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Posted by on Jan 25, 2018 in Blog, Essays, Las Vegas, Travel | 3 comments

Smart Money and the Super Bowl (Don’t be impressed by lots of 000’s)

 

 

I don’t give a damn who the millionaire bet on.  What I want to know is — what bets did my friend with the $9 knapsack make?

 

A few years ago, a highly-respected sports-gambler and associate of mine (who shall remain nameless unless he wishes to identify himself) used to fly into Las Vegas for just one reason — to bet on the Super Bowl game.  He’d show up at the Westgate Sportsbook on the big night when all the Super Bowl props were first released.

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Posted by on Oct 5, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Las Vegas, Personal, Travel | 5 comments

Living Las Vegas: Last Night at the Golden Steer

 

 

Walking into the Golden Steer is like visiting the ghosts of Las Vegas pasts.

If these walls could talk, just imagine the stories they could tell.

Last night’s motley crew guest list included Andy Rich (Golden Nugget Poker Manager), Todd Anderson (Creator of television show Poker Night in America), Vin Narayanan (who’s doing some lucrative deal in Hong Kong that’s succeeding despite making no logical sense whatsoever) and yours truly.  Our frightening foursome plopped down in a red-leather booth.  Almost instantly, we had appetizer cocktails in one hand and dinner menus in the other.

Now, that’s service.

The Golden Steer has been in business for like — forever.  It’s a really weird location, helplessly bookended into a seedy strip mall right off Las Vegas Blvd., on Sahara.  A few doors down there’s a busy cigar bar that you can smell from a block away.  The restaurant, in the shadow of the new Lucky Dragon casino, is bordered by ghetto apartments.  Fortunately, there’s a spindle of rusted barbed wire atop a cinder block wall separating the slums from the Golden Steer.  That way, we can all feel safe while feasting on dead animals.

If these directions don’t make any sense, then try this:  Look for the giant sign with the fat cow out in front.  Everyone in town knows the fat cow.  Err, steer — whatever.

Years ago, the Golden Steer was the favorite hangout of the Rat Pack.  Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis, Jr. and company used to dine here regularly.  The trio of crooners even had their own private booths (each still in place and memorialized with plaques).

The Golden Steer has undergone a sparkling facelift since my last visit a few years ago when it seemed the old cow’s best days were way behind her.  While the inner decor has been updated, it still screams “Old Las Vegas.”  You don’t see places like this around anymore because they’ve all been bulldozed and paved over by an all-too-crowded kitchen of celebrity chefs.

Now that you know a little something about the Golden Steer, here’s where the story really gets good.

While Andy, Todd, Vin, and I were solving the world’s problems last night while trying to get away from our own, the scene across from us in the opposite red leather booth caught our attention and kept us captivated nearly to the point of becoming a distraction.  About 15 feet away, a scruffy bearded man wearing a brown western hat dined with a young lady.  The man’s coat looked disgustingly filthy.  His hat was bent out of shape and wouldn’t fetch $2 at a garage sale.  If you examined this scene for no more than five seconds, you’d have made a reasonable guess the man was homeless.

No big deal, really.  This is Las Vegas.  You see a lot of weirdness in Las Vegas.

At some point, the scruffy man asked the waiter to remove a portrait from the restaurant wall (yes, I’m serious).  Then, he requested the portrait be positioned next to him and his lady friend, in the booth.  If the scruffy man wasn’t a curious sideshow to watch before based on appearances, well now he had our full attention — at least as much attention you could muster without turning into a gawker.

So, the large framed portrait of a movie star was nestled into the booth while the scruffy man feasted on supper.  It was hard to tell who this was exactly in the picture, but after some artful eye-dodging, someone in our party finally recognized the portrait was of the late actor Charles Bronson.

