Thursday, August 6, 2009

This week's LVW col: Enter The Stage Door

Here's this week's "The Strip Sense" piece. Didn't actually get to the bottom of the mystery, but maybe this one's about the journey, not the destination? Enjoy. -Steve

A riddle wrapped in... Harrah's?
There may be great stories about the Stage Door, but good luck finding them


The rule of thumb for marquees on the Strip is not to force anyone to think too hard. I challenge anyone to look up and down the Boulevard and spot much signage that stops you in your tracks in bafflement. Subtlety, thy name is not Vegas.

Which is why the Stage Door Casino has long fascinated me. To be honest, though, until last week I didn’t even know the place had a name, let alone something with such phony theatrical aspirations as the Stage Door.

I just knew it—as I suspect a whole lotta folks do—as that place on Flamingo across from the Bally’s Sports Book entrance with a sign that reads, “WE HAVE 21 YEARS LEFT ON OUR LEASE. WE ARE HERE TO SERVE YOU.”

The number changes each year, as you might expect. Huh, you wonder. Defiant! What’s that all about?

I suspected I knew. Must have something to do with all the development pressures in the area, some valiant holdout against the big, bad Harrah’s Entertainment, which owns so much land on the east side of the Strip.

That hunch seemed to be rewarded earlier this month when I stopped in at the video poker and sundries shop immediately east of Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall & Saloon and attached to the venerable Battista’s Hole in the Wall. When I asked a cashier if I could speak with the owner or manager, a portly, courtly fellow named Alan Hoffman emerged from his office with a warm handshake and a broad smile. He was effusive—“Oh, we’ve got stories to tell you!”—and even started gabbing with me about Harrah’s and its plans for neighborhood domination. Hoffman even pointed out that it was Harrah’s that was paying for the construction on Flamingo designed to bury the power lines east of Bill’s and the Flamingo Las Vegas. “They can’t build up without doing that,” he gossiped.

Ooh, good story, I’m thinking. Besieged, profitable David vs. near-bankrupt Goliath. Fun!

Except then something weird happened. Hoffman asked me to come back the following Wednesday to meet the owner, Ron Markin, “and we’ll tell you everything you ever wanted to know.” But when Wednesday arrived and I called up Hoffman to set a time for my return visit, his brio was gone.

“The owner wanted me to tell you we’ll have no comment,” he explained awkwardly. “Go read the InBusiness Las Vegas piece about us from a few years ago.”

“But last week you were so excited to talk,” I said, confused.

“Well, I don’t know what to tell you,” Hoffman answered, also a bit confused, although I’m not sure about what. Then he hung up.

Hmm. That was weird. Up went my scandal antenna.

Read the rest

Frank Marino To Reopen @ IP

This is the sort of thing I'd normally just Tweet, but with Twitter all funkied up, I'm going Old School and blogging. (BTW, that Tao Tweasure Hunt was reskedded for next week and this is a funny bit called "When Twitter Is Down.")

While Erich Bergen and I were at Vegas.Com today for a meeting about our big "Las Vegas Celebrates The Music of Michael Jackson" fundraiser at the Palms later this month, Frank Marino was there filming a TV spot for their site. I sensed the Marino aura when I spotted a rather plain Caddy out front with the La Cage license plate. It surprised me, actually, because the last time I saw Marino's car it looked like this:

Anyhow, I caught Frank in full drag and asked him when he'll be back on stage. He said he opens Labor Day Weekend at the Imperial Palace. "We're going to teach those Human Nature boys a thing or two," he said. The show features the cast of the 25-year Riviera production that was shut down suddenly earlier this year. Norbert Aleman, the longtime producer, will not be involved, Marino pointedly said.

I mentioned to him the kerfluffle I got into with Aleman's peeps when I Tweeted that I had heard Crazy Girls would be shutting down soon and that it had just 80 people in attendance, mostly comps. Aleman's folks sent a statement insisting they were NOT shutting down but never suggested the attendance figures were incorrect or explained the financial math of having a show running with that large a cast and that little revenue.

"You ought to have said that what you meant to say is that the show should close," Marino said drily.


Show is UP: Smokey and the Band

Hey! I'm trying something new! I just upgraded to Leopard and the new Garageband and decided to start creating an AAC version of the show with bookmarks. This is my first try, so I kept it simply by breaking the show into four parts -- banter, the Human Nature interview, middle-show stuff and Smokey Robinson interview. If you've got iTunes and/or an iPod, this may be a way to navigate. Please let me know. Otherwise, you can always download the mp3 version. Both will be in the RSS feed. To download, right-click on the date below (or the AAC link) and save it to your computer. Or you can subscribe (it's free!) via this iTunes link or via this Zune link. -sf

Aug. 6: Smokey's Awesome Aussies
New! Get AAC edition

What’s a legend of Motown doing as the chief backer of a Vegas production featuring a white former boy band from Australia? Smokey Robinson explains that, talks about Michael Jackson and sings a few bars of the first song he ever wrote this hour. It’s no “My Girl,” but he was only 6 when he wrote it. That’s coming up, plus Andrew Tierney of that very band, Human Nature, talks about the group's transition from top-of-the-heap Down Under to headliners at, uh, the Imperial Palace.

