‘Miracle On Spring Mountain’ Serves the Spirit of the Season…Over Ice


Immersive Cocktail experience brings the North Pole to Sin City’s Coolest Lounge…

“If the holidays are already feeling less like The Most Wonderful Time of the Year and more like open season on Big Capital, here’s a way to reclaim some Christmas cheer: drinking it.”

With all that’s happened in the past eleven months, 2020 will undoubtedly go down as the worst year of our lives. Even the upcoming holiday season has been affected by renewed restrictions, canceled events and scuttled holiday shows. One bright spot has been A VEGAS ROOM CHRISTMAS, which plans to continue under stricter government guidelines. But what we REALLY need is a miracle. Fortunately, a special event has returned to bring peace, joy, and festive holiday cocktails to our struggling city – MIRACLE ON SPRING MOUNTAIN.

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Last year I was unable to attend MIRACLE ON SPRING MOUNTAIN due to an impending loss in my household. Those bad memories might be a little less painful now had I ventured out to Sand Dollar Lounge and its magnificent holiday festivities.

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If you’re familiar with Sand Dollar Lounge, you know that it’s a truly awesome hangout. It boasts a great staff, awesome cocktails, amazing pizzas and cool live music (when permitted by you-know-what). Nestled to the west side of an inconspicuous plaza on Spring Mountain Road (and not far from the world-famous Golden Tiki Lounge), Sand Dollar has been a legendary favorite since 1976.

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Owners Anthony Jamison, Benito Martinez, and Nathan Grates successfully restored the closed-down establishment in 2009. Not content to rest on their laurels, they’ve taken on the massive task of transforming the historic fun spot into seasonal pop-up experiences. Right after this year’s spooky NIGHTMARE ON SPRING MOUNTAIN, the team flipped the switch to create a spectacular Christmas wonderland.

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This year marks the second time that Sand Dollar Lounge has been part of the Miracle Cocktail Pop-up Bar network. The concept began six years ago in NYC’s East Side and has swept through the United States, Canada and countries like Panama, England and Switzerland. Sand Dollar proudly hosts the only “Miracle” pop-up in Nevada. 

I’m told that “Miracle 2020” is bigger, bolder, more colorful and lots more elaborate than last year’s inaugural effort. I was on hand a few days prior to the the ribbon-cutting in order to sample the season’s specialty cocktails. Witnessing the transformation in such a short time was nothing less than staggering. 

Beginning Friday 11/27, “Miracle” will open from 2 pm to 4 am.  Decor was designed and installed by Bright Light Holiday Co., a local service owned by my buddy Garrett Pattiani. He and partners Kerry and Daniel Dennis primarily do outdoor decorating projects, but couldn’t resist the opportunity to put their unique stamp on this project. Says Garrett:

“Owner Anthony Jamison and I grew up in Tonopah, Nevada. When he heard that we did holiday decor, he asked us to collaborate with him. Kerry spends months planning the interior, searching for unique items and decorations to fit the “Miracle” brand. “

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There are tens of thousands of lights, along with dozens of trees, elves, candy canes, stockings, snowmen and Saint Nicks. Highlights include a “Santa’s Twerk Shop” donation booth (proceeds benefiting the Las Vegas Rescue Mission), a North Pole stage backdrop, and a Hanukkah corner. 

The year-round drink list will be temporarily switched over to an extensive holiday-themed Miracle Bar menu. Everything from the Snowball Old Fashioned to Jingle Balls Nog are served in special mugs and glassware that are available to buy for gifts or your own party ware. To add to the fun, there will be special themed nights and pizza events. Patrons are encouraged to dress in the spirit of the theme nights, with special attractions planned.

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Ambient musical performances by solo and small combo artists will be offered on Friday and Saturday nights. During food events, prominent local chefs will create unique pizzas, with net proceeds going to Las Vegas Rescue Mission. The event schedule is as follows:

Sun Nov. 29th Justin Kingsley Hall Pizza Pop-Up

Mon Dec. 1 Ugly Sweater Party feat.  Paradise City Creamery Pop-Up

Wed Dec. 2nd Johnny Church Pizza Pop-Up

Sun Dec. 6th Josh Smith Pizza Pop-Up

Mon Dec. 7th The Grinch Day 

Wed Dec. 9th James Trees Pizza Pop-Up

Thurs Dec. 10 First Night of Hanukkah Vodka-Latke Party (free latkes while they last)

Sun Dec. 13th -Brian Howard Pizza Pop-Up

Mon Dec. 14th Candy Cane Day

Wed Dec. 16th Petrina Peart Pizza Pop-Up

Sun Dec.20th Chris Decker Pizza Pop-Up

Mon Dec. 21st Naughty or Nice night feat. Paradise City Creamery pop-up

Wed Dec. 23rd Justin Ford Pizza Pop-Up

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During Miracle on Spring Mountain, Sand Dollar Lounge management will follow all existing and newly mandated Covid-safe protocols, including 25% capacity, required reservations via their website (limited to parties of 4 seated together), sanitizing between all guest visits, masks required at all times (unless physically eating) and more. Sand Dollar Lounge is non-smoking.

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Sand Dollar Lounge is open daily from 2pm to 4am. It’s located at 3355 Spring Mountain Rd Ste. 30, Las Vegas, NV 89102. Call (702) 485-5401 or visit their website for reservations or more information. 

Photos: Sam Novak, Jose Salinas & Eric C. Gladstone/Feast of Friends

 

‘A VEGAS ROOM CHRISTMAS’ – An Updated Forecast


lastest news on the season’s cheeriest holiday dinner and show…

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It’s often said that in Las Vegas, the only constant is “change”. From entertainment offerings to the temperatures, you never know what to expect from week to week. And so it seems that the winds of change have shuffled the playbook at The Vegas Room. I’ve got the latest updates for fans and newbies alike.

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If you’re just tuning in, you can catch up with A VEGAS ROOM CHRISTMAS show announcement here, then cast bios here and here. As is the norm in the entertainment world, things tend to evolve during creative processes. And so it is that Eric Jordan Young, Brent Barrett, Bernie Blanks and Lisa Marie will no longer be appearing in A VEGAS ROOM CHRISTMAS.

