2019 – The Year in Review: ‘What The CL#@K!? – The Second Half-Dozen


A look back at the second half of a year filled with memorable and some truly bizarre happenings in Sin City…

In the first half of this column, I began the year at a vacant, frozen outdoor carnival and left you hanging with the world’s biggest buttcrack at a stadium that was beginning to resemble a giant toilet bowl. Brace yourself, though…things were just starting to get weird. This is going to be a long one…

When the intense heat of Vegas summers reaches its peak, residents often enjoy their own version of “snowbirding” by heading to milder climates. With this being my first July as a local, I took the cue and headed for a ranch in the mountains of Oregon. The cool, fresh air revived my spirits, but then it was time to return for July 4th festivities back at home.

July –

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July 3rd was when the world moved…literally. While sitting on my couch writing a column for BestOfVegas.com, I felt the house begin to rumble and sway. Wondering if I was having a stroke or seizure, I scanned the internet and read page after page of “Did we just have an earthquake?” postings on Facebook. Although the city was a little “shaken”, the day continued.

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The early part of July 4th came and went with the usual pool parties and firecrackers, then the sh*t really hit the fan. I was at AMC Town Square watching a horror film when the Big One hit. Halfway through the film, the seats started bucking and the rows of chairs were visibly moving. I captured a quick video of the theater evacuation (above) which was picked up by local TV stations, Telemundo and NBC News out of New York City.

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Evacuating the shopping complex in my car, I barely dodged a tree that fell onto the road, then braved the bridge over the interstate to get home. Neighbors were in a panic and my underground irrigation system was ruptured, but other than shaken nerves, there was no real damage. Nevertheless, some of us have been a little on edge ever since.

The LGBTQ community came out to witness the official opening of ICONIC Nightclub. The reborn party spot took over a venue once occupied by SHARE. Despite a strong start and plenty of effort to make it a great alternative to popular PIRANHA, the turnout wasn’t strong enough to cover expenses and ICONIC shuttered in just a few months.

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As a regular patron, I was really disappointed by the lack of support for ICONIC. Owner Adam Simmons went above and beyond to provide outstanding staffing and make everyone feel at home. ICONIC offered great cocktails (my favorite was “Cucumber Fantasy”), wild entertainment and what may be the most attractive crew this city has ever seen, all at very affordable prices. So kudos to Adam and husband Jason for what they brought to the scene.

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My trip to Oregon had caused me to miss the grand opening gala of FLIGHTS Restaurant at Planet Hollywood’s Miracle Mile Shops. Fortunately, owner Alex Hult welcomed me and allowed me to experience the establishment’s fantastic food and beverage options for this review. I’ve been a regular ever since. I’m just glad I wasn’t under that fuselage during the tremor. It must have been impressive to see the safely-secured airplane “taking flight” for a minute or two.

Monsoon season arrived by mid-July but was supposedly weak compared to previous years. It’s not unusual for the Las Vegas Strip to experience significant flooding during summer downpours.

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Remember to NEVER park on the ground level in the Linq/Harrah’s area, as that spot is prone to violently flooding.

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          Scott Roeben (VitalVegas.com) joined the gang on his first visit to Golden Tiki

As neighborhoods around the city cleaned up mud and debris, I took a watery trip of a different kind…down the rapids and over the falls to the Land of the Lost. Actors Wesley Eure (Will) and Kathy Coleman (Hollie) of the classic TV series paid a visit to The Golden Tiki, where the legendary TV siblings were presented with shrunken-head replicas of themselves, courtesy of Branden Powers and his ever-expanding Cabinet of Curiosities.

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On a whim, I invited Kathy and Wesley to join me for another rip-roaring ride…this time to Chippendales. The expressions on the faces of my childhood icons as the men of Chippendales strutted their stuff were priceless! Performer/host Jayson Michael gave the stars a rousing introduction and the crowd loved it. Talk about surreal!

Lest anyone forget, the biggest WTF of the year…and perhaps the decade, remains the Grasshopper Invasion of 2019. The final days of July made worldwide news as Sin City was covered in a blanket of billions of migratory grasshoppers. The swarms were so thick that they showed up on weather radar as thunderstorms. Luxor‘s light beam acted as a beacon, creating a scene straight from the Bible.

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Was Sin City being visited by one of the great plagues? The wrath of God, perhaps? Well, according to the scientists it was just a side effect of the valley’s unusually most spring. Those same experts also predicted that the invasion would last for several weeks, which it didn’t. So I’m sticking with the “Ten Commandments” explanation.

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Allegiant Raiders Stadium was just about to complete its frame-out, casting an impressive shadow along Interstate 15.

August –

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Rio Las Vegas seemed to constantly be in the news. Will it be sold? (It was.) Will it be leveled for a new stadium? (Time will tell). But for fans of all things Star Trek, what mattered was whether the annual Official Star Trek Convention would return for another year (it did).

Once again, thousands of fans from around the world flocked to the off-Strip resort, which was transformed into the USS Enterprise. Just about every square foot of the convention hall was utilized for lectures, interviews, broadcasts, photo ops, virtual reality exhibitions, vendor space and a recreation of Quark’s Bar (formerly located at Las Vegas Hilton).

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That same weekend, the Las Vegas Hilton, now known as Westgate Las Vegas, celebrated 50 years of history and rebirth with a massive gala. I was honored and excited to receive an invitation. The event was held in the Grand Ballroom with live entertainment, a spectacular dinner, and tributes by Mayor Carolyn Goodman and resort owner David Siegel.

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I learned that August is apparently the unofficial month of hangovers, thanks to nonstop parties in Las Vegas. First up was the Annual Black and White Gala, a benefit for AFAN (Aid for AIDS of Nevada). This year’s event returned to Hard Rock Hotel (soon to be Virgin Hotel) after a so-so outing to Mandalay Bay’s Daylight Beach Club in 2018.

The adults-only soiree’s attendees are encouraged to wear black and white (as much or as little as they dare) while enjoying live entertainment and a variety of bites and cocktails provided by sponsors. Attendees including an array of performers like the cast of Sex Tips, members of Tenors of Rock and my main girl Endia Abrante of ShowgirlArrivals.com.

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Much of the decor was provided by Michele Rothstein‘s Balloons With A Twist. Michele recently became engaged to comedian John Di Domenico, best known as the World’s Greatest Donald Trump Impersonator.

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John provided the laughs at last year’s Mondays Dark year-end celebration and had proven to be a perfect foil for Ester Goldberg and Anne Martinez at Totally Outrageous Brunch. Congratulations to one of Sin City’s happiest couples and thanks to Michele for making the colors black and white even more beautiful.

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The next party was a media launch at Sugar Factory’s Chocolate Lounge for burlesque performer/singer Melody Sweets‘ new single “Flavor of the Month“. Guests included Amy Saunders of Miss Behave Game Show, fitness competitor/health coach Mandy White Eskelin and husband Sami Eskelin (Chippendales, sports fitness entrepreneur). My prolific colleague Chris Yandek of CYInterview.com posted this interview with Ms. Sweets soon after.

More festivities followed at Silverton Casino‘s VEIL Pavilion with the CFO of the Year Awards, sponsored by VegasINC and City National Bank. Next up was Havana Nights: Top Men of Success hosted by MyVEGAS Magazine and Blue Martini at Town Square.