The scruffy man, the lady friend, and Charles Bronson’s portrait all seemed to be quietly enjoying themselves, although Bronson didn’t say much.  Bronson also didn’t eat or drink anything.  Those delicious delights were left to the other two, who emptied at least one bottle of expensive wine followed by a bottle of champagne.  I tried to catch a glimpse of the labels to see what they were drinking, but I didn’t want to seem too nosy.  One can only gawk so much without causing a scene.

Of course, we had to play the whispering game of speculation.  Who in the hell is this guy?  He sure looks like a pauper, but he’s dining in a fancy restaurant, guzzling down wine and champagne.  Who could make such a wild request to have a portrait removed from the wall — and then have that request honored by the staff?  And the woman really seems to dig him!

An eccentric billionaire?

The owner of the restaurant?

A perverted Charles Bronson fanatic?

Who was he?

Just as we were preparing to leave, the scruffy man and his friend got up also.  They made a swift bee-line for the front door, hopefully not leaving stoic and speechless Charles Bronson to pay the bill.

Consumed by curiosity, we stopped the waiter in mid-stride cold in his tracks.

“Who in the hell was that scruffy guy in the hat?  Do you know him?” we asked.

“Oh, that was Nicolas Cage.  He’s a regular here.  He comes in all the time.”

 

 

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Posted by on Sep 27, 2017 in Blog, Essays, General Poker, Las Vegas, Travel | 3 comments

Memories of the Las Vegas Club

 

 

The Las Vegas Club in downtown Las Vegas was a smelly armpit of a casino, coated in a mix of disgusting bodily fluids and cheap booze, the dingy carpets dusted in cigarette ash.  And I adored every sick square sentimental inch of all that rotten residue and loved blowing every dumb dollar I wasted there.

The outer skeleton of the Las Vegas Club is crumbling, barely standing now because the building’s torso keeps getting pummeled by the constant blows from a wrecking ball swinging from a big crane.  Like a bruised boxer in the 12th round hanging on the ropes, what remains might soon be a giant pile of dust by the time you’re reading this.  And so, the Las Vegas Club is destined to decay into an antiquity that eventually disappears, except for what retreats into the deepest recesses of our memory alongside the bygone Dunes, Stardust, Riviera, Castaways, and so many other once-thriving monuments to a city’s past.

Even with all its plentiful scars and blemishes, I have fond memories of the Las Vegas Club.  I recall the unusually large $22/night hotel rooms, many with a window alcove overlooking noisy Fremont Street.  I recall the spooky-dark steakhouse ringed with red-leather booths with a smell of the old criminal underworld that sat empty most of the time, but the Maitre’d still always insisted on having a reservation (they once turned away a party of three — which included Mike Sexton, Stu Ungar, and myself).

Sure, the Las Vegas Club was a dump.  Everyone agreed.  I went back and read some of the old reviews posted on Yelp.  Many are as comical as they are cringeworthy.  Reviewers complained about everything — from the dank smell of cigarette smoke to the loud noise.  They bitched about the parade of hookers in high heels ramping up and down hallways that echoed like a wind tunnel piercing through the hopelessly outdated decor that hadn’t seen renovation since the mid-1970’s.  Sorry for my lacking any sympathy.  What the hell did anyone expect for $22-a-night?  A hooker holding a sixpack, I guess.

Opened in 1949, the Las Vegas Club went through as many different owners as blackjack shoes.  They tried various gimmicks and new branding campaigns most of which failed, but all the crusty old joint really ever ended up being was a great place to gamble, get a stiff drink, and perhaps end up crashing in a bed bug infested hotel room, provided you still had $22 left in your pocket.  The hotel was so notorious towards its ending days, they wouldn’t rent to locals.

Sometime around 1990, the Las Vegas Club decided to adopt a sports theme.  Walls were knocked out and replaced.  The sportsbook tripled in size.  A huge aluminum grandstand like you’d see at a high school football game was installed for gambling fans.  For a buck you could get a beer and a hot dog.  The walls were tackily decorated with sports memorabilia, probably 95 percent of it fakes and forgeries, but nobody gave a fuck.  So, that’s the baseball bat Mickey Mantle used when he hit his 500th career home run?  Yeah, right.  Step right up, folks.  We also got the loosest slots in town.  All that was missing was the cheap carnival barker in a striped coat chomping on a cheap cigar while swinging a cane.