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The announced cast of 20 performers has been revised with additional Las Vegas favorites. Each is a respected entertainer with their own legacy and fan base. Let’s take a look at the gentlemen who will now don stocking caps and mittens to celebrate Irving Berlin‘s WHITE CHRISTMAS:

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CARNELL JOHNSON – Familiar to thousands of Golden Knights fans…and people around the world…as “Mr. Golden Pipes”, Carnell Johnson unifies the nation regularly with his stirring rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner”. Born in Las Vegas, the gentle giant is known for entertaining enormous crowds at T-Mobile Arena and enhancing intimate moments as a singing gondolier at Venetian‘s GRAND CANAL.

A compassionate individual, Mr. Johnson regularly lends his time and talent to Ronald McDonald House and social equality movements.  He also participated in the MaskUpForNevada (#MaskUp4NV) campaign at the Welcome to Las Vegas sign that I covered in June. Carnell spent much of this summer doing small outdoor gigs, and is a professional actor and voice-over artist.

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Robert Hyatt

ROBERT HYATT – Who could ever guess that the gondolas floating on Venetian‘s canals could deliver so much talent. Such is the case with Oregonian Robert Hyatt. Like castmate Carnell Johnson, Hyatt also spent time on the fabled waters, serenading the city’s visitors in his own unique style.

Rob is just as skilled at music arranging as he is on the microphone. The husband and father is founder of the amazing Fifth Avenue jazz quartet, a managing member of E3 Digital Entertainment and was musical director/pianist for Riviera Hotel‘s long-running Barbra and Frank: The Concert That Never Was.

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IAN WARD – Regular readers of Vegas Unfiltered Blog know my admiration for California boy Ian Ward. Check out this profile piece to see what I mean. It’s rare to find such explosive talent in someone so young. Poised to detonate the national scene any day now, Ian had a featured showcase at The Vegas Room in August. Naturally, I attended every evening.

For the past three weeks, he and partner Ruby Lewis (who also appears in A VEGAS ROOM CHRISTMAS) presented a musical journey highlighting their ability to blend, harmonize and compliment one another. Here’s just one of the unforgettable moments:

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Ben Tucker

In addition to casting changes, dancer/choreographer Benjamin Tucker has taken on the role of Stage Director. Ben told me that he plans an immersive experience that will evoke the warmth of a holiday ski lodge. Guests will briefly leave Las Vegas behind and enter the world of White Christmas. Once you’ve enjoyed a bountiful Christmas-style dinner, The Vegas Room cast will commemorate the perennial movie classic via song and dance.

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Throughout December, guests of The Vegas Room will experience the fragrances and tastes of the season, too. Chef David James Robinson has crafted a glorious holiday menu to compliment and accompany the onstage presentation:

Savory Gingerbread with Vanilla Butter

Mini Lobster Quiche

Borscht with Sour Cream

Holiday Salad with Homemade Ranch Dressing

Roast Beef with Yorkshire Pudding or 

Turkey and Sage Dressing with Green Beans & Pomegranate or 

Roasted Acorn Squash with Sage Dressing and Sweet Potato Puree (vegan)

Egg Nog and Peppermint Shortbread Cookies

The Vegas Room Dessert That Snows!

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In preparation for upcoming festivities and to allow patrons to remain safely at home during increased COVID-19 concerns, The Vegas Room will be dark through November 26th (Thanksgiving). Shows will return on November 27th and 28th with dinner performances by Travis Cloer (Jersey Boys).

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Sunday brunch returns on Sunday, November 29th with international dazzler Nieve Malandra. Chef Robinson has prepared a multi-course brunch to accompany Nieve’s songs from Japan, Spain, Italy, France, and Portugal.

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A VEGAS ROOM CHRISTMAS launches its first of 20 performances on December 2nd. Join them for what is sure to become an annual holiday tradition. Click here for reservations to any performance at The Vegas Room.

The Vegas Room is located at 953 East Sahara Avenue E-18. Phone (725) 206-7059 for more information.

Worth The Wait: EDGE Steakhouse Returns to Westgate Las Vegas

The city’s top-rated steak restaurant is ready to sizzle once more…

If you’re a regular reader of this column, then chances are that you’ve visited Las Vegas more than once. Perhaps you have a favorite hotel and some must-do activities that accompany your list of new adventures. When you get to the point where staff members remember your name and preferences, then Sin City begins to feel a little bit like home.

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EDGE Steakhouse of Westgate Las Vegas understands how rare it is these days to feel like a valued guest. They treasure each and every visitor, going beyond expectations to earn your business…both today and in the future. That’s why dozens of devoted patrons turned out for the reopening of the city’s top-rated steakhouse on October 22nd. Thanks to COVID-19, that hiatus was an astounding seven months. 

You might recall my series on the culinary greats of Westgate. Or perhaps you read my salute to the iconic property’s 50th Anniversary, which appeared in Las Vegas Magazine. It’s clear that I have a deep affection for the resort and the hundreds of dedicated individuals who keep it operating like a fine, beloved timepiece. 

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“I’m not going to lie, Sammy” said Head Bartender Mike Thompson. “I’ve got goosebumps after all these months of being away. As professionals, we’ve got to nail it”. And nail it, he did. The handsome and charismatic mixologist, whom I profiled here, was in perfect form last Friday evening when I arrived for a pre-dinner cocktail. 

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As expected, loyal patrons had already lined up for 5pm dinner reservations before I arrived. Hostess Cheryl P. was welcoming guests with her usual warmth, and the familiar smells of seafood and dry-aged beef made it seem as though the doors had never closed.  

Seated at the bar for a solo meal, I had the pleasure of watching Mikey at work. Equally skilled at the fine arts of mixology and conversation (and one of the current faces of EDGE…see video above) Mikey was clearly pleased at the opportunity to greet his regulars. They came from as far away as New York City…and as close as Turnberry Towers…to share an hour or two on opening weekend with the famed bartender and self-professed “Court Jester”. 

Of course, any fine-dining establishment is only as good as its team in the kitchen. That’s where EDGE has the….er…edge, as Executive Chef Steve Young (read my profile here) is a true master of his craft. It’s easy to crow about the accomplishments of this youthful culinary genius, given his ability to elevate both EDGE and adjacent Fresco Italiano to the top of their respective TripAdvisor rankings. Perhaps that’s why the great-looking chef is frequently welcomed to local news programs to discuss his latest creations. 