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As for the Stadium, it had now come full circle…..er, “oval”.

September –

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Labor Day signals the unofficial end of summer, where the pool lines start to thin out and tourism drops. If all of that August party-going didn’t exhaust you, the final holiday of the summer surely would.

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I spent the evening enjoying the sounds (and sights) of DJ Nick Ayler, whom you may remember from this profile piece. Nick and I had a great time chatting (and downing tequila) between his sets at AVANT Lounge inside Iconic Nightclub. The crowd was a bit thin but the fun was certainly memorable.

Over at OYO (the former Hooters Hotel Casino), master mixologist Eddie Perales was keeping things smoking with his longtime partner and fellow cocktail craftsman Bobby G. You may remember Eddie from his many contributions to the Rio, Paris, and Westgate hotels, among others. He is also a world record holder in cocktail creation and a longtime Sin City resident.

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The newly-rebranded Sahara Hotel held a bubbly premiere for their champagne-themed adult variety show Blanc de Blanc. The men of Aussie Heat joined celebrities like SEXXY‘s Jennifer Romas, magician David Goldrake (who’s been teasing a Vegas comeback), BMX pro Ricardo Laguna, mentalist Marc Savard and musician Vin A. from The Bronx Wanderers.

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A pre-show gathering was held at the brand-new CASBAR LOUNGE before moving to the main event. Cast members from Thunder From Down Under and FANTASY enjoyed the performance from their VIP Premium-seating hot tubs. Yes, you read that correctly. Hot-tub seating for a Vegas show….why not?

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Just like the Star Trek Convention, this year’s Olympia Fitness Expo and Competition lured in thousands of devotees. Celebrities like Mark Wahlberg enjoyed top billing while Tropicana‘s own Chef Robert Irvine peddled his products and posed for pics.

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No matter where you looked, hot bodies and healthy lifestyles were on display. Vegas nightclub favorite and romance-novel coverboy Nick Bennett was busting his sleeves while promoting CELSIUS fitness and energy drinks, taking over for rapper Flo Rida from the previous year. I was unsuccessful in getting his shirt off for a pose, but there’s always Olympia Expo 2020

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Community-driven venue The Space was host to special fundraising event The Power of Pink and Purple to benefit the American Cancer Society. Organized by the big-hearted Logan Seven, the evening gathered those same tireless performers from Aussie Heat, SEXXY and David Goldrake along with Swing It Girls and “Pink” illusionist Kenneth Rex.

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Even though Monsoon Season 2019 was about to officially come to a close, the skies above Vegas offered one final reminder to never become complacent.

October –

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The tenth month of the year began on a solemn note, as it will continue to do so for decades to come. October 1st marked the second anniversary of the mass shooting across from Mandalay Bay. I happened to capture the above photo from the hotel’s rooftop Foundation Room.  You can spot the location across Las Vegas Boulevard as a darkened area that was once home to Route 91 Harvest Music Festival.

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No city does Halloween the way that Las Vegas does. Things get an early kick-off here, too. October 2nd saw the debut of SCARE at Town Square, an immersive and expansive experience to be shared by young and old. And best of all, there was an adults-only nightclub area, too.

The charity-driven UNDEAD MAZE rose once again, this year at Tivoli Village in the northwest section of the city. A passion project by tireless entertainer Shaun Friedrichs with ample assist from big-hearted Heidi Elkhill, it’s rated as one of the top haunts in the city.

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Hofbrauhaus on Paradise Road continued their annual tradition of Oktoberfest celebrity keg-tappings. The line-up this year included Zowie Bowie‘s Chris Phillips, Chippendales, Australian Bee Gees and Ricardo Laguna. If you’ve never experienced an evening at Hofbrauhaus, you owe it to yourself to visit. BTW, the talk is true….the staff paddles patrons on their birthday.

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Historic Mansion 54 in the Arts District kicked off costume parties with The Shade Tree‘s 30th Anniversary Mask Off Gala. The Shade Tree is an organization that provides sanctuary and support to women in jeopardy along with their children and pets.

Entertainment during the fundraiser was provided by the cast of Le Reve. PHo headliner Christina Aguilera made a brief appearance to accept an award. Amazingly, I missed seeing the superstar, as it was blink-and-you’ll-miss-it brief. Thank goodness the food by sponsors like Evel Pie, VegeNation, PublicUS and Le Thai was so memorable.

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Campy horror-comedy EVIL DEAD: The Musical made a “splashy” return to Las Vegas, this time with a significant upgrade. The onetime hit at V Theater had a two-week run as The Evil Dead HD Tour at The Space.

The community-driven venue was draped in plastic and outfitted with immersive high-resolution video “sets” that were used to brilliant effect. Rabid fans of the “Deadites” clamored for the front sections, where they’d be soaked in a spray of gore. How often do you see audience members exiting the theater while wringing blood from their hair and clothing?

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             This fellow was so soaked in fake blood that he threw his shirt in the trash…

November –

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The penultimate month of the year was a mellow one by any standards. No swarms of insects, not a single earth-shaking event…just a few new openings, a haloed moon and the return of one very bright star.

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Once again, The Space was THE place to be for noteworthy activities. While the best little theater in the city had been serving up gore and body parts just a few weeks earlier, now it was dishing out good old southern cooking and a night of unforgettable vocals.

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Demonstrating a level of class and warmth rarely seen these days, songstress Ruby Lewis made a triumphant return to the Vegas stage. The star of BAZ and Marilyn: The New Musical brought her one-woman show for a single-night event that was treasured by fans. Offering a clever mixture of prose, memories, laughter and towering vocals, Ms. Lewis and her band reminded everyone that the best performers are never too great to lose their sincerity.

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Ruby greeted guests with a crock of her own black-eyed peas, turkey, and cornbread, then joined them after the show for pictures and hugs. Self-proclaimed “divas” like Mariah and Madonna could learn a vital lesson from this classy young woman – R.E.S.P.E.C.T.

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ARIA opened KALOLOGIE, the very first and only medspa located on the Strip. Housed within the hotel’s expansive spa, KALOLOGIE offers treatments like body contouring, laser skin treatments, injectables and get this…..IV hydration therapy.

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So if the effects of Vegas partying take their toll on your face and body, you can still return looking better than when you left home. We in the media were treated to a flashy shindig with free B12 shots and a bag of goodies to take home. I’m addicted to my FOREO sonic skin cleansing device.

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ARIA was also one of the first hotels to officially kick off the holiday season. Their culinary artists from Aria Patisserie created a life-size gingerbread house in the main lobby, along with a counter to purchase hot beverages and sweets. I happened to be there when the pastry chefs were gathering for official photos, and they seemed deservedly proud of their work.

Beloved charitable photographer Noel Dahl presented yet another beautiful fundraising calendar, this time to benefit Amor Peludo Animal Rescue. Featuring adorable kittens, pups and hot male celebs like Ryan Worley, Adam Barr, and Gerry Haro, the event took place at Lazy Dog Restaurant in Town Square.

Alas, Mr. Dahl was once again the victim of higher-than-thou patrons who found his artistry to be offensive. A few faint-hearted Sin City parents complained to management that photos of shirtless men were in view and demanded that the fundraising display be removed.

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You may recall this article that I penned detailing Noel’s work being dragged through the mud by parents on local television. These are the same hypocrites who choose to raise their children in a city where prostitution billboards roll down the streets. To them, I say “Go f*ck yourselves”.

