Ain’t that a Kick in the Head: Vintage Vegas is Back with a “Vengeance”
Swing music Vintage Vegas-style is going gangbusters on the Strip while Downtown, actual gang busters are on display at the Mob Museum, a pantheon to crime stoppers and crime makers (that would be criminals.)
Just as the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, showcasing the latest in futuristic devices, was gearing up, we were winding down a visit to Las Vegas of the past, a Vintage Vegas itinerary of our own creation. We found all things Vegas of the 1940s to 1960s: from WWII era style dancing and lounge singers, Rat Pack stage shows and an afternoon at the Mob Museum located in the US Post Office and Courthouse of the 1950s Kefauver hearings.
No trip to Las Vegas begins before we check the performance schedule for Laura Shaffer, the Bettie Page Clothing Company dress-wearing chanteuse who pays glamorous tribute to the Great American Songbook. On this trip, she was performing at the Chandelier Lounge, a tri-level bar in the Cosmopolitan Hotel. She always attracts the swing dancing crowd to her usual haunts, the Tropicana Lounge and the Bootlegger Bistro. At the Chandelier Lounge she knew her audience wanted to dance and encourage us she did, even though the “dance floor” was a small area of the carpeted lounge. How can you not get up when you hear the strains of her renditions of Cheek to Cheek, Ain’t Misbehavin,’ Straighten Up & Fly Right, Perfidia and You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To. The “Noir Nightingale’s” schedule is posted at her face book page, Laura Shaffer’s Midnight Refrain, at http://www.facebook.com/laurashaffersmidnightrefrain and http://www.midnightrefrain.com.
We’d never been to the Chandelier Lounge until this trip but there we were another time for the Jennifer Keith Quintet. We had danced to her music in Los Angeles when they performed at Maxwell DeMille’s Cicada (Supper) Club, located in the 1928 art deco Oviatt South Olive St building where a Sunday night WWII era radio show is recreated. Jennifer, whose great-great-grandfather was the “K” in RKO Pictures, that classic Hollywood movie studio, harkened us back to the days of Old Hollywood glamour. Her website jenniferkeith.com, shows her back at the Chandelier Lounge throughout 2013.
Then it was on to the Wolf Theater at the Clarion, where Larry Liso incarnated Frank Sinatra, in “Shades of Sinatra.” The show also features Carmine Mandia, Ryan Baker and Lisa Smith all crooning such favorites as New York New York, I’ve Got the World on a String, Take All of Me, Come Fly with Me, That’s Life and Luck Be a Lady. On our next trip we’ll try to catch him at La Scala Restaurant.
On this trip, we finally made it to the new Mob Museum, (the National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement) which opened just over one year ago on Feb 14th, the day of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in Chicago where the Bugs Moran gang was lined-up against a wall and shot and killed by Al Capone’s gang (the actual wall is on display.)
While their website www.themobmuseum.org suggests that a visit may take from 1 to 3 hours, the three hours we allotted wasn’t enough and we ended up rushing through the last exhibits. There is so much to view and do: displays of artifacts, weapons used by hit men, touch screens with historical information; we joined a police photo line-up, viewed the multimedia screen video while listening to Ain’t that a Kick in the Head, learned about the Mob’s secret message system, listened in on wire tapped secret encoded conversations and tried a machine gun…..but declined to sit in an electric chair.
We read about the Irish and Italian gangs and the days of Prohibition, “omerta” (the code of silence,) the witness protection program and the Mob’s peculiar standard of ethics, “We only kill each other.”
We sawthe barber chair where, on October 25, 1957, the boss of the Gambino crime family was murdered. We learned that the son of gangster “Easy Eddie” O’Hare, World War II Navy aviation hero, Edward “Butch” O’Hare gave the Chicago Airport its name.
We “met”Oscar Goodman, the mobster-representing lawyer and former mayor (We also enjoyed dining at his current restaurant, “Oscar’s” with its spectacular view of the Freemont Street experience); Lucky Luciano, who gave a silver cigarette case, on display, to Frank Sinatra; Howard Hughes and other famous good-guys and outlaws, Sam Giancana, Bugsy Siegel, Joseph Bonanno, John Gotti, Whitey Bulger, J. Edgar Hoover and Eliot Ness.
We enjoyed the special photo exhibit of “Fabulous Downtown” Las Vegas as it appeared in the 1950s, on view in a third floor side gallery.
We had our fill of Corruption, Conspiracy and Cosa Nostra and Mug shots, Made men, and Mafia There was Rudy Guiliani, our own NYC former mayor and creator of the “perp walk” media parade, who, as a federal prosecutor, helped convict the heads of New York’s “Five Families”.
What we missed out on: The Fire Arms Training Simulator (the line was too long to watch the videos of real life police situations and decide on-the-spot whether to shoot or not; We didn’t have time to listen to all the FBI surveillance tapes (one was enough.)
John tried the video test to determine if he had what it takes to be a made man, but he failed when he had to admit that, no, he wouldn’t kill his own family.
At the end of the three floor exhibit trail we were rewarded with a comfortable seat to view a mini-doc, with film clips from The Godfather and Martin Scorsese’s Casino and Goodfellas.
A clever copywriter had a hand in the website and gift shop: “Plan your visit– See what everyone’s not talking about”; “Museum events – amazing events that also make great alibis” and a t-shirt “I saw Nothing at the Mob Museum”.
On a previous trip we signed up for the Mob van tour, a three-hour drive-by that took a group of 10 around Las Vegas to the Flamingo Hotel (Bugsy Siegel statue), the house used to film a Casino movie location among other stops.
Now that we toured the Mob Museum in downtown Vegas, John wondered, should we do the Mob Attraction, at the Tropicana, where we had heard that live character actors are dressed up as mobsters and interact with you in a kind of Tony and Tina Wedding experience. No, let’s skip that, I said. I think I’m all mobbed out. Well, as long as you’re not mobbed up, he said.