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Since EDGE‘s reopening coincides with the fall season, Chef Young is excited to bring back Sunchoke Agnolotti ($16). This seasonal offering combines the root of sunflower plants, King trumpet mushrooms, black truffles and parmesan with a ravioli-style pasta. The dish was featured at New York’s James Beard House in 2017, and returns to EDGE every year at this time.

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Despite this being a steakhouse, my palate was yearning for seafood. So, I started with an appetizer of Spicy Shrimp (above, $17), along with one of their famed, buttery popovers. Lightly fried and drizzled with a delicious spicy-sweet chile reduction, Spicy Shrimp is a favorite that seemed to be at nearly every table.

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For my entrée, I went with Sea Scallops ($38), a beautifully delicious choice served with butternut squash puree, pine nuts, pomegranate and brussels sprouts. I paired it with a massive salt-baked Loaded Potato ($12) smothered in a smoky Nueske bacon, white cheddar, sour cream and chives.

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You might find it tough to pass on an EDGE dessert, but my hearty dinner portion left me more than satisfied. So, I ordered another of Mikey’s riff on a vodka sour and settled in for some light conversation. That’s easy to do in the elegant yet comfortable atmosphere that EDGE Steakhouse is famous for.

thumbnail_116758It’s not my forte to elaborate on the wealth of tastes at EDGE, as I’m not a food critic. But I can tell you that whatever you desire from a steakhouse, you’ll find it here with the best possible preparation, presentation and atmosphere. You can peruse the EDGE Steakhouse menu by clicking this link. The array of choices is sure to stimulate your senses and make your mouth water.

There are hundreds of restaurants throughout Las Vegas, and each resort would have you believing that theirs are the best. But only one steakhouse can hold the top spot in the city, and Westgate has the EDGE.

Chef Steve Young Edge Steakhouse

EDGE Steakhouse is located at 3000 Paradise Road inside Westgate Las Vegas. Their current hours are Thursday through Saturday from 5pm through 10pm. The restaurant is operating under advance safety and sanitation protocols.  Enjoy a limited-time offer of one cocktail with each dinner entrée. Click here to make reservations through OpenTable

Photos: Sam Novak, Westgate Las Vegas. Videos provided by Westgate Las Vegas

Take to the Skies With 5 Star Helicopter Tours

Top-Rated aerial company offers affordable excursions over the strip and to grand canyon…


Of all the bucket-list things to do in and around Las Vegas, two of the most popular are helicopter rides and trips to the Grand Canyon. 5-Star Helicopter Tours offers both with reasonable prices, professional service and plenty of options.

Regular readers might remember my amazing sunset dinner within the Grand Canyon, courtesy of Serenity Helicopters. I also penned a piece for Las Vegas Magazine on Grand Canyon West and their amazing Skywalk, which you can access here. Nighttime aerial trips over the Strip are one of those popular activities that has eluded this writer…until this week. And I’m glad that I chose 5 Star Helicopters as my tour guide for this particular adventure.

A note from this tour provider: This is not a private flight. The aircraft seats six (6) passengers plus the Pilot. Social distancing is not practiced during your 15 minute flight. Face masks must be worn at all times.

5 Star Helicopters has two locations to serve its guests. Those heading for the Grand Canyon depart from their air terminal in Boulder City. Strip-view excursions take off from a heliport in North Las Vegas, just around the corner from West Wind Las Vegas Drive-In Theater, my favorite hangout since the pandemic.

The north location has the advantage of a longer flight time (approximately fifteen minutes) than those companies located at or near McCarran International Airport. You’ll approach the Strip from beyond downtown, taking in a sneak peak of Fremont Street before heading over Palms Casino and the Rio. I was surprised at the number of rooftop pools that Rio offers in its Sky Villas. It’s a vantage point that I’d never encountered in my endless passenger flights into and from the city.

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Our Pilot, Jimmy, gave us an excellent look at Allegiant Stadium. Then he looped around the Mandalay Bay/Delano resorts and gave us our first bird’s-eye view of the entire Strip. If you can recall Captain Kirk’s dramatic flight towards a dry-docked Starship Enterprise in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, then perhaps you can appreciate the emotional scope of this moment. 

The aircraft used by 5 Star Helicopters offer excellent panoramic views to the left, right and forward. The cabins are climate-controlled, and all six passenger seats face forward. During the ride, you’ll be wearing sanitized headsets that drown out noise and allow you to clearly hear the narration provided by your pilot/guide.

Captain Jimmy pointed out landmarks like the Luxor beam, T-Mobile Arena, High Roller Observation Wheel and more. We took a path over the east side of the Strip, nestled between Wynn/Encore and the massive Westgate Resort before a close flyby of The Strat (aka Stratosphere) and its famed Skypod

Finally, we followed the north end of Las Vegas Boulevard into Downtown and Fremont Street Experience. This was my first opportunity to get a close-up aerial view of brand-new Circa Hotel Casino. The highly-anticipated Stadium Swim was brightly lit, and appeared ready to welcome guests when the resort opens its doors for the first time on October 28th. 

From there we headed back to the North Las Vegas base of operations, once again skirting West Wind Drive-in. The entire flight was smooth, comfortable and secure. You should be aware that 5 Star Helicopters boasts a stellar record for safety. You can read about their protocols, equipment and view a safety video by clicking here. 

As mentioned above, there are a variety of services, prices levels, excursions and add-0ns to choose from. These include dinner packages, private flights and other thrilling adventures like zip lines and exotic track driving. Being that I reside in Las Vegas, I chose to drive to the heliport, which saves you money. Tourists can opt for a luxurious passenger service to and from their hotel. 

Like most airborne activities, you’ll be expected to weigh in before departure, sign a waiver and watch a pre-flight safety instruction video. After doing so, you can sip a flute of bubbly or a bottle of water, included with your ticket, before heading outside.

Be aware that you’re allowed to take your own photos and videos during the trip, but flash must be disabled and all devices must be set in “airplane” mode. A professional photographer is present to take photos on the ground prior to your adventure, and they will be waiting for you when you return. They’re housed in a gorgeously-emblazoned 3D book. 