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Speaking of billboards, this riotous monument to failure was spotted along I-15 and the Desert Inn overpass at the tail end of November. Apparently, the abrupt closing of KAOS right after Halloween left no contingency funds for pulling down the advertisements. That meant we had to continue looking at the smelly remnants (aka “Cardi B”). Don’t let her roofie and rob you, guys.

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The always colorful Golden Tiki brought the month to a memorable close with their annual Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. Traditional Peanuts favorites like jelly beans, pretzels, toast, and popcorn were served on a pingpong table while a pair of naughty parrots sang dirty limericks and farted overhead. Only in Vegas, friends….

December –

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The month of December was bitterly cold by Vegas standards. Just like in February, the snows arrived on a recurring basis. Roads to Mt. Charleston, the Red Rock scenic driveway and interstate to Los Angeles were closed to traffic, leaving thousands of motorists unable to reach their destination during the height of holiday travel. Luckily, the city has thousands upon thousands of extra hotel rooms in what is always the slowest tourist season of the year.

The days leading up to Christmas turn Sin City into a bit of a ghost town. The only real activity comes from the residents, who go about their business as usual. Shows and restaurants go on hiatus, casino workers use their vacation time and hotels drop their rates to the lowest of the year. For those looking for a quiet, affordable getaway, mid-December in Las Vegas is bliss.

While the resorts took advantage of the downtime to dive into construction projects and improvements, the tireless members of The Bronx Wanderers were adding more shows to the schedule. In addition to special Christmas performances of their residency at The Linq (moving soon to Harrah’s showroom), breakout star Vin A. was spearheading a collection of three holiday spectaculars around the valley.

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I was fortunate enough to attend A Very Swingin’ Christmas at M Resort on December 21st, where Vin was joined by studly guitarist David Braun and patriarch Vinny Adinolfi. A crackerjack band, members of the Beach Boys and other talented musicians made for an unforgettable night that I hope will return next year.

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One entertainer who won’t be back is funnyman Jeff Civillico. After a decade of shows on the Strip, Jeff has decided to step off his unicycle, put down the juggling balls and focus on other ventures. The handsome comedian has been outspoken with his frustration at casino management over lack of support for entertainers. So he’s decided to step away from the Vegas stage. We’ll miss him.

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Russ White of QLife Media and The Charity Gurus was able to provide me with one final photo of Allegiant Raiders Stadium construction for the year. He took it from his condo in Veer Tower, part of CityCenter complex on the Strip.

Over at Rio, WOW – The Las Vegas Spectacular celebrated two years and 1,000 performances. A post-show party at CHAYO was attended by cast, crew, publicist Michael Caprio and the creator Hanoch Rosènn, who flew in from Israel to attend. Mr. Rosènn was incredibly kind and complimentary regarding the article I’d published on the show a few weeks earlier. During the tumultuous times for live entertainment productions, it’s wonderful to see WOW‘s success.

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Venetian/Palazzo is gearing up for another success of their own. Continuing their tradition of opening new restaurants at the close of the year (Matteo’s, Mott 32), my favorite luxury resort gave a sneak peek at Majordomo Meat and Fish. The latest offering from Chef David Chang is a massive undertaking located on Palazzo casino’s northwest side.

The invitation-only gala was attended by my wonderful colleague Allison Duck, hunky FREEZONE bartender Ric James Naughton and KTNV personalities JJ Snyder, Jason Dinant and Micah Manalo along with talented singer Brandon Nix (Magic Mike Live, Rock of Ages, Velvet Elvis). Majordomo Meat and Fish is open daily from 5:30opm to 10:30pm.

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At last, New Year’s Eve was upon us, so it was back to Westgate Las Vegas for their annual gala. This year’s attendees included FOX5 Emmy-winning anchor Jason Feinberg, the cast of Soul of Motown and prolific go-to photographer Ira Kuzma accompanied by his lovely wife Marie.

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After an incredible dinner, dancing, east-coast ball drop and entertainment throughout the resort by classy crooner Mark O’Toole and David Perrico’s Pop Strings Orchestra, the party moved upstairs via private elevator to Westgate’s famous Versailles Sky Villa. The rooftop mansion’s outdoor deck provided the perfect location for fireworks viewing of both the Strip and nearby STRAT Skypod.

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From there it was off to Charlie’s, a country-western bar near Orleans Casino that has somehow become a destination for local drag queens. They hosted a costume contest into the wee hours that was as funny as it was outlandish. And that’s how 2019 came to a close…as oddly as it began. Because nothing says “New Year’s Eve in Las Vegas” like cross-dressers and barechested muscle boys. Happy 2020, everyone!

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This year-end wrap-up is dedicated to the memory of my little lady Daphne, who passed away on Christmas Day.

 

 

 

Westgate’s Culinary Superstars – Chef Paola Bugli


Profiling a Chef who brings true Italian authenticity to Westgate’s “Fresco Italiano”…

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Outside the entrance to Fresco Italiano, two adorable Vespa scooters are amusingly parked. Almost symbolically, it seems as though they’ve been waiting for the right pair of riders to hop aboard and take control.

Inside, that very thing has taken place for two Italian immigrants who recently arrived to helm Fresco’s kitchen and operations. Despite the restaurant already being an established hit, this pair has elevated the Tuscan eatery to new heights.

Regular readers might recognize Fresco Italiano as my very first column when I launched this site last summer. Since then, I’ve dined here repeatedly, savoring every wonderful morsel. Not only is the food to die for, but the atmosphere and service scream “Italian authenticity”.

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                            General Manager Dora Pana and Chef Bugli…

As you enjoy the dining experience, your party might be greeted by a lovely blonde with a distinctive Naples accent. General Manager Dora Pane loves to chat with her guests, lending a family-like ambiance to every visit. She’ll remind you of that favorite aunt who invites you to sit down at her kitchen table and “mangiare“. (I’ll be spending time with Ms. Pane for a profile article very soon.)

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But of course, the big draw for this type of meal is the magic that happens inside the kitchen. That’s where Chef Paola Brugli comes in. This elegant native of Florence is the Executive Chef for Fresco Italiano and an absolute treat to meet. As busy as she is in the kitchen, Ms. Bugli also finds time to engage her guests and share a mutual enthusiasm for great dishes.

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Kitchen time was ingrained in Chef Paola’s family traditions. She learned from her mother and grandmother how to make pasta, polenta and sauces. They worked together as a team, each doing something different to prepare a complete meal. Lessons from those collaborative efforts would be invaluable once Bugli decided to pursue a career in the culinary arts.

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                                                           Florence, Italy…

Chef Paola enrolled in the Istituto Professionale Alberghiero Aurelio Saffi of Firenze Italy in 1977. There she achieved degrees in Culinary Arts and Hotel Management, then spent the next several decades honing techniques in fabulous restaurants and destinations throughout Italy.

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The shores of the Unites States eventually welcomed Chef Bugli to a new chapter and more career adventures. First came Atlanta, where she spent a decade in the kitchens of several noteworthy restaurants, holding positions as Sous Chef, Pastry Chef, Chef de Cuisine and Executive Chef.

