Monthly Archives: August 2014

Las Vegas Lounge Fixture Cook E. Jarr Ends Run at Harrah’s

Word has it longtime Las Vegas lounge performer Cook E. Jarr will no longer perform at Harrah’s Las Vegas. His last performance will be August 27, 2014.

The Las Vegas throwback has entertained thousands of Sin City visitors with his tried-and-true cover songs, kitschy persona and distinctive hairstyle.

Cook E. Jarr

It’s real, by the way.

Prior to his multi-year engagement with Harrah’s, Cook E. Jarr performed at Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall & Saloon, which is now Cromwell Las Vegas.

Jarr began his Vegas career on June 2, 1982. He first performed what was supposed to be a two-week gig at the Sands.

Jarr hasn’t said where he might turn up next, nor has he said why he’ll no longer be performing at Harrah’s.

Cook E. Jarr has seen it all and done it all in Las Vegas, and we hope he’ll find a new home for his much-beloved show soon.

Ten Things Downtown Grand Las Vegas is Doing Right

What a difference a month makes in Las Vegas.

Not long ago, we were reporting about the bleak situation at Downtown Grand, the former Lady Luck. Two restaurants closed and hours at others were shrinking, massive staffing cuts were being made department-wide and the hotel’s casino was pretty much on life support.

Those “adjustments” now appear to have been part of some master plan, because there have been a slew of recent changes, big and small, breathing new life into the struggling hotel-casino in downtown Las Vegas.

Downtown Grand

Las Vegas is built on second chances. Well, it’s actually built on permeable sand and gravel, but that’s less romantic.

Here’s a list of 10 things Downtown Grand Las Vegas is finally doing right.

1. Improved Video Poker Pay Tables

If your casino has less-than-favorable video poker pay tables, words spreads quickly. The result is players stay away. In response to customer feedback, Downtown Grand has retooled its poker play tables to be comparable to other downtown casinos.

Thankfully for Downtown Grand, word spreads just as quickly when payouts are adjusted upwards. We’ve played more video poker at Downtown Grand in the last two weeks than we did the prior six months.

Furnace Bar

The Furnace Bar has become one of our favorite places to drink and play downtown. Emphasis on drink.

Thanks to the folks at Royal Flusher Vegas for letting us know about the pay table changes.

2. Fresh Blood

Sensing its days might be numbered at Downtown Grand, the casino’s management company, Fifth Street Gaming, did something dramatic. They wisely brought on some fresh blood.

The most significant acquisition was Anthony Bender, Downtown Grand’s director of casino marketing. Bender has held management roles at the Riviera and at Stratosphere owner American Casino & Entertainment Properties, both entities familiar with the delicate balance of appealing to both Vegas visitors and locals, just as Downtown Grand must do to thrive.

Downtown Grand Las Vegas

We don’t have photos of any of the new executives, so we’ll just share this lovely artwork at Downtown Grand.

In addition to Anthony Bender, the hotel also brought on a new chief financial officer (Marie Ramsey), a new casino financial analyst (Jeffrey Rabinowitz) and a new director of table games (Ken Mumby). All the hires were new positions according to Downtown Grand CEO Seth Schorr.

These new executives bring a diverse and expansive set of skills to Downtown Grand. Ken Mumby, for example, has 35 years of casino industry experience, and was most recently Vice President of Casino Operations for Planet Hollywood. Let’s see if these folks can shake things up!

3. Promotional Table Game Play

What’s most grabbed our attention recently at Downtown Grand is the aggressive marketing to casino players.

For example, while we have played a few times at Downtown Grand, we’re not what you’d call a whale. Still, each week in August, the hotel has offered us $25 in promotional chips for the casino’s table games. Not match play. Promotional play. That means you get $25 in promotional chips, every week, which you can play like real chips. If you win, you are paid in real chips. If you don’t, it costs nothing, there’s zero risk.

It’s difficult to overstate our love for these perks!

Downtown Grand chips

Promotional chips are our new BFFs. Bite it, match play.

We’ve never gotten a promotional offer like that from a casino, ever.

Sometimes we just play the promotional chips, win and cash out. Sometimes we play those chips, plus some additional cash. But no matter the result, it’s a blast, and we feel valued and appreciated as a customer. That engenders loyalty, and again, these promotional chips have gotten us into Downtown Grand more in the last few weeks than in the months prior.