5 Star Helicopters offers unique ways to make your special event unforgettable. You can get married in the air, on the floor of the Grand Canyon and even at the Valley of Fire. A low-cost option allows you to tie the knot over the Las Vegas Strip after sunset, and the fleet is available for charters and groups. Whatever you dream, 5 Star Helicopters can make it a reality. 

To see the latest specials available through the official 5 Star Helicopters website, click here. The excursion described above is currently priced at $89.99 per person as of this writing (10/22/20), available via this link at Viator.com.

Chestnuts, Snowfall and Stars: ‘A Vegas Room Christmas Cast’ Pt. 2


Conclusion of my two-part look at casting the brightest event of the holiday season….


Remember that feeling you had as a child? All through the month of December you stared at the calendar, counting down the days until Christmas vacation. Then came the unbearable anticipation of the big morning under the tree, with all of gifts, hugs from family and friends…and of course, a fabulous meal.

Now that we’ve gotten older, those emotions tend to be forgotten. But this year, more than ever before, our inner child is longing for those feelings of joy, comfort, and celebration. The one place in Las Vegas that you’re sure to find them this holiday season is at The Vegas Room.

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If you’ve missed my previous articles on A Vegas Room Christmas, you can read them by clicking here and here. You’ll learn about this magnificent production and the fabulous brunch or dinner that accompanies each performance. But let’s continue with the remaining members of the stellar cast, picking up where we left off last week.

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                                                                      Ruby Lewis

RUBY LEWIS – Is it unfair of me to state in this section that Ruby Lewis is one of my favorite performers of all time? Probably….but there are really no words to describe my affection for this gifted young woman. No matter where she goes or what she’s doing, you’ll most likely see me in the audience.

In a city full of inflated egos and self-importance, only a performer as humble and genuine as Ruby Lewis would prepare a pre-show feast of home-cooked greens, black-eyed peas and ham for her fans. This is one southern gal whose mama raised her right (thanks, Eve).

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                 I had the honor of sharing the BAZ stage with Ms. Lewis for a day…

I first encountered Ms. Lewis when she came to Mandalay Bay for the brief initial run of BAZ. Ruby’s stunning vocals brought audiences to their feet through her portrayal of “Daisy Buchanan”, debutante and heartbroken soulmate of one “Jay Gatsby”. I challenge you to watch this clip without getting goosebumps…and some tears in your eyes.

After a stunning leap to Broadway, Ms. Lewis returned to BAZ at Palazzo, played the lead in Marilyn! The New Musical at Paris Hotel Casino and hosted her one-woman show at The Space. You can catch Ruby and partner Ian Ward when they grace The Vegas Room stage for three consecutive Thursdays beginning October 29th.

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Luke Striffler – If Ruby Lewis is the star atop the Vegas Room Christmas tree, then actor/singer/comedian Luke Striffler is the holiday eggnog. Smooth and bright with great body and a little kick, this is one Christmas cocktail you’ll want to sip all season long.

Luke charmed audience at Fremont Street’s D Hotel Casino in the popular Friends: The Musical Parody. He’s also created excitement with roles in Hairspray, Avenue Q. and Forever Plaid. Although born Stateside, Luke’s career took hold when he moved to London, where he starred in the featurette The Morning After with husband Joshua Berg. Two of Luke’s biggest breakthroughs were a role in the famed EastEnders BBC series and a semi-final placing on Britain’s Got Talent as part of The Kingdom Tenors.

Sin City gained more than just another handsome face when the multi-talented activist returned to the U.S. Once the pandemic shut down all live entertainment, it was Luke who created Performers Outlet: Covid-19, a support group for entertainers. The initiative provides encouragement, ideas, and opportunities for artistic collaboration while weathering this seemingly endless pandemic.

Janien Valentine

Janien Valentine – You know that you’ve achieved “entertainment royalty” when you’ve been immortalized by artist Neal Portnoy. That’s why people around the Valley wake up to a cup of Janien Valentine every day. Janien was “Portnoyed” by the famed caricaturist artist, who created a line of fundraising products to assist out-of-work entertainers (learn more by clicking here).

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Ms. Valentine plants her boots firmly in a variety of musical periods. She can belt out today’s top hits, pay tribute to ballads of years past, then roar back in time to the Strip’s Golden Era. An all-around entertainer with incredible dynamic range, Janien blends the flavors of Ann-Margaret and Celine Dion with a sprinkle of Lola Falana and a dash of Tina Turner.

The native of East Amherst, NY is well-known to audiences through her work with The Scintas. She’s the principal vocalist of the musical trio Poperazzi, and you can drink in her scintillating energy at Bellagio‘s Mayfair Supper Club. Ms. Valentine returns this Christmas season to The Vegas Room after a splendid showcase in August. 

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                                                                 Michelle Johnson

Michelle Johnson – If the warm, fuzzy feelings of the holidays could take human form, I suspect they’d look a lot like Michelle Johnson. There’s something about the style, elegance, and comforting voice of the “First Lady of Jazz” that makes you want to reach for a brandy snifter and settle in by the fireplace for a crackling-good show.

The multi-award winner has graced Broadway stages, television screens and venues throughout Las Vegas. She’s collaborated with artists as varied as Barbra Streisand, Sheena Easton, Elton John, Clint Holmes, PM Dawn and Josh Groban. 

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For many, a Michelle Johnson performance is synonymous with the holiday season. That’s why her “Vintage Christmas” at The Smith Center quickly sold out last December. Alas, that amazing venue for the arts has been shuttered indefinitely due to the pandemic. Fortunately, fans can still get their Christmas fix of the starlet at The Vegas Room all through December.

A self-described “introvert” who confesses to wrestling with stage fright, the accomplished singer/songwriter/producer/author nevertheless exudes confidence and charisma with every pitch-perfect note. Ms. Johnson’s solo shows are teeming with  humorous anecdotes and honest reflection that somehow make her feel like an old friend. In other words, she’s exactly the kind of person that you’d want to spend the holidays with.

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Ben Tucker and Emma McGirr –

What’s a musical production without a pair of professional dancers? The Vegas Room has broadened their vision for “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas” with the addition of Emma McGirr and Ben Tucker. The real-life couple is part of Nevada Ballet Theatre, and have performed “The Nutcracker” both locally and for the Schrader Youth Ballet Company in Parkersburg, WV.