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                                          Lumiere Place Casino Hotel…

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                                      House of Savoy Italian Eatery…

Eight years ago Bugli settled into the St. Louis area after capturing the attention of a recruiter for Pinnacle Entertainment. There she spent a year and a half as Executive Chef for the now-shuttered House of Savoy, an authentic riverfront Italian eatery in the gorgeous Lumière Place Casino Hotel. This turned out to be her first position in a gaming resort, but fortunately would not be her last.

As luck would have it, Chef Paola worked under the mentorship of Jeffrey DeVito, current Vice President of Food and Beverage at Westgate Las Vegas. As she told me “It was my first job in a casino and I was a little concerned about that, but Mr. DiVito was always extremely supportive”.

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During her time in St. Louis, Chef Paolo proudly achieved United States citizenship in a wonderful ceremony held at the new National Archives, which was inaugurated for the occasion. The variety of cultures, climates and opportunities of this nation were now hers to explore without limit.

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                                                     Sea Island Resort…

Next up was the lush Sea Island Resort, south of Savannah on the sunny coast of Georgia. There Bugli served as Chef de Cuisine for Tavola, a formal yet rustic Italian dining experience. Tavola‘s philosophy is “the soul of Italy isn’t just found on the menu. It’s around the table” which might explain why the Florence native was drawn there.

After dabbling in some consulting work in Savannah, it was off to Biloxi, Mississippi for a new position with Beau Rivage Casino Resort. As Room Chef for Stalla Italian Restaurant, Chef Bugli was once again able to bring her authentic style to another part of the United States. ”

Her philosophy of simple, fresh ingredients (“super-simple is the key” she likes to say) made her very popular with the resort’s guests. So much so that she remained there for over four years, creating an indelible mark on the MGM Resorts property.

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     Chef Bugli was featured in “Women in Business” at Beau Rivage Resort…

Alas, a change in corporate management began to crush this independent artist’s creativity, so it was once again time to move on. When asked if it was difficult to make so many changes in her life, her response was candid. “Maybe I’m a masochist but I like the challenges. Sometimes you have to find the right way to part. I don’t believe in creating failures…I like to give opportunities”.

As has been the case of so many gifted culinary artists I’ve profiled, Chef Bugli found new creative horizons via the food and beverage team at Westgate Las Vegas. In January she took over as Executive Chef for Fresco Italiano, one of my favorite restaurants in the city. And she was once again on a team overseen by Jeffrey DiVito.

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Coming aboard an established and successful venture would indeed offer Chef Paola some trials and tribulations but she was up to the task.

Everything in a restaurant is a connected process. A kitchen is like a pirate crew…we’re weird. There needs to be creative cohesiveness from front to back.

Working with General Manager Dora Pane, the two have taken the operation and streamlined it to reflect their own styles.

Food is so much about energies…your whole self. Shake people up a bit and you get good results. So we’re improving things like the service steps and our wine offerings. I’m also adjusting the flavor profile and retraining the staff with my cooking methods.

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When asked what procedures she referred to, Chef Bugli explained:

It’s not enough just to follow a recipe’s ingredients. It’s the steps that matter. You see, a sauce isn’t just throwing everything into a pot and letting it boil. Certain ingredients have to be sauteed together first to let their flavors develop. Then others like tomatoes are added afterwards. You can taste the difference by doing things in the proper order.

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Attention to detail is also reflected on the ingredients she purchases for her dishes.

The culture at our restaurant is respectful of the environment. In Italy it’s a concept called Zero-Kilometer Cooking. We can’t get all locally-produced foods being in the desert, but we can come pretty close. It’s also necessary to change our offerings depending on the season. A winter tomato won’t taste the same as one in July. People will know the difference!

Making a difference is what Chef Paola’s cooking is all about:

Guests are more educated now. Everyone is a connoisseur, so we approach Fresco Italiano with a friends-and-family atmosphere. This may be casual fine dining, but we want people to leave feeling like they’ve had an experience.

When asked about her new life in Las Vegas, Chef Paola gave a bit of a shrug. “I haven’t had time to get to know Vegas yet, really, except through the people I’ve met at Westgate. When I settle in, maybe I’ll start up a local women’s chef group”.

As for Sin City sights, the Florence native had plenty to say about the Strip. “Las Vegas replicates so many famous landmarks and they’ve done it beautifully. You’ve got Paris, Venice, Rome, Egypt. It’s amazing”.

She did have a word of warning for any future resort planners, though. “Vegas can do anything else they want, but they’d better leave Florence alone. We’re already perfect!” she chuckled wildly.

Chef Paola Bugli Fresco Italiano

Fresco Italiano is open for dinner 365 days a year at 5 pm – lunch hours vary by date. For more information or to place reservations call 702.732.5276.

Photos: Sammasseur, Chef Paola Bugli, TripAdvisor, Yelp!, Beau Rivage Casino Resort, Seas Island Resort, Westgate Las Vegas

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bring Your Summer Sexiness to THE PLAYGROUND


New adults-only day club advances the Westgate evolution and invites you to be a kid again…

Earlier this year I introduced you to Eddie Perales, the famed master mixologist who bubbles with as much excitement as his creations. Known to the world as a Guinness record-holder and creator of outlandish displays of liquid madness, Perales promised me that he would have more in store for the summer season at Westgate. After my most recent visit, I can say that he was true to his word…and then some.

Playground Westgate Pool Eddie Perales

While other Vegas resort pools are just getting started, Westgate has been in the game since March. The sleek, sunny deck was opened two months ago with a heated pool, bright luxurious loungers, dazzling cabanas, attractive model-servers and a fresh, inviting color scheme.

Playground Westgate Pool Eddie Perales

Over on the south end of the sprawling deck, The Playground day club has been launched. This area’s designed for revelers twenty-one and over. Says Eddie “Our pool deck is a hidden gem. Families can share in the fun and excitement every day, but for the grown-ups, it’s The Playground“.

Playground Westgate Pool Eddie Perales

The Playground invites partiers to toss their inhibitions out the window and act like a kid again. The 21-and-over space has daily DJ’s starting at 1pm. There are games like cornhole, chess and jenga and plenty of space to stretch out in VIP Cabanas. Drink specials, discounts for WOW Reward Card members and themed days should have fun-lovers coming back all summer.

Playground Westgate Pool Eddie Perales

“Our ultimate goal here was to create something for everybody. The pool was like a blank canvas to me. It’s an great space and part of an iconic resort. I mean…just look at that view! We’re doing things in a different way here at Westgate” he added “and how we’re doing it is the key”.

Playground Westgate Pool Eddie Perales

Eddie’s unique background in the world of beverage service gives him a distinctive edge that few in the city can boast about. “I’ve worked on the supplier side as well as being a mixologist, so I understand all aspects of this business. I’ve been able to identify liquor partners that other resorts blindly miss. We highlight them to make unique drinks that you won’t be able to find elsewhere”.

Playground Westgate Pool Eddie Perales

For instance, Eddie is big on Santoyo Grand Leyenda Organic Tequila. The premium tequila is derived from agave grown on Mexican lands that must be virgin for at least four years. Tequila Tuesdays feature the product and WOW Reward Card members get happy hour prices all day. “You may remember that I was once a Tequila Ambassador. I know my tequilas, and this one is terrific”.

Another hot-ticket new partnership is with the legendary Dole Whip. That frozen pineapple soft-serve from Oahu’s Dole Plantation was once an exclusive to guests of Disneyland and Walt Disney World. Now, along with The Golden Tiki and Cowabunga Bay Water Park, Westgate is one of the few places in the continental U.S. to offer the refreshing treat.