During the poker boom which happened about a decade ago, the Las Vegas Club opened a new poker room.  The first day I showed up, all eight tables were filled to capacity and there was even a waiting list.  A few months later, the empty room closed down for good.  I think half the dealers who worked in that room are dead now.

When I was working as Public Relations Director of the old Binion’s Horseshoe across the street, the Las Vegas Club might as well have been my break room.  Both on the clock and off it and plenty of days and nights before work and after — I bet plenty of sports there, had a few drinks there, made a few friends there, made a few enemies there, got into some fights there, and most of the time had the blast of my life.  It was the kind of place where you walked up to the bar and the barkeep asked the simple two-word question, “the usual?”

The Las Vegas Club even had its own karaoke spot.  Upstairs on weekends right atop the sportsbook, a melting pot of human gumbo cracked plenty of eardrums, all in good fun.  One night when I showed up late, the karaoke bar was closed.  So, tagging along with Dan and Sharon Goldman (and her mom), we were later joined in the casino by two of Britain’s finest — Simon “Aces” Trumper and “Mad Marty” Wilson (yes, those are their real names).  This motley crew decided to perform our own version of karaoke at the casino bar, sans the musical accompaniment.  Half the casino looked at us like terrorists.  The much drunker half laughed and some even joined in the singing.  The bartender let us get away with it all because we tipped like crazy.  “Mad Marty” talked me into playing a trivia contest for $100 a question.  I finally left broke after maxing out my hits on the ATM machine.  Some advice:  Never engage in trivia on classic English literature with “Mad Marty.”  He’s a hustler.  [PROOF:  WATCH THIS VIDEO]

I have no idea if the Las Vegas Club a pool.  I never checked.  But I doubt it would have been safe to dive into the water, anyway.  It would be like swimming next to the drain pipe from a lead smelter.

There wasn’t any fancy showroom either.  No headliners.  No celebrities.  No paid entertainment.  Hell, the gamblers and the hustlers and the hookers and the hustlers were the show.  And it was free at the Las Vegas Club, all the time.

The last few years of the Las Vegas Club were not kind to its memory.  The deterioration was gradual.  Burned-out light bulbs weren’t changed.  Sticky floors got mopped less and less often.  Stained carpets rarely felt the tickle of a vacuum.  Felts on the worn out gambling tables faded.  The steakhouse closed.  Valet service was discontinued.  The hotel shut down.  But amidst the decline and fall, as so so often we see when times aren’t so good, the people turn out to be so very good indeed and they even surprise you.  Those loyal employees who worked there towards the end stayed cheerful.  They almost always smiled.  They were good people.  They were hard-working people.  And sadly, they were the last voyagers on the teetering deck of a sinking ship.  Like the band that played on during the frigid night when the mighty Titanic plunged to the depths of the Atlantic, the people who gave the Las Vegas Club its memories despite all its defects kept their pride and worked until the fateful final hour.  The casino closed in 2015.

The Las Vegas Club didn’t try to be nice.  Carnivals aren’t nice either.  Neither are amusement parks nor state fairs nor sports stadiums.  Hell, a sleazy strip club called “Girls of Glitter Gulch” was just 25 feet from the main entrance, front door to the right.

The Las Vegas Club never pretended to be Paris or New York or Venice or a Mirage.  It was exactly what it advertised.  It was Las Vegas.

__________

JOIN THE DISCUSSION OF FAVORITE LAS VEGAS CLUB MEMORIES HERE ON FACEBOOK

READ AND SEE MORE ABOUT THE LAS VEGAS CLUB’S DEMOLITION HERE

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Posted by on Sep 26, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Personal, Restaurant Reviews, Travel | 3 comments

Why I Love Kuby’s but Hate S.M.U.