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Two years ago, McGirr and Tucker founded Ballet 120, an innovative dance company whose goal is to make the artform of dance accessible to larger audiences via social media platform. They do so by creating brief, innovative video performances like the one below.

Emma and Ben plan to marry on January 2nd of next year. A Vegas Room Christmas marks their first professional appearance at the venue.

Check back with Vegas Unfiltered Blog in the weeks ahead for more information on A Vegas Room Christmas, including community efforts related to the event. Follow this link for complete information on pricing, schedules and reservations. The Vegas Room is located at 953 East Sahara Avenue E-18 in the historic Commercial Center complex. 

October Horror-Fest at Las Vegas Drive-in Theater

Retro outdoor theater screens dozens of spooky comedies, bloody shockers and romantic chillers for safe Halloween fun…

The effort to successfully reopen indoor theaters has been such a struggle that eleven movie theaters in the Las Vegas valley closed once more this month. Some, like Eclipse Theaters in the downtown area and Tropicana Cinemas, a second-run bargain house, never unlocked their doors. Nevertheless, West Wind Drive-ins have been thriving!

West Wind Las Vegas is one of seven in California and Nevada operated by their parent company. I told you about this six-screen outdoor theater here. With budget-friendly prices on tickets and snacks, you can pack up the family (or a hot date) into your car and have a fun night out without breaking the bank. Even better, physical distancing is NEVER a concern at a drive-in, since you’re in control of your environment. You don’t have to interact with anyone if you choose not to (online ticketing is coming soon). 

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Modern conveniences like digital picture and stereo FM sound enhance the movie-going experience. Snacks and meals can be ordered from your smartphone for quick pick-up at the concession stand. You can smoke, bring your own food, turn up the volume as loud as you like on your car’s sound system and chat about the movie if you want to. It’s your own private universe under the stars.

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All of those advantages are why the drive-in theater has surged in popularity this year. Not only has the retro concept become a place to rediscover classics on the big screen, but locations around the country have been showing new concerts and hosted comedy and drag shows. Even Jennifer Romas and the cast of Westgate’s SEXXY revue performed drive-in shows this summer at a special location.

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COVID-19 is still affecting seasonal activities like sporting events and holiday parties. Depending on your neighborhood, even trick-or-treat might not happen. But nothing is tastier than freshly-buttered movie popcorn, and you can still dress the kids (or yourself) in costumes to see a great Halloween hit, double-feature, or even a trilogy….all for one low price.

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From now through October 31st, West Wind is lighting up their six massive screen with dozens of horror titles. From franchise hits of the 80’s to the latest spooky titles. there’s something for EVERYONE.

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Click here for the latest schedule, and check back often. 

Family-friendly Spookers – 

Romantic Vampire Films – 

Franchise Horror Films – 

Tim Burton Favorites – 

John Carpenter Classics –

Low-Budget Shockers –

Big-Budget Titles –

Groundbreaking Classics –

There are plenty more films to be added to the list, and the festival runs through Halloween night. Click here for updates, and check back often. 

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West Wind Las Vegas Drive-in Theater is open year-round, rain or shine. They’re located at 4150 West Carey Avenue, northwest of downtown. Call  (702) 646-3565 OR (702) 647-1379 for more information.

 

Chestnuts, Snowfall and Stars: ‘A VEGAS ROOM CHRISTMAS’ Cast Revealed

A powerhouse roster promises the brightest holiday event of the season…


Last week I shared the exciting news that The Vegas Room would be producing a month-long salute to the sights, sounds and flavors of Irving Berlin’s “WHITE CHRISTMAS”. In our current state of shutdowns…along with the latest blow of Broadway being shuttered until mid-2021…an announcement of this magnitude was most welcome.

The dream team that’s been assembled for A Vegas Room Christmas is nothing short of amazing. Entertainment Director Brent Barrett (Chicago, Annie Get Your Gun, Kiss Me, Kate), Stage Director Eric Jordan Young (BAZ, Cocktail Cabaret) and Musical Director Keith Thompson (Jesus Christ Superstar, Hairspray, We Will Rock You) have decades of experience and thousands of performances to draw on. So with everyone that A Vegas Room Christmas already has in place, the production was sure to attract an incredible line-up of singers and dancers. And indeed it has. 

In a follow-up meeting with the creative team this weekend, I was able to get an advance peek at the official cast announcement, along with the performance schedule of each player. As mentioned in the previous article, A Vegas Room Christmas will feature four rotating casts of top-caliber artists. 

Anne Martinez Can’t Slow Down To Be “The Next Big Thing”

Anne Martinez – The crimson-haired goddess known as Anne Martinez has been a personal favorite of mine for many years. I became acquainted with Anne when she joined the cast of BAZ at Palazzo, taking on the Moulin Rouge role of “Satine” made famous by Nicole Kidman. A long list of Vegas productions includes World’s Greatest Rock Show, Showstoppers, FANTASYZombie Burlesque and her own remarkable creation Alice: A Steampunk Concert Fantasy

Anne and husband John Martinez (Cirque du Soleil’s “O”) are very active in the community, especially when it comes to animal charities and rescue. She fronts the band Red Penny Arcade which can currently be seen at The Venetian and downtown’s NOTORIETY LIVE. Click here for my profile on Ms. Martinez from 2017. 

Sam Holder – If I’m going to comment on the glamour of the ladies in this cast, then it’s only fair to point out the “heartthrob status” of Sam Holder. The square-jawed, broad-shouldered Mississippi native is poised to set hearts aflutter at The Vegas Room with his matinee-idol looks and sexy swagger.

Equally at home performing classic rock, Motown-era standards and sultry jazz, Mr. Holder combines pop sensibilities and wit with the classic stylings of Sin City’s Golden Era. Sam’s powerful showmanship comes through even when his tongue is firmly planted in his cheek. I’m eager to see what the rugged hunk has in store for White Christmas roles made famous by Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye.

Amanda King – There’s a reason why visitors to The Vegas Room return time and again for Amanda King. The vibrant songstress from Indiana always has something new for devoted fans…and a dazzling showcase for those discovering Ms. King for the very first time.