Playground Westgate Pool Eddie Perales

Playground Westgate Pool Eddie Perales

As you’ve probably guessed, Perales created a special cocktail using Dole Whip and Mount Gay Black Barrel Rum. Topped with a slice of fresh pineapple and an orchid, the Dole Whip Cocktail ($13) comes with both a spoon and a sipping straw.

The Playground‘s Signature Cocktail Menu has thirteen varieties, each running thirteen dollars. Eddie points out that any of them can be ordered as a pitcher for $27, which equals four servings for roughly the price of two. “Our prices are way cheaper than what you’ll find on the Strip”.

Perales has a signature style of combining fresh fruits, bright colors and unusual combinations for the brightest, funnest cocktails imaginable. One look above will show you what I mean…a bright array of tempting and luscious indulgences that will have you feeling happier with each sun-drenched sip.

Playground Westgate Pool Eddie Perales

Perales and I met early one morning at The Playground before the crowd started kicking up. After sampling all thirteen concoctions with names like Strawberry Blonde (Ketel One, lemonade, Mike’s Hard Strawberry Lemonade), Bigger in Texas (Tito’s Handmade Vodka, lime, Baritt’s Ginger Beer), Passion Fruit Smash and Bananarama, I had to choose one to relax and chat over.

Playground Westgate Pool Eddie Perales

               Eddie whipped me up a special size of Fireball Mojito…in a bucket!

Eddie watched closely as I stood up…and reached for the Fireball Mojito (Fireball Cinnamon Whiskey, lime, mint and club soda). “Really?” he exclaimed. “It’s my favorite, too. People said that you can’t do something like that. So of course I had to try it”. And yes, it was a fabulous contrast of flavors that had me back for an industrial-sized serving the next day.

Playground Westgate Pool Eddie Perales

Along with The Playground‘s new specialties, there are also familiar frozen drinks, beer, wine, and what Eddie calls “The least expensive bottle service in Las Vegas. It starts off at $65 for Hug L’originale Sparkling Wine (a European import that’s being called the hottest brand for summer 2018). Nobody else offers bottle service at that kind of price”.

Next to The Playground, Cabana Pool Bar and Grill offers a wide variety of snacks and meals. Choose from pizzas, beef and turkey burgers, sandwiches, wraps and healthier fare like California Rolls and Chef Bruno Morabito‘s famous Mojito Fruit Bowl from Sid’s Cafe. Of course, all of these items and more can be brought directly to your chair or cabana by the poolside servers. Check out the online menu here.

Playground Westgate Pool Eddie Perales

Playground Westgate Pool Eddie Perales

Playground Westgate Pool Eddie Perales

Also ready for roll-out are cabana-side cocktail carts. “I was inspired by the table-side guacamole carts at Mexican restaurants. Why not do that for cocktails? We can fill them with colorful fresh fruits and make drinks right at your own space”.

Playground Westgate Pool Eddie Perales

Playground Westgate Pool Eddie Perales

Sounds like a great idea to me…why bother to leave your lounger when you can be pampered like a celebrity? And the sight will surely attract new friends to your space. Eddie’s presentation certainly was a hit with these Vegas newbies who came over to hang out with me.

And speaking of pampering, adjacent Serenity Spa has joined The Playground to formulate a collection of Summer Spa Cocktail Body Treatments. Based on your favorite Playground Signature Cocktail, these pedicures and body scrubs include a serving of the actual cocktail, too.

Fox-5 KVVU-TV recently ran this segment on the Playground/Serenity Spa mash-up:

http://www.fox5vegas.com/clip/14352395/kicking-it-poolside-at-westgate-spa-pool

And here’s a terrific video of Eddie and the team in full “party mode” –

With the summer pool season just gearing up, now’s the perfect time to discover The Playground. You can party like a rock star without breaking the bank. And you might make a few sexy new friends before pool season is over. I know I will…wink wink.

Playground Westgate Pool Eddie Perales

The Playground launches daily at 1 pm during the summer season at Westgate Las Vegas Casino Resort, 3000 Paradise Road.

Photos: Sammasseur

 

 

 

 

 

Westgate’s Culinary Superstars: Chef Masato Shiga


International man of mystery lets his Asian cuisine do the talking…

Last summer I introduced readers to Bar Sake, the newly-launched Japanese Robata-style grill restaurant that I referred to “Westgate’s Hidden Gem”.

Unique in location, offerings and atmosphere, Westgate’s Bar Sake & Robata Grill is the perfect little venue to gather at with friends, a loved one…or to discover all by yourself.

Bar Sake‘s menu is as much about the great food as the unique beverage offerings. And while I had the privilege to discuss cocktail creation with Chief Mixologist Eddie Perales during that initial visit, Chef Masato Shiga stood off to the side and was noticeably quiet. I was to learn later that this is the norm for Chef Shiga. He’d much rather communicate via his food than chat with you about it.

Chef Masato Shiga Westgate

Naturally, I wanted to discover what inspired and influenced the man behind these sumptuous dishes. And of course, to sample (quite) a bit more of his delicious creations…so we sat down to talk on a return visit before I enjoyed another great meal courtesy of Chef Shiga. Despite sampling plate after plate, it was me who did most of the talking.

Chef Masato Shiga Westgate

Chef Masato Shiga Westgate

I was surprised to learn that as Executive Chef, Shiga oversees not one but four distinctive restaurants within Westgate‘s “The Village”. Taking up a substantial portion of the resort’s restaurant row, the two-story Village complex is home to world-renowned Benihana, Silk Road Asian Bistro, Rikki Tiki Sushi…and of course, Bar Sake.

Chef Masato Shiga Westgate

Masa25

Chef Masato Shiga Westgate

       Rikki Tiki Sushi overlooks the flowing water and gardens in The Village

Presenting such a vast array of Chinese, Japanese and Vietnamese specialties would be a daunting task for any cuisinier, but Chef Masa (the name he most frequently goes by) is no ordinary culinary expert. He brings a lifetime of authenticity and experience to the kitchen…and your table. He began cooking in Japan and has continued to expand his collection of recipes through an illustrious career at top Vegas restaurants.

Chef Masato Shiga Westgate

                                               Chigasaki, Kanagawa

Chef Shiga was born in Chigasaki, a resort community on the Sagami Sea in the Kanagawa Prefecture of Japan. This largely tourist-based city is home to about 240,000 permanent residents. Considered to be a sister-city to Honolulu, Chigasaki is rich with Hawaiian and other Pan-Asian influences. It also lays claim to being the birthplace of Japanese surfing.

Growing up while surrounded by such a rich fusion of cultures undoubtedly presented many memorable dining experiences for the young Shiga. With Tokyo merely an hour’s trip away, it would have been easy for him to savor and learn how to prepare many regional delicacies and those from around his country and the world.

Masa10

At the age of nineteen, Shiga began his education in culinary school. Along with Far East cuisine, he learned the fine art of French cooking…quite an interesting combination! And much like his previously-profiled colleague Chef Bruno Morabito (of Westgate‘s Sid’s Cafe), Shiga developed an affection for whipping up all-American breakfast dishes. Perhaps that’s why he eventually migrated to the heartland of the United States.