This is a very good sign. It’s also a potentially expensive promotion for the casino, but if you’re going to kick-start a recovery, this is a bold way to do it.

4. Pot Roast at Triple George

The same folks that own Downtown Grand also own Triple George restaurant, just across the street. This welcoming restaurant does a lot of things well, but until recently, we’d never tried the pot roast. It was off-the-charts amazing, including meat so tender, you’ll think you’re French kissing a cloud.

What does this have to do with what Downtown Grand is doing right? Because dining is a huge part of what makes a Las Vegas resort work. Customers don’t have to gamble 24/7, but there should be enticements to stick around as long as possible.

The dining options at Downtown Grand are outstanding, and we’d put Triple George’s pot roast up against any dish in Las Vegas. That’s how you get people to visit, and stay. Be extraordinary.

Triple George

Yes, we considered proposing marriage to this pot roast, but it got a little weird.

Credit for this meat masterpiece goes to Downtown Grand’s assistant executive chef Todd Harrington, formerly of Central at Caesars Palace, who revamped the menu at all the hotel’s restaurants.

5. Art Bar Happy Hour

Art Bar is Downtown Grand’s lobby bar, and its marketing hook has been copious amounts of art on the bar’s ceiling. Why, we have no idea, especially when happy hour is really the selling point.

Art Bar’s happy hour is 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m., and features 50 percent off all food and drinks. This is an excellent deal, in a warm, mellow space. In fact, Art Bar was recently named “Best Bar to Chill” by the staff of Las Vegas Weekly.

We love the fact our Captain and diets run about three bucks, and the specialty cocktails are worth a try, too.

Mozart cocktail

The happy hour at Art Bar is helping to put the happy back in Downtown Grand.

6. The Commissary $1 Taco Deal

Yes, The Commissary’s hours have recently been pared back (currently 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. daily, 11:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays), but the sometimes-overlooked restaurant still has some fight in it.

The Commissary’s one-time $1 Tuesday taco deal has been extended to seven days a week. Get a chicken, brisket or bean-and-cheese street taco for just a buck.

We’ve only tried the chicken and brisket versions, but they’re stellar, and again, have kept us coming back, sometimes several times a week. After which we sometimes gamble. Starting to see a pattern here?

99-cent tacos

It took superhuman strength for us not to Photoshop a space between “every” and “day.”

7. Video Poker at Side Bar

Side Bar is what they now call the former Mob Bar, adjoining Triple George. For some reason, when Mob Bar moved down the street, the plug was pulled on all the video poker machines at Side Bar. Prior to Mob Bar’s departure, this was one of our favorite places to hang, eat, drink and play video poker.

The good news is video poker is back! Side Bar isn’t open all the time as far as we can tell, it’s mainly used as an overflow dining room for Triple George, but even if Side Bar is just a Friday and Saturday night thing, it’s a step in the right direction.

Side Bar Triple George

Let the good times roll, again.

8. Free Comedy

Free is good, and Downtown Grand continues to offer free comedy, called “Summer Comedy Club,” each Thursday.

Show’s start at 8:00 p.m., and the comics are “curated” by Bonkerz Comedy.

Check Downtown Grand’s official site for who’s scheduled to perform when.

Downtown Grand comedy

The best things in life are funny. Free is a close second, though.

9. Dollar Daze

A recent effort to help drum up business at Downtown Grand is the hotel’s Dollar Daze promotion. Cheap food and drink? Providing value to guests? It’s so crazy, it just might work!

Loyalty club members can get a cheeseburger at Stewart + Odgen (pronounced “Stewart Plus Ogden,” not “Stewart and Ogden,” we recently learned) or a specialty shot for $3.

For $2, get a pretzel or a bottle of domestic beer. For $1, get a kosher hot dog or a daiquiri at Ninth Island. Learn more.

Dollar Daze

Your amount of daze may vary.

These are solid deals, and tailored to value-oriented customers. Will they bring in high rollers? Maybe not, but deals like this are the bread-and-butter of casinos that appeal to local, repeat players.

10.  Get Lucky

Ultimately, there’s only so much Downtown Grand can do with marketing and promotions to refresh its image as a lucky place to play. That’s where Lady Luck steps in.

A slot player at Downtown Grand recently won a progressive for, wait for it, $1.2 million. To be exact, $1,212,863.16. See more.