A classically-trained actor and singer, Ms. King wraps her arms tightly around the “Great American Songbook”, embracing the works of pioneers like Sophie Tucker, Eartha Kitt and Lena Horne. This month, the glamorous chanteuse debuted an ambitious two-part salute to legends of the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s at The Vegas Room.

Randal Keith – If vocals could be harnessed for energy, the powerful voice of Randal Keith would light up every neon sign and LED screen on the Strip. At the age of 13, Randal’s unique timbre was already striking, and he continues to astound audiences today. A favorite at The Vegas Room, Mr. Keith has performed two weekend showcases there and continues to draw in dedicated fans.

Mr. Keith spent several years on Broadway and on tour with iconic roles in Les Miserables, Spamalot, Man of La Mancha and Sunset Boulevard. Currently residing in Las Vegas, the handsome star delighted Sin City audiences with roles in Phantom – The Vegas Spectacular, BAZ, Marilyn, and Showstoppers.

Lisa Marie – Sexy, sassy, modern and classy…all words to describe the sultry Lisa Marie. Like our other red-tressed beauty Anne Martinez, Ms. Marie also graced the Palazzo stage for BAZ. Before that, her retro-chic persona was perfectly featured in the long-running musical Pin-Up at Stratosphere.

When not performing at Bellagio‘s Mayfair Supper Club, Lisa Marie spends some of her rare free time in the recording studio. Her songs are available on iTunes, YouTube, and Spotify. She’s also a staple at Kenny Davidsen‘s Bowtie Cabaret and numerous charitable events at The Space

Bernie Blanks – “Just when I thought I was out… they pull me back in.” – Michael Corleone, The Godfather III

Bernie Blanks might have convinced himself at some point that he’d left show business behind. After a long run in the legendary Starlight Express, Mr. Blanks became involved in numerous productions before undertaking a career in healthcare and aesthetic medicine. Of course, the call of the stage becomes louder once you’ve married back into the business. 

On Labor Day Weekend, the husband of The Vegas Room‘s Entertainment Director Brent Barrett joined his spouse onstage for “Islands In the Stream”, a personal evening of duets and reflection. Mr. Barrett referred to their show as “Sonny and Cher…but with two men. And since I’m taller, guess who gets to play Cher?”.

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The happy couple will team up once more for A Vegas Room Christmas. This writer can’t help but wonder if either of these gentlemen plans to take on Rosemary Clooney or Vera-Ellen…that would definitely put an  uproarious twist on White Christmas. You’ll have to order your tickets early to find out. 

Next week I’ll tell you about the rest of the Vegas Room Christmas cast, including Michelle Johnson, Ruby Lewis, Luke Striffler and dancers Ben Tucker and Emma McGirr. With luck, there might be some behind-the-scenes photos on the way…

A Healthier Vegas Visit Is Possible With ‘Stay Well’


Unique lodging/convention experience utilizes the latest technology to protect you from infection while infusing your mind, body, and spirit with “wellness”…

I originally wrote this article in early March of 2020 for BestOfVegas.com, but it never saw the light of day. BestOfVegas remains in limbo, but now that we’ve reopened most hotels and casinos, the piece still has relevance. So, I present it to you here in its original form. 

There’s no question that traveling can have exhausting effects, both physically and mentally. Combine that with a few days of traditional Las Vegas excess and you’re likely to feel run down…or perhaps even ill. There are many types of recovery services available to counteract these symptoms. Or, you can be pro-active by booking your vacation in a Stay Well™ room at MGM Resorts.

Created by New York City corporation DELOS, the trademarked Stay Well™ concept was brought to Sin City in 2012 when dozens of fully-equipped, non-smoking rooms were introduced at MGM Grand. Since then, they’ve greatly expanded the number of rooms, introduced a Stay Well lounge and expanded the lineup to Park MGM and Mirage resorts. A select group of Stay Well protocols are also featured under the banner of “Fresh by Stay Well” at New York NY, Excalibur, and Luxor.

What makes a Stay Well™ room different from others? Everything! From the air you breathe to the water you shower in. From the sound-dampened walls and plant-extract memory foam mattress to red-spectrum circadian lighting, Stay Well enhances your body’s ability to relax, recover, rest and reinvigorate.

A Stay Well app by Cleveland Clinic allows you to maximize the available amenities and benefits. And perhaps most important of all, dangerous germs, viruses and other microbes are given the heave-ho by using non-toxic cleaning products and UV light-cleaning tools.

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Famed alternative-medicine advocate Dr. Deepak Chopra serves as an advisory board member for DELOS. He endorses the benefits of their specialized guest rooms. “Stay Well Rooms are built on many individual features, which when combined, have an unprecedented positive health impact for the traveler. Your wellness experience has been specially designed in collaboration with leading doctors, architects, engineers, and medical institutions.”

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“Amenities like purified air, healthy lighting, an allergy-friendly environment, dawn simulation, and aromatherapy increase energy, reduce stress, improve productivity and enhance your sleep quality. Our vitamin C shower infuser reduces chlorine to help skin and hair stay soft and smooth. Stay balanced, stay fresh, Stay Well.”

With all of today’s fears of contaminants within gathering spaces, Stay Well has expanded to offer its proactive health protocols to convention guests at MGM Grand by way of “Stay Well Meetings”. Air purification removes toxins, allergens, smoke and microbes from the air. Surfaces are treated with “WELL Shield”, a self-cleaning photocatalytic coating that destroys harmful organic compounds. Cleveland Clinic provides innovative menus and online tools to combat the negative effects of travel (like jet lag and poor diets).

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Stay Well amenities are clearly identified on the booking page of each hotel’s website. Every MGM Resorts property in Las Vegas (with the exception of Signature at MGM Grand) should be offering Stay Well enhancements or fully-conceived guest rooms by summer 2020. While no single program can prevent illness or provide absolute safety from infection, it’s helpful to know that options are available. So now you can reduce risk and reap the benefits of a healthier Vegas experience at the same time.

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Photos: MGM Resorts, Stay Well by DELOS

 

 

Face the Spirits of Downtown’s ‘Apache Hotel’


Binions’ long-shuttered original rooms dare you to spend the night…

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You know the feeling of silent dread that creeps up your spine, tickling the back of your neck? How about the compulsion to suddenly do something with no rhyme or reason? Toss those sensations into a trick-or-treat bag, along with an intense need to get the hell out of the house, shake well, and that’s how I found myself checking into the eerie Hotel Apache this past weekend.

