “Deep Fried in Pure Lard!”), libertarian-leaning (“CASH ONLY—Plus 8.1% Sales Tax for our wasteful government to squander”), and less than politically correct when advertising its alcohol (a waitress poses next to cans of beer and the quote, “I like it in the can!” while pictures of Colt 45 and Olde English ask the question, “Feeling Ghetto?”).
Anyone who weighs over 350 pounds is permitted to eat unlimited five-bacon-slice burgers for free. A waitress told me that they weigh customers on a scale before dining and tend to give them a little leeway if they’re in the 350-pound ballpark.
Owner Basso opened the Vegas restaurant in October after closing outposts in Arizona in Chandler, Tempe, and Phoenix. Former spokesman Blair River, a 570-pound Arizonian, died last year of pneumonia at 29.
To be fair to Basso, more than 785,000 people have their first heart attack per year in the U.S., and this is the first to occur in his restaurant; better-known and less honestly named fast-food franchises have likely caused exponentially more coronary events over the years. (True, they also have exponentially more outlets and thus more opportunities to clog valves.) As someone who finds government expense wasteful, he might well argue that it’s his customers’ prerogative to eat cuisine they are well aware is unhealthy. And in Vegas, his establishment would hardly win a vice-off. One wonders, however, if the restaurant will revive its $499 “Heart Attack Grill Diet Program”—a one-year program that gave customers three meals per day and one-on-one life coaching with a “nurse.”