Masa1

       Vintage postcard image of Mikado Japanese Cuisine, Mirage Resort…

When we arrived here, I looked around and was…WOW! So much to see….so big! I knew this was where I wanted to be. We stopped at The Mirage and I went straight into Mikado Japanese Restaurant to apply. I’ve been in Las Vegas ever since.

After Mikado, Chef Masa moved next door to become assistant chef at Caesars Palace‘s famed Hyakumi. That was the first of several positions within the resort. Then came Bacchanal Buffet, probably the most famous high-end buffet in the world. After its successful launch, he moved over to the highly-acclaimed Nobu Japanese Restaurant at Caesars‘ own Nobu Hotel.

Chef Masato Shiga Westgate

Chef Masato Shiga Westgate

As has happened with so many other wonderful Vegas chefs, Shiga’s next step led him to Westgate Las Vegas. He oversees operations of all four of their Asian restaurants. On some evenings you may find him behind the robata grill that he personally selected for the opening of Bar Sake. It’s there that you’ll see him searing skewers stuffed with succulent meats, colorful vegetables and glorious seafood in an ancient and revered method.

Chef Masato Shiga Westgate

Despite being an extremely reserved and private man, Chef Shiga loves the camaraderie of being on the Westgate team. He enjoys the mutual support of his colleagues and appreciates the ability to have creative control over the meals he creates for guests.

The Chef recounted an especially memorable time with his professional family at a company golf outing:

We were all dressed alike. Nobody had different kinds of shirts. Managers played side by side with staffers. Everyone was equal there. You could be talking to your boss, an executive, a server…it didn’t matter. I like that about working for Westgate.

Chef Masato Shiga Westgate

The culinary artist was quite reluctant to discuss his personal life, as he values his privacy. He did tell me that he’s married and returns to Japan on yearly excursions to visit friends and family. He also enjoys attending American football games. But what he really likes to do is head out to the greens for a round of golf…even when he travels abroad.

Chef Masato Shiga Westgate

Chef Masato Shiga Westgate

Luckily for Chef Shiga, Westgate’s neighbor to the east happens to be the gorgeous Las Vegas Country Club. The two destinations have a long-standing relationship that offers hotel guests the opportunity to visit the private club via Westgate Golf Packages. So when the golfing bug hits him at home, Chef Masa doesn’t have very far to go.

Chef Masato Shiga Westgate

Chef Masato Shiga Westgate

With all of that responsibility and ambition, Chef Shiga somehow maintains a calming presence that suits the soothing atmosphere of the restaurants he operates. Those admirable talents and twenty-plus years in the business have made Westgate Las Vegas a go-to place for lovers of fine Far East cuisine.

Chef Masato Shiga Westgate

                Benihana fires up traditional Japanese steakhouse fare…

Chef Shiga is proud to offer unique items in an environment that exudes small-town charm. His dishes are pieces of art unto themselves, which is exactly how he likes it.

Chef Masato Shiga Westgate

Chef Masato Shiga Westgate

Now that there’s talk of an Oyster Bar possibly being added to the line-up at The Village, Chef Shiga may have trim back on his number of golf outings. But it’s unlikely that he’ll give up a place behind his treasured Robata grill. It’s the one sure thing tho make him smile.

Chef Masato Shiga Westgate

Silk Road Asian Bistro, Rikki Tiki Sushi and Benihana open daily at 5pm. Bar Sake & Robata Grill operates limited hours – call (702) 732-5755 for more information.

Photos: Sammasseur, Westgate Las Vegas/Chef Masato Shiga via Facebook

 

 

 

 

 

 

Westgate’s Culinary Superstars: Executive Chef Steve Young


Meet the charismatic star of the incomparable Edge Steakhouse

In preparation for my ongoing series on the talent behind Westgate Las Vegas‘ Food and Beverage operations, I interviewed five amazing individuals. Each of them are standouts in their field, but only one had impressed me long before we actually met. That person is Executive Chef Steve Young.

Chef Steve Young Edge Steakhouse

My first dinner at Edge Steakhouse two years ago was part of a whirlwind series of experiences arranged by Westgate‘s management and PR teams so I could witness the stunning improvements they’d made since aquiring the property. To say that my dinner was the turning point of my opinions of Westgate would be putting things mildly. After that incredible meal (which ranks as one of my best ever), I developed what could best be described as a Pavlovian response.

From that evening forward, it has been impossible to walk through the off-Strip resort without encountering an Edge Steakhouse advertisement…and my mouth beginning to water. It is such that I often want to break from my path and head right for their reservation podium on Restaurant Row.

Chef Steve Young Edge Steakhouse

I arrived for my interview with Chef Steve as the Edge staff was in preparation to open for the evening’s business. Servers, bartenders and other staffers were efficiently going about their responsibilities. Young came over to greet me and we settled into an alcove near the entrance….far enough for some privacy but within reach if the Warren, New Jersey native was needed. As you’ll see, he’s a consumate professional.

The first personal detail I learned was that Young had been working since he was fourteen years old. Much of it was helping in the kitchen of a country club, developing cooking skills he’d learned from his family. That struck a chord, as working hard from a very young age was a common thread among others I’d interviewed…and a lesson on the virtues of ambition.

Chef Steve Young Edge Steakhouse

            James Beard guest chefs receive a photo book of their experience…

At only 34, Chef Young has already achieved what many in his profession can only dream of…to prepare a dinner at the prestigious James Beard Foundation. This not-for-profit culinary arts organization, created with the involvement of Julia Child, honors chefs who make America’s food culture more diverse, sustainable and delicious for everyone.

Chef Steve Young Edge Steakhouse

The theme last February 14th for the presentation was “Valentine’s Day with a Vegas Kiss”. Chef Young and six other members of Westgate Resort‘s culinary team traveled to New York City, along with 40 crates of food, dishes, utensils and equipment. They created an epic six-course dinner for over eighty guests, complimented by 132 bottles of wine that also traveled with the Westgate team.

In order to appreciate that honor, one needs to look backward to where it all began. Chef Young credits much of his success to a mentor – Chef Andrew Lattanzio of NYC’s Culinary Institute of America. He laughed that Lattanzio didn’t play games when the lessons kicked in:

Chef Steve Young Edge Steakhouse

“Chef Lattanzio was really tough and let us know it. He used to say things like ‘I’m tired of half-assed cooks!’. I didn’t want that directed at me” Young recalled. “He taught us the how’s and why’s of technique. That’s what he drilled. Technique. Technique is everything. No dish will turn out right without the proper technique”.

“Chef Lattanzio always encouraged us to seek out the best working environments, too. “You HAVE to work for good people’, he’d say”. And so Chef Steve did. After achieving his degree, Young received a position as Sous Chef for New Jersey’s Due Mari and Due Terre restaurants at the age of 22. Overseen by Chef Michael White, these seafood/authentic Italian restos were favorites of the area (Due Terri has since closed).

Chef Steve Young Edge Steakhouse

In 2009, Young relocated to Las Vegas and started the year as Master Cook for MGM Grand‘s Joel Robuchon. This flagship location of the Robuchon collection of French restaurants sets the standard for a dozen locations spanning the world from Paris and London to Shanghai and Singapore.

Young absorbed the influences of his famous mentors, merged them with his own style (and that all-important flair….er, “technique”) and forged a plan to take on something big and bold. This time that “new” was a pair of gleaming towers looking to make a name for themselves on the crowded Las Vegas skyline…the Cosmopolitan.