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Many of you may remember that Binions Casino once operated as a hotel, too. Its tower, topped by a digital thermometer and rotating letter “B”, is a familiar landmark. Previously known as The Mint, it was the second-tallest building on Fremont Street until the under-construction Circa Hotel. Closed since 2009, Binion’s 366 rooms reportedly require expensive asbestos removal before they can ever be reopened to guests.

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In a clever shifting of plans, owner TLC Casino Enterprises, which also operates 4 Queens Hotel Casino, decided to refurbish and open Hotel Apache, the long-hidden original structure above Binion’s Casino. Opened in 1932, those 81 rooms have remained unoccupied for 69 years.

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“There are secret tunnels…escape routes. It is a hotbed for activity. Deaths, suicides, murder…you name it. It happened right up here. One of the most haunted locations in Nevada.” So claims Zak Bagans, owner of Zak Bagans: The Haunted Museum. Early last year, Bagans and the Ghost Adventures Crew shot an episode at Hotel Apache, hoping to get a glimpse of the paranormal beings who reportedly occupy those rooms and corridors.

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The full “Binion’s” episode of Ghost Adventures is available for you to watch above. So, I won’t spoil anything here…but be sure to visit The Haunted Museum next time you’re in the Arts District.

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While nearby Golden Gate Hotel Casino (above) has downplayed decades of paranormal activity claims, Binion’s wears its dark reputation like a ghostly white sheet:

Historic Haunted Hotel Apache at Binion’s

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The Hotel Apache was originally opened by the Silvagni family in 1932. The family came to Las Vegas as a cement contractor for the Hoover Dam project and realized the workers needed a place to get away from their work and the heat of the desert. It was the first in Las Vegas to air-condition its hotel lobby and have air curtains at the entrance to the hotel. The hotel was eventually acquired by Benny Binion and was the place to stay for many Hollywood movie stars like Clark Gable, Humphrey Bogart and Lucille Ball. It was also the first in Las Vegas with an electrically operated elevator, fully carpeted casino and made poker a mainstream casino game.
Over the course of over 90 years, the historic Hotel Apache and Binion’s Gambling Hall have had many reports of spirited guests in residence who make it clear that the Hotel Apache and Binion’s Gambling Hall still belong to them. Several employees have been touched, nudged, report sightings of figures; and ghost hunters have reported high levels on their EMF meters and motion sensors along with mediums seeing actual images of past owners’ family members.
Book your next stay at the Historic Haunted Hotel Apache and let us know what you experience.

You might remember when Binion’s hosted their own horror attraction during the annual Fremont Street Halloween celebration:

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Binion’s Haunted Casino is a high-tech, theater-of-the-macabre attraction. Guests make their way through three distinct “haunts” — Club Dead/Casino RoyHell, The Hotel Diablo and the 3-D Toxic Martini Lounge — loaded with state-of-the-art animatronics and live “scare actors” in full make up and costume. This attraction is recommended for those 12 years and older.

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So, why not go full-throttle and open those notorious hotel rooms to the public, too? You’ll certainly get a chill when you pass vacant casino tables on your way to the quiet rear portion of the casino. That’s where you’ll discover the reservation desk, situated above the forgotten Binion’s Original Coffee Shop.

Check-in was swift, as I was the only guest (I saw no other patrons in the hotel during my entire stay). You can take the adjacent stairs or a creaky old elevator that deposits you right into the maelstrom of supposedly unearthly beings.

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Don’t expect anything fancy at Hotel Apache. The rooms are bare-bones, extremely small (normal for the era) and…shall we say…”rustic”. But the air conditioner is effective, wi-fi is strong (and free), and the shower works great. Bedding and towels are better-than-average quality, the mattress is firm and comfortable, and the closet is almost as large as the bathroom. There’s even an exhaust fan, something rare in Downtown Vegas bathrooms.

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The room has an electronic safe (no surcharge), plenty of power outlets, and a bedside USB charging jack. The vintage framed photos, rotary telephone, and retro Victrola clock-radio are awesome touches. Amenities include free parking in the ample (but rundown) garage, as well as access to a 25th-floor rooftop pool with one of the best views in Downtown. Forget any scenery from your window, though, as the sole pane was of stained glass. But at $45 plus tax on a Friday night (with no resort fee!), it’s a steal.

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As for any bumps in the night….the only unsettling event I experienced took place while preparing for an evening at The Garden with friends. As I was showering, a loud thud in the bedroom startled me. It turned out to be my smartphone, face down on the floor and several feet away from the flat surface that I’d placed it on. Yikes!

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As mentioned above, there were no other guests to be seen the entire time. Thanks to the silence, this “paranormal investigator” slept like a baby, uninterrupted by rattling chains or shadowy specters. Before I knew it, the sun was up and it was time to have an inexpensive breakfast downstairs. Don’t worry if you’re a late riser, as checkout is a generous 12pm.

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If you’re set on communicating with the dead, you might have to wait until celebrity medium Thomas John returns to Caesars Palace. But if you’re looking for a simple, clean, and convenient stay that won’t put a dent in your wallet, Hotel Apache is an honest-to-goodness trip back in time.

Hotel Apache is located at 128 E. Fremont Street Las Vegas, NV 8910. Phone Toll Free: 800-937-6537 or 702-382-1600

Photos: Sam Novak, screen caps from Travel Channel’s “Ghost Adventures”

THE VEGAS ROOM – Sin City’s Best Kept Secret Is A Secret No Longer


Intimate supper club is a meticulously crafted experience from arrival through the final applause…

“I miss the days of old Vegas.” How often do you hear those words? Colored by a fondness for “when the Mob was in charge”, people lament about the golden era of Sin City. It was a time when you were escorted to your “usual table”, the bartender had that favorite cocktail waiting, and an evening out was a splendidly curated event.

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If you’re among those who yearn for the return of vintage-Vegas glamour, your prayers have been answered. Step through the red doors of The Vegas Room and enter a world where dinner and music are served on a plate of elegance. Here you’ll enjoy the most gifted entertainers of Sin City, showcasing their talents in an intimate presentation that you won’t see anywhere else.