Wisely, Downtown Grand has been promoting this big win like crazy. Giant jackpots are a gambler magnet, part of what keeps the Las Vegas dream alive. A casino can’t plan for a super-sized jackpot, of course, but it can certainly take advantage of the resulting buzz.

Downtown Grand

The winning machine. Different guy, though.

It’s obvious Downtown Grand is serious about making a long-awaited, much-needed course correction.

Are Downtown Grand and Fifth Street Gaming out of the woods? Not quite. The hotel’s location remains a challenge, but if these recent initiatives are any indication, talent and resources are being brought to bear on Downtown Grand’s challenges, and we look forward to seeing what’s next, especially if it results in one of the great comebacks in Las Vegas history.

Penn & Teller and Other Vegas Magicians Featured in “Wizard Wars” on Syfy, Premieres August 19

Rio Las Vegas headliners Penn & Teller star in a new reality competition show on Syfy, “Wizard Wars.” The show’s premiere airs August 19, 2014. Learn more.

Penn & Teller head up a panel of judges on the show as magicians compete to see whose act possesses the most originality, creativity and showmanship.

Penn & Teller

According to Penn, these two “are best friends who don’t socialize often.”

The show was created by Vegas-based magic consultant Rick Lax and magician Justin Flom.

Other Las Vegas magicians are expected to appear on the show, including Nathan Burton (V Theater at Planet Hollywood), Tommy Wind and Murray Sawchuck (Tropicana).

Here’s a little preview of what’s in store.

The format of the show will be familiar at this point. Teams of contestants (magicians) take on creating illusions with random objects. The winner of the show’s first round then take on in-house “wizards”: World Championship of Magic winner Gregory Wilson, Wynn Resort resident magician Shimshi; Justin Flom and Angela Funovits. We’re thinking Shimshi’s best illusion has been keeping certain Las Vegas blogs from knowing Wynn Resort has a resident magician.

“Wizard Wars” is hosted by Ellen Fox, whomever that might actually be.

We enjoy competition reality shows, so we’re hoping “Wizard Wars” can find the same kind of success as Syfy’s make-up-a-palooza, “Face Off.”

A quick note to the producers of “Wizard Wars”: As with most things, the more Las Vegas the better! We’re just saying.

Bonanza Gift Shop, Touted as “World’s Largest Gift Shop,” Rumored to Be Closing

Update: When we first heard the Bonanza Gift Shop was closing, as we shared in the story below, we attempted to contact the owner of Bonanza for comment. We got no response, but a couple of weeks after our story went live, we heard from the store’s owner, Lynn Morris. Morris denies the rumors the Bonanza Gift Shop has been sold, that it’s closing, or that there’s been an offer on the store, from anyone. Given Morris has no reason to misrepresent what’s happening, it sounds like the Bonanza Gift Shop isn’t going anywhere, but we’re sticking with our story, mainly because if it turns out the rumors were true, we’ll look like a flipping genius.

Update (10/24/16): The Bonanza Gift Shop was sold for $50 million on Oct. 21, 2016. Told you it would be sold.

Here’s our original story:

Bonanza Gifts Las Vegas, billed as the “World’s Largest Gift Shop,” is a Las Vegas institution.

That said, the only constant in Vegas is change (oh, and cleavage), and it’s rumored the Bonanza will soon fall victim to the flurry of recent and future development at the north end of the Las Vegas Strip. We’ve heard the Bonanza Gifts shop is being purchased by MGM Resorts and will close.

Bonanza gift shop Las Vegas

Say it ain’t so!

No official announcement has been made by any of the parties involved.

The Bonanza gift shop is located near the new SLS Las Vegas and Stratosphere hotels, at the corner of Sahara Ave. and Las Vegas Boulevard. It opened in 1980, and while there’s been no independent verification of the fact it’s the “world’s largest,” there’s no disputing it’s large, with more than 40,000-square feet of shopping space.

Oh, and the Bonanza gift and souvenir shop also has one of our favorite signs in all of Las Vegas.

Bonanza gift shop

We’ll miss this sign the most when Bonanza closes. Well, this and some of the items in Bonanza’s Naughty Town. Yes, that’s a real thing.

Details about the closure of Bonanza Gifts aren’t easy to come by, but it was just a matter of time before the gift shop received an offer it couldn’t refuse.