Chef Steve Young Edge Steakhouse

Opening up restaurants in a new resort would be a daunting task for anyone, but especially for someone relatively new to the Vegas scene. For Chef Young, that challenge was heightened by becoming part of the team that set out to redefine the Vegas buffet experience.

Edge Steakhouse Chef Steve Young

                        Wicked Spoon redefined the Vegas buffet experience…

The  Wicked Spoon Buffet was an immediate hit. Long lines and four-star reviews lauded the distinctive presentation of small plates, seasonal creations and cleverly-crafted original dishes. For nearly a year and a half, Young was Sous Chef for both Wicked Spoon and the resort’s massive in-room dining operations…until it was time to move upwards.

Chef Steve Young Edge Steakhouse

                                       “Technique technique technique”…

Next up was a promotion to Chef de Cuisine for Cosmo‘s massive “Pool District”, a collection of three different daytime experiences which includes Boulevard Pool‘s Overlook Grill and the mega-popular Marquee Dayclub.

During his pre-Westgate tenure, Young estimates he was involved in the opening of 9-10 restaurants, most notably spending two and a half years as Chef de Cuisine at The Henry, Cosmo’s 24-hour casual eatery.

Edge Steakhouse Chef Steve Young

“I started to get a little bit cocky while at the Cosmo“, he laughed. His handsome face flushed a little bit while recounting this. “It was time for the people around me to offer a little bit of attitude correction“.  He didn’t go into details on the matter, but seemed thankful that things course-corrected to everyone’s satisfaction. As a result, Young spent five successful years at the fledgling property.

Chef Steve Young Edge Steakhouse

                      Chef Steve and wife Sara enjoy the active life in Las Vegas…

This phase of his career was filled with two very special personal events – marrying sweetheart Sara (a teacher for the Clark County school district), and the birth of their daughter, who just turned six years old.

Even though the youthful Young was taking on the toughest responsibilities of his life, he still managed to revel in the thrills of Vegas. That included racing go karts, target-shooting in the desert…and having a blast in nightclubs around the city. I can’t provide proof, but rumor has it that the master of steak is a closeted fan of Vegas favorite In-N-Out Burger.

Chef Steve Young Edge Steakhouse

In 2015, the newly-reborn Westgate Las Vegas was attracting some the Strip’s best and brightest culinary wizards to become a part of their new team. Noteworthy food/beverage stars like Chef Bruno Morabito and master mixologist Eddie Perales came aboard, and Young left Cosmo to launch the Sin City incarnation of Edge Steakhouse.

Chef Steve Young Edge Steakhouse

Chef Steve Young Edge Steakhouse

                 Westgate Park City is home to the original Edge Steakhouse…

You might recognize the name of Edge Steakhouse if you’ve visited Park City, Utah. The award-winning original location at Westgate Park City is considered to be one of the best steak restaurants in the United States. Having just dined there, I can testify that Edge Park City is a superlative experience with impeccable service and some of the absolute best dining in the region.

Chef Steve Young Edge Steakhouse

Stepping up from Chef de Cuisine to Executive Chef for Edge presented an entirely new set of challenges for Chef Young…from redesigning the existing space to laying out the extensive kitchen. Then of course came the hiring/training of his staff and creating his own Vegas-style version of Park City’s menu.

Chef Steve Young Edge Steakhouse

Chef Steve Young Edge Steakhouse

One eye-catching example of his contributions is the dry-age room. Installed in full view of the restaurant’s exterior, visitors can check out the various meats, which are labeled and displayed in a beautiful tasteful presentation. The effect is impressive, much like the bottles of wine that line the walls of the dining room.

Chef Steve Young Edge Steakhouse

Now that Edge Steakhouse of Las Vegas has become a runaway success (matching or perhaps even exceeding the standards set by its Park City parent), the recognition and awards have been flowing in.

Chef Steve Young Edge Steakhouse

Chef Steve was chosen as “Best Rising Chef/Rising Star” for 2017 in the culinary categories of Silver State Awards, which recognizes excellence and achievements in Nevada’s exemplary individuals and companies.

He has since become a somewhat regular face on local talk shows, where he shares his newest dishes, often created around seasonal favorites.

Chef Steve Young Edge Steakhouse

Chef Steve Young Edge Steakhouse

Once our conversation was over, Chef Steve escorted me to my table, where he shared some of his favorite dishes. Instead of describing my impressions, I’ll just let the photos do the talking.

Chef Steve Young Edge Steakhouse

                Baby Beets Salad with burrata cheese and pistachio ($14)

Chef Steve Young Edge Steakhouse

      Silk Road Spicy Shrimp appetizer with sweet chili reduction ($16)

Chef Steve Young Edge Steakhouse

     Sunchoke Ravioli with parmesan foam is one of Chef Young’s favorites…

Chef Steve Young Edge Steakhouse

       Sea Scallops with butternut squash, pomegranite and pine nuts ($37)

Chef Steve Young Edge Steakhouse

Edge Steakhouse Chef Steve Young

                                                      Wagyu ribeye cap ($75)

Chef Steve Young Edge Steakhouse

From what I’ve seen, Chef Young and Westgate are an impeccable pairing. Building a new restaurant “from the ground up” is a difficult achievement on its own. But together, this team has taken a recognizable brand, given it their own unique stamp and made it into one of the most fabulous and award-winning dining spots in the city.

After our interview, one of Westgate’s other chefs jokingly shared with me his admiration for Chef Young:

Steve Young is a very, very methodical man. He plans out everything, writes it all down…as if it’s his own “Bible”. He has very strict way of operating a restaurant. Some of us chefs are wild cards, but not Chef Steve. He’s totally by the books and everything has to be perfect. It drives me crazy, but it clearly works. That’s just the way he is…and I love him.

Chef Steve Young Edge Steakhouse

Edge Steakhouse Las Vegas is open Tuesday through Saturday from 5 pm. Call 702-732-5277 for reservations or more information.

Photos: Sammasseur, James Beard Foundation, Westgate Las Vegas, Steve Young via Facebook, KTNV via YouTube, lasvegasnow.com, Yelp!

 

 

 

 

 

Culinary Superstars: Master Mixologist Eddie Perales

Record-holding flair bartender wrote the book on creating fantastic cocktails….

Some people look back on their lives and careers to find themselves saying “Oh, I should have written a book”. Eddie Perales, General Manager of Beverages at Westgate Las Vegas, won’t wait for that moment to come. He’s been creating a photo-journal of professional adventures from the beginning. And he is proud to share it.

Eddie Perales Westgate

Eddie has every reason to be proud. A man of ambition, he has been on his own since fifteen years old. While others at that age might have stumbled into various types of trouble, Perales actively went looking for it….by becoming a member of a hot dog firefighter crew.

It’s interesting that exposure to extreme heat in his early job would give way to a career built largely around ice. While living in the San Francisco Bay area, Perales took a part-time position behind the bar. His mentors inspired him to develop an interest in that field, which grew as he learned the intricacies and art of making the perfect cocktail.

When he moved to the central portion of California, Eddie decided to open up his own business…Bakersfield Bartending Academy. Fueled by the love he developed for beverage creation, Perales instructed his students to train in their field as opposed to practicing for it. He also got plenty of opportunities to use his signature line “Shake it HARD and shake it with a SMILE!”.