In Banter: MJ concert details, the attack of the Chitown columnist, Beyonce v Anthony Cools, Prive's woes, Tao's interesting idea and more.

Links to stuff discussed:

Tickets for Human Nature at the IP
Smokey Robinson’s website
Amy’s podcast,
Amy’s Norm video
Station Casinos in bankruptcy
Tickets for Anthony Cools at Paris
Beyonce review in the R-J
Prive nightclub's problems
Tao’s Twitterhunt
Neil Steinberg’s outrageous Chicago Sun-Times column on Vegas
VegasHappensHere.Com attacks Neil Steinberg’s column
Steve’s column about the Stage Door Casino

Tao's Twitterific Idea

With all the wretched news about Prive and the rest of the nightclub scene these days, I find this idea an interesting and fun approach to drumming up business and using social-networking media to do it.

Tonight at Tao Nightclub at Palazzo, they're giving away $5,000 to the winner of the "Twitter Tweasure Hunt." As I understand it, you go to the club with a smart phone and a digicam and they give you clues as to what you need to find every 20 minutes starting at 11:20 p.m. You snap pictures of six things and then bring the six photos to the finish line.

Clever, right? I wish I had the stamina to stay up that late and go down to see how it goes, but anyone out there who does go, please provide a report. It sounds like it could be a lot of fun and that at least one nightclub in town has decided that lesbolicious kissing contests only go so far.

By the way, while we're on the topic, that Criss Angel Twitter ticket hunt at the gift shop at Luxor last week seemed successful. He gave out three clues: (a) "You will Need Some "Luck" to find the tickets!" and (b) "You will Need Some "Luck" to find the tickets!" and (c) "TV". Then about 2 p.m. on the appointed day, he Tweeted, "Hey There! We have a winner for the tickets....I hear my clues were too good...will have to make it harder next time...". But everyone who went to try did get a scratch-off thing with various discounts, so that's cool.

I do worry, though, about Angel's linguistic competence. There are some unintended consequences on his Twitter feed:

I hope Terry had fun! Criss' fans evidently had a lot of fun with this, too, since here are his next two Tweets:

Now, Criss. Dude. Spell check wouldn't have caught that. "Meat" is also a word. And, conceivably, you could've meant it. Especially when you jumped right into the shower immediately thereafter.

Either way, though, these are both excellent uses of that medium I had declared dead not long ago. So what do I know?

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Strip is LIVE tonight w/Smokey Robinson

No, really this time! We're on live at LVRocks.Com from 7-8 pm PT with lots of new details about the Michael Jackson benefit event, discussions of the week's news, a new trivia question, interviews with Smokey Robinson and one of the Human Nature guys (separately) and much more.

Join us at 7 p.m. PT at LVRocks.Com for the live steam, chat room and studio cam. Or wait for the podcast version and subscribe (it's free!) via this iTunes link or via this Zune link. Your call.

Monday, August 3, 2009

From The Files of: BLOW ME

It's not that Vegas is beyond reproach. God knows I've got my share of complaints. Informed complaints. Hell, I'm responsible for a cover headline in this week's Las Vegas Weekly explaining why it's not so much fun to live here anymore.


Nothing gets my goat quite like the Asshole Parachuting Columnist. And today's Asshole Parachuting Columnist is...Neil Steinberg of the Chicago Sun-Times. It seems poor Neil was forced (at gunpoint?) by his sons to include a Vegas stop as part of a summer family road trip. The kids wanted to see the Hoover Dam, so they passed through for a night.

What follows in a piece forebodingly -- and predictably -- titled "What Happens in Vegas: Little Good" is the standard-issue litany of indictments against Vegas. He opens with an allegory between Vegas and Hell which, gosh, I'd never thought of before. Then we learn he chose to stay at the low-rent Excalibur not because he's a cheap bastard but, he claims, because those evidently gunned-up children of his were enamored of the medeival castle motif. (These are the same smart kids who rerouted the trip because they wanted to see the Hoover Dam but they can't be entertained by Paris or Venice? Or would that just not make a very good column for the stingy old man?)

Steinberg drones on about the timeshare hawkers and then burnishes his metro-liberal bona fides by expressing his bafflement over the pleasure people derive from gambling. Is this really that hard to fathom, or is Steinberg just playing smug elitist for effect? People like to play games and they like them even more when they can win something, which some people do. Either way, how is the thrill of it any different than, say, paying to spend a day on amusement park rides? Your money's (probably) gone either way. But nobody ever sneers at the poor souls who choose that as their entertainment even though I can't personally fathom why flying down a precarious metal track at top speed would appeal to anyone.

The Asshole Parachuting Columnist, incidentally, always ignores facts that screw up the narrative. In this case, Steinberg cites lots of statistics that suit his purposes but either willfully or out of ignorance fails to note the part where 60 percent of revenue for the resorts these days is not from gambling but all the other neat stuff that people used to go to Chicago for, too. You know, the fine dining, the shopping, the shows, the rides, the spas, the animal attractions.