The north end of The Strip is experiencing a boom, and the Bonanza is in a prime location for development.

Bonanza gifts souvenirs

In Vegas, it’s best to not get emotionally attached to anything.

Beyond SLS Las Vegas opening, construction of the nearby Resorts World is expected to commence sometime this summer.

The Bonanza gift shop is across the street from MGM Resorts’ planned debut of Rock in Rio, a much-anticipated music festival which will open in 2015. Rock in Rio is said to be the world’s biggest music festival, and one billion people have attended a Rock in Rio event in cities around the world.

For the Las Vegas version of Rock in Rio, MGM Resorts International, Cirque du Soleil and others will collaborate on a new open-air concert venue, called “City of Rock,” featuring five stages, themed streets and thrill rides. This new venue will accommodate a whopping 80,000 people per day.

Bonanza souvenir shop

Folks at Bonanza tell us one of the all-time most popular items is this foul-mouthed fowl.

Las Vegas visitors may soon have to find a new place to get their shot glasses, dice clocks, key chains, fuzzy dice and other souvenirs.

Las Vegas clock dice

About as Vegas as Vegas gets without a penicillin shot.

The site of the Bonanza gift shop has a long and storied history, which we were pretty much oblivious to until helpful reader Steven Brown pointed us toward this overview. The location was previously the site of the Big Wheel Casino and Jolly Trolley Casino. We hate having to learn new things, but sometimes it happens.

There’s sure to be more news to come as the north end of The Strip springs back to life. Stay tuned, and get your Vegas tschotskes while you can.

Culture Club Comes to Pearl Theater at Palms Las Vegas With Original Members

When we heard Culture Club will play at the Palms on Nov. 22, 2014, our brain nearly ‘sploded with ’80s euphoria.

For the first time in 14 years, the original members of Culture Club are hitting the road together, and naturally Las Vegas is on their itinerary. The line-up features front-man Boy George, Mikey Craig (bass guitar), Roy Hay (guitar and keyboards) and Jon Moss (drums and percussion).

Culture Club

Before they chose the name Culture Club, the names In Praise of Lemmings and Sex Gang Children were also under consideration. No, really.

Culture Club recently confirmed they have a new album in the works, due for release in early 2015. The group’s new album can’t possibly be any good, of course, but who cares? Just stick to the hits, guys.

In case you’ve led a sheltered life, Culture Club crushed the pop charts hard in the aforementioned 1980s. They were the first group since The Beatles to have three top 10 hits off their debut album (Kissing to Be Clever) chart on the Billboard Hot 100. They went on to sell more than 100 million singles and more than 50 million albums worldwide.

Fair warning, this video for “Karma Chameleon” may not be completely historically accurate.

Tickets for Culture Club at the Palms start at a paltry $63. Everybody performs in Las Vegas sooner or later, but this is one you won’t want to miss.

Other shows coming up at the Pearl Concert Theater at Palms, that we care much, much less about than Culture Club, include Crosby Stills & Nash (September 27), John Fogerty (October 17), Erasure (all right, that one we care about a lot, too, October 31), Diana Krall (November 8), Judas Priest (November 14) and Alice Cooper (November 26).

“Sydney After Dark” Revue Set to Close and Re-Open at Planet Hollywood

“Sydney After Dark,” a fleshfest featuring Australian performers, has announced it will close at the PH Showroom inside Planet Hollywood Las Vegas on Aug. 17, 2014.

The revue announced it would close because PH Vegas “didn’t have the intimate feeling the show needs to resonate with the audience in its truest sense.” Uh-huh.

Sydney After Dark

We love keeping you abreast of all the latest Vegas entertainment news.

The show’s publicist said a new venue for the show would be announced soon, at which point our inner skeptic kicked in, assuming the show was gone for good.

Turns out we were wrong. We’ve learned “Sydney After Dark” will re-open at Sin City Theatre, also at Planet Hollywood. This space is significantly more “intimate,” so the show has a much better shot of thriving.

No re-opening date has been announced, nor has it been officially announced the show will move to Sin City Theatre.

Sin City Theatre

Sin City Theatre doesn’t get much ink, but it’s a solid combination of stand-up and burlesque.

Expect an official announcement shortly. Specifically, not too long after the show producers see this blog post.

Insert smiley emoticon here.