Eddie Perales Westgate

Eddie’s passion for mixology instruction came from a personal philosophy. “There is a world of life to give back by educating” he said to me with a big grin. “I believe you can teach while remaining grateful and humble”. That approach proved very successful, as Bakersfield Bartending Academy was awarded “Most Outstanding Small Business in California” for 1998.

At the same time, this dynamic man of boundless energy was simultaneously running a catering business. Those two careers, sharing the same space in Eddie’s mind, seemed to bounce off one another. He found himself experimenting with fruits, herbs, cooking pans, ice and flames to create unique beverages…from his own kitchen.

Eddie Perales Westgate

Delving into that world of molecular mixology meant using science to alter the intensity and balance of flavors, suspending liquids of various viscosity and playing with the chemical interaction of ingredients. “It’s trial and error….doing things you’ve never done before. How do you know what will happen unless you try it?”.

Eddie’s dazzle behind the bar took on an entirely new dimension when he entered the world of flair bartending. That entertaining style of making cocktails (for those of you who’ve never seen the film COCKTAIL) involves juggling and theatrical use of liquor bottles, shakers and bar tools.

One of the pioneers in “flairtending”, Eddie racked up numerous awards and accolades via competitions throughout the world. He also held a record in Guinness Book of World Records for “Most Cocktails Mixed In One Hour”, an honor he maintained until 8 years ago.

Eventually Eddie’s various talents caught the attention of the regime at Rio Las Vegas. The team there recruited him to come to Las Vegas and become their Beverage Trainer and a newly-created title of “Flair Manager”.

Eddie Perales Westgate

During his time at the Rio, “flairtending” became extremely popular there. You could find it on the casino floor, iBar Ultra Lounge, the nightclubs and even poolside. Rio often held Flair Bartending Championships on the property, too.

You can still see Eddie’s influence at both Voodoo Nightclub and the floor-level Masquerade Village casino bar. While telling me about his stint at the Rio, Eddie opened his book to a design concept he created for the hotel that is still in use:

I was fascinated about the efficiency of drive-through fast food restaurants. You place your order in one place, pay for it at the next, and your order is waiting for you at the end. It’s so efficient and made total sense…so why not integrate that idea for cocktail servers and bartenders to get your drinks to you faster?

Along with changing the overall way that drinks were prepared and delivered, Perales held numerous classes for the staff, sharing his knowledge and inspiring his students to think outside of the box. Simultaneously, he was looking for bigger, bolder boxes for his own future concepts.

Eddie Perales Westgate

One of those boxes turned out to be an icebox…sort of. Eddie’s catering enterprise frequently made use of his own ice sculptures. Eye-catching crystalline displays became a natural evolution of his desire for theatrical and awe-inspiring presentations for his cocktails, too.

Making a name for one’s self in a city focused around beverage presentation would be a challenge for any expert in beverage creation. But very few mixologists have gone so far as to participate in a global-scale beverage competition in New Zealand involving bungee-jumping, speed boats and helicopters. Yes, really.

As his profile rose, so did the offers and responsibilities. Eddie found himself as a “Tequila Ambassador” for Tres Generaciones, “Assistant Beverage Director” for all of Caesars properties and eventually as “Director of Foundation Room Las Vegas” for Mandalay Bay’s House of Blues.

That photo-journal of Eddie’s was getting pretty filled by this time. Journalists were clamoring for profiles of his adventures…and secrets to his unique concoctions. Vegas Player Magazine, Scott Roeben (of VitalVegas.com), Las Vegas Weekly, Las Vegas Sun, Review-Journal, Hotel F & B and a host of others helped to add pages to the Eddie Perales scrapbook.

Eddie5

When David Siegel‘s corporation took ownership of the Westgate Las Vegas, they began gathering the best and brightest Vegas talent for their food and beverage operations. From Sid’s Cafe‘s Chef Bruno Morabito (of Giada’s fame) to Edge Steakhouse Executive Chef Steve Young (you’ll meet him in an upcoming piece), the team grew more impressive with each addition.

Eddie was the perfect person to spearhead Westgate‘s new beverage offerings. His unique style, daring “why not?” creativity and contemporary flair perfectly aligned with the resort’s plan to bring the former Las Vegas Hilton into 21st-century relevance.  The wide array of restaurants launched in the ensuing months gave him plenty of room to spread his wings and add color and flair to the off-Strip destination’s beverage menu.

Eddie Perales Westgate

My first formal taste of Eddie’s work came from a visit to Fresco Italiano, the excellent Italian restaurant whose review happened to be my first column when launching Vegas Unfiltered last June. There my guest and I enjoyed the most colorful and delicious red and white sangria. As is Eddie’s style, they were brimming with fresh fruits and lots of pizzazz:

Eddie Perales Westgate

I then sampled some of his creations for Bar Sake, a new hidden gem within the Benihana Village (you can read my full review here). There my group enjoyed unique drinks like the Jaded Midori (Midori Melon LiqueurTyku Cucumber Sake and lemon juice) and the Ginger Kamikaze with Tykusoju, Tyku Cucumber Sake, Domaine de Canton, lime and simple syrup.

Eddie Perales Westgate

We also indulged in a Paris To Tokyo (ST-GERMAIN elderflower liqueur, Tyku Cucumber Sake and Mionetto Prosecco) and a Strawberry Coconut Mojito created with Tyku cucumber and coconut sakes, Southern Supreme Mojito Lime and Sweet & Sour.

Eddie Perales Westgate

Last April I attended a post-show party at Westgate to honor the amazing Prince (at the time, the Purple Reign tribute show that was packing them in at the resort’s International Theater). Servers were passing around trays filled with the “Purple Cocktail” which was created to honor the Minneapolis funkmeister. They were kind enough to share the recipe:

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The Purple Cocktail:

Blueberry puree – 1 oz.
Mint – 4-6 leaves
Lime fresh – 1/2 fresh squeeze
Sweet and sour -1 oz.
OJ – 1 oz.
Vodka citrus 1 1/2 oz.
Float – Champagne
Garnish – mint and blueberry

Build in a glass shaker. Add in all ingredients, then ice and shake. Strain over fresh ice, top with champagne and garnish…

As part of the top-to-bottom renovation of the property, the casino’s front-and-center bar received a dramatic and bold overhaul. Now dubbed the International Bar, this sleek 24/7 hangout features comfy seating, live musical acts and continuously-changing lighting effects.

Eddie Perales Westgate

Naturally, Eddie had to come up with a beverage menu to compliment the new bar/lounge area. He did so both literally and figuratively…by designing a list of signature cocktails etched onto an electronically-enhanced acrylic menu that changes colors…just like the bar decor itself.

Eddie Perales Westgate

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Someday when he has added his contributions at Westgate Las Vegas to the pages of his memory book, Eddie may consider publishing his own original volume. In it, he’d like to explore the diversity of the cocktail world and chronicle its evolution. He’s even chosen a title for it – “Passion From Spice”.

Eddie Perales Westgate

If Eddie Perales’s epicurean treatise on cocktails manages to be thorough as I expect, then he’d better commit at least a few chapters to focus on himself. And there would still be plenty of room for a sequel.

Photos: Sammasseur, Eddie Perales via LinkedIn, Scott Roeben via YouTube, Westgate Las Vegas