How does anyone judge Vegas without standing in front of the Bellagio Fountains for a performance or three? Could Steinberg be bothered to spring for admission to Shark Reef? Listen to gondoliers while lapping up a gelato from Illy? Watch former Olympians from around the globe perform death-defying acts in custom-built theaters replete with technology that makes the Hoover Dam seem like Lincoln Logs? Observe the awe-inspiring cluster of towers soon to open at CityCenter which, however economically unwise it was to build, were designed by the world's greatest architects?

Fuck, no. He stayed at a bottom-of-the-market resort, lost some money at a blackjack table, got offended by commercialism and cigarette smoke, and got the hell out of, well, Hell with the snarky conclusion that, yup, the place is as pathetic and disgusting as he remembered from 15 years ago.

Now, I love Chicago. Got my journalism degree there, fell in love for the first time there, saw some amazing theater and art and ate countless wonderful meals there. But Mr. Steinberg, can you imagine if I judged Chicago by the one night I spent a few years back at the bullet-riddled crackhouse-in-training Skylark Motel on Archer? What if I declared all of Chicago worthless and disgusting without ever checking out Grant Park, the Lincoln Park Zoo, Navy Pier, Gino's East, the Lakefront, the Palmer House, Wrigleyville, Greektown, Watertower, Ann Sather by the Belmont el and whatever they're calling the Sears Tower these days?

As a columnist, nobody expects you to be fair, Mr. Steinberg. But, columnist to columnist, I generally find people take my views more seriously when I at least pretend to be informed. Those timeshare folks? Totally obnoxious. No argument there. But not quite as obnoxious as rendering a verdict on an entire destination or city based on as little information as you collected and presented in this essay. What's worse, I wonder why you bothered to even stop in. You knew exactly what you were going to write at least as far back as Jean.

Your Monday Morning Smile

My good friend, loyal listener, frequent Miles social stand-in and sometime podcaster Amy Turner was telling me about this thing related to the Review-Journal's Norm Clarke at lunch recently and I told her she had to get it on video. Voila!

Classic!!! Of course, Amy first learned of our show through Norm's column, so she truly is a Norm fan.

If you liked that, check out Amy's viral YouTube hit at 113,000 views and counting...

Let's all have a great week!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Of Mob Museums, Beyonce and Pizza

Some thoughts and stuff from the weekend papers...

* I'm now officially not the only media cheerleader for the planned downtown Mob Museum. Welcome, George Knapp, to the cause.

* We thought Sen. John Ensign's affair and payoff scandal had little relevance to anything other than his own career, but evidently Kansas gaming officials may disagree. Y'see Ensign had his father, former Mandalay Resorts honcho Mike Ensign, pay his mistress's family $96,000 as "severence" or somesuch. And now the Kansas folks are wondering if they should let Ensign the Elder be involved in a casino deal near Wichita. Ut-oh. (Cartoon credit: LtSaloon.Org.)

* It saddened me to learn that Dina Babbitt has died of cancer at age 86. I was instrumental in her fame thanks to a large New York Times piece in 2006 about the Auschwitz prisoner who was forced by Dr. Josef Mengele to draw paintings of Gypsy inmates to survive. She didn't know that the paintings even survived until the 1970s when a museum in Poland asked her to authenticate them. She expected them to let her have them back. They never did.

* Is it me, or is it odd that the press photo of Michael Jackson's personal chef Kai Chase seems to have come from Glamour Shots? (See right.)

* In an important reminder that extreme feminism is not quite dead yet, check out this cover piece in this week's Las Vegas CityLife by Rebecca Zisch. I'm a strong advocate of legal abortion -- my own great-grandmother died of a self-inflicted, illegal abortion -- but Planned Parenthood peeps urging a boycott because a coffee shop is hospitable to anti-abortion protesters? That's more offensive than whatever the perceived slight was they suffered. I'm a little surprised, frankly, they didn't call for a girlcott. If the cause of abortion rights can't handle a cafe owner selling lattes to those who oppose them or even -- God forbid! -- providing them seating on a hot Vegas day, they're in a lot deeper trouble than they think.

* Sonya Padgett's piece in the R-J on ticket prices in Vegas offered some good analysis and tips on how to save some money.

* Speaking of CityLife, mortal enemy of my the weekly for whom I write a column, I relied on CityLife editor Steve Sebelius for some snap political analysis of this odd move by President Obama for my piece yesterday in the New York Times.

* I'm stunned that a veteran show reviewer like Mike Weatherford would not notice that Beyonce clearly had tracking assistance during her Wynncore appearance on Friday. Yet his B+ review today claims, "It's great to have a pop star who can actually sing without technological trickery." Most of the show was real, sure, and I don't disagree with the grade, but the last third when she's dancing like crazy? Come on, now. You think she's going to leave that shit to chance? Also -- and I'm sure this wasn't Mike's doing -- but for the R-J to file his preview piece under the bold-faced "INTERVIEWS" header is a total lie since he wrote in the fifth paragraph: "The singer declined an interview, ... ."

* This NYT piece is why I decided Miles and I were ordering a pizza last night.