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The Vegas Room is a passion project of sorts…a crowning achievement representing the careers of three gifted gentlemen. President Thomas Richard Michel orchestrates the business side, pulling from years in the entertainment and marketing industries. It falls upon him to ensure that every visit is uniquely memorable:

“There are so many talented performers in Las Vegas who don’t always have a place to share their talents. And, even if they do under normal circumstances, they often aren’t able to perform the type of material that they might really want to showcase. This was a key reason that The Vegas Room came to be.”

“Our mission is to envelop our guests in an environment that doesn’t really exist in Las Vegas anymore. It is a place where people can experience incredible local talent coupled with delicious handcrafted food, all in a warm and intimate setting.”

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“The entertainment we showcase changes each and every weekend, and the handcrafted menu – whether for our five-course dinner, our light bites “Sampler” package, or our Sunday Jazz brunch – changes every two weeks” Michel explained. “For this reason, many local people are already returning frequently, as they appreciate our reasonable prices and the fact that there’s always something new and wonderful to experience.”

“Tourists also tell us that they’ll make The Vegas Room a definite “must-do” on their calendars when they’re back in Las Vegas. Whether locals or tourists, there’s no doubt that that type of reaction is extremely gratifying for everyone involved in The Vegas Room, whether a performer or staff member.”

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Although the tourism industry is currently in flux thanks to the pandemic, The Vegas Room‘s location gives it the ability to prosper, even in these uncertain times. Tucked away inside a rather humble and aging East Sahara shopping center, the small venue provides an immediate feeling of welcome familiarity. That’s especially important to locals, whose repeat business makes up the majority of their clientele.

The supper club experience might be new to contemporary generations, but it’s made a remarkable return, thanks in part to high-profile spaces like Rose.Rabbit.Lie (Cosmopolitan) and Bellagio‘s new Mayfair Supper Club. True fans of the supper-club concept know that a skilled chef is as much an integral component as the entertainers who command the microphone and keyboards.

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Executive Chef David James Robinson is the owner of The Vegas Room. He’s known to thousands of fans and followers thanks to television shows, a strong online presence, and his 10-part cooking tutorial “Learn How To Cook (and eat your mistakes)”. It’s clear when he’s visiting tables that Chef David is having as much fun as his guests:

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“We care enormously about the food and service we provide. Our guests at The Vegas Room will see that for themselves when they experience the reality – both in look and taste – that everything we make is handcrafted and made from scratch” (click here to view the latest brunch and dinner menus).

“For example, all of our salad dressings, soups, and stocks are uniquely ours and made fresh. Additionally, all breads, muffins, and biscuits were baked fresh that day, and every component of every dish was sourced and prepared with great care…and it always will be.”

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“Our goal when it comes to the food we serve at The Vegas Room – whether for dinner or brunch – is to make it an equally memorable complement to our world-class entertainment, combining the two to make a truly wonderful evening or afternoon out.”

The entertainment community seems to have adopted The Vegas Room as their new combination hangout/haven. Often unable to perform in their usual venues thanks to the pandemic, they come here to share their craft and support one another. During each of my visits, entertainers from large-scale Strip productions were enjoying the food and cheering on their colleagues.

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As you might imagine, management has taken great care to ensure guest safety. Face masks are required until seated, guests have their temperature scanned (a two-second touchless process), and everyone is required to sanitize their hands upon arrival. The serving and bar staff wear protective facial coverings, and implements are santized and sealed. Tables are arranged to meet social-distancing protocols, aptly serviced by the always-wonderful Sandy Love. A full description of The Vegas Room‘s COVID-19 safety plan is available on their website.

                   Vocalist Randal Keith with Philip Fortenberry at the piano…

Onstage, stars like Anne Martinez (FANTASY, BAZ) Randal Keith (Phantom: The Las Vegas Spectacular, Showstoppers), and Eric Jordan Young (Vegas! The Show, Cocktail Cabaret, Rock Of Ages) present spectacular interpretations of classics old and new. As you might imagine from a line-up of that pedigree, Broadway showtunes frequently fill the air.

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There’s an enormous amount of respect between artists and the venue’s Director of Entertainment Brent Barrett, himself a seasoned performer (The Broadway Tenors, Chicago The Musical):

“From an entertainment perspective, The Vegas Room is meant to be a prestige room. That means that – as the Review-Journal stated recently – you have to be great to play this room. And, speaking of the room itself, instead of being a big theatrical space, it’s a very comfortable jewel box of a setting, currently seating less than 50 guests.”

“With our wonderful sound system and amazing acoustics, you really feel as though you’re listening to great standards, jazz, rhythm and blues, and Broadway showtunes in the comfort of your own living room. It’s THAT intimate. I think that is what has attracted so many of Las Vegas’s best performers to want to play the room.”

                                   Anne Martinez accompanied by pianist Dan Ellis…

“Because of that, we are able to present a robust array of truly incredible singers and musicians to our guests. And, many of the folks who attend The Vegas Room now return week after week to experience artists they know in addition to ones that they don’t…but should,” stated Barrett.

               Patrick Hogan performs at Sunday Jazz Brunch throughout July….

One such artist is Patrick Hogan, who dazzled audiences during July 4th weekend’s Sunday Jazz Brunch. The 24-year-old singer/songwriter is principal pianist at Mayfair Supper Club. Hogan performed two astonishing sets of his own compositions, along with many beloved standards.

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Look for Patrick Hogan and fellow jazz great Amanda King Sundays throughout July. Upcoming evening performances include Travis Cloer (Jersey Boys) with pianist Chris Lash (BAZ), Toscha Comeaux (Cirque du Soleil) and The Vegas Room‘s own Brent Barrett.

The Vegas Room is located at 953 East Sahara Avenue E-18. Sunday Jazz Brunch is held weekly at 1pm. The “Supper Club Experience” takes place every Friday and Saturday beginning at 6:30pm. There’s also a “light bites” sampler option which seats at 7:30pm. Showtime is 8pm.

Click here for full details and to make reservations or phone (725) 206-7059

Photos: Sam Novak, Sparky Lisa, Lisa Marie, The Vegas Room, Brent Barrett, Amanda King, Toscha Comeaux, Travis Cloer, Christopher Lash