 

 

Note:  This is the third and final article in a trilogy on my reminiscence of Dallas. Read PART 1 here.  Read PART 2 here.

 

When asked why I ended up enrolling in the University of Texas state school system, the truth is — my S.A.T. scores weren’t high enough to get into Rice.

Sure, I’m proud that I graduated from a state university.  But part of me still peaks across the imaginary crevasse separating the haves from have-nots, connivingly curious about life on the other side.  As with many kids who grew up working-class who spent our adolescence checking price tags and scrambling for lunch money, we couldn’t afford the high tuition to a private school.  Our parents weren’t rich enough.  We weren’t quite smart enough to get academic scholarships.  And, we lacked the talent to play sports or do something else creative to get the tuition-free ride.  So, stuck on the poor side of the tracks and frowned upon by trust-fund BMW-driving brats, that left some scars.  I admit this experience fueled a personal resentment and class awareness which remains to this day.

Wait — wasn’t this article supposed to be about “Why I hate SMU?”

Yep. I’ll get to this in just a moment.  Hang on.

I wanted badly to get into Rice University, which is located in Houston.  Rice was really super cool.  It had a small enrollment compared to most other major colleges — only about 5,000 students total.  But Rice produced many extraordinary graduates and also enjoyed a stellar academic reputation.  Rice was widely considered to be Texas’ version of an Ivy League school.  But what appealed to me most was Rice’s scandalous counterculture.  Sometime during the late 1970s at a college football halftime show, the Rice University marching band paraded into a formation in the shape of — now imagine the utter shock of this — a giant marijuana leaf.  Then, before 20,000 or so rain-spattered fans huddled in disbelief in an 80,000-seat stadium the Rice Owls marching band blasted out the song “Mary Jane,” by funk-rocker Rick James.  While bands elsewhere around the country played stale Broadway tunes and marched lock-step in strict military formation, Rice did the unthinkable.  I wasn’t part of the drug culture, but I still looked at that bravado as something that I wanted to be a part of.  Students being crazy and free-spirited and having the times of their lives — all while getting a first-class education.  That was for me.  Where do I sign up?   The movie Animal House should have been filmed at Rice.

Side Note:  Rice’s academic deeds are equally contentious.  Consider the controversial report issued a few years ago by the James Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University, which obliterates the failed “War on Drugs.”  [READ MORE HERE]

Rive had two academic counterparts within the state of Texas.  TCU, in Fort Worth, was very much like Rice so far as size goes, but severely lacked its academic reputation.  Plus, TCU was Viagra hard for Bible-thumping Christianity.  TCU is, after all, Texas *Christian* University.  Even though the city was just 30 miles from Dallas, it might as well have been in the suburbs of Outer Mongolia.  I loathed everything about Fort Forth, as did just about everyone else from Dallas.  So, there was no way I’d ever go to TCU.  To me, Fort Worth was a stupid hick town.  No one from Dallas ever went to TCU.  Not even Christians.  It just didn’t happen.

The other upscale private university within Texas many of us wanted to attend was Southern Methodist University — “SMU” for short.  The red-bricked SMU campus is fortressed within the Highland Park and University Park sections of super-snooty North Dallas.  It’s Beverly Hills sans the palm trees smoking a crack pipe while riding a polo pony wearing an argyle sweater with a bow tie.  Envision SMU’s campus on Mockingbird Lane and every stately manner house and residency within a three-mile radius being worth at least a couple of million dollars — and way up.  It’s Dallas’ version of The Hamptons or Martha’s Vineyard or Palm Beach, only with far more ritzy homes and lots more right-wing rich assholes.  Indeed, even though Dallas is solidly Democratic politically speaking, this is one of the most conservative and uber-wealthy neighborhoods in America.  The musty homes and the musty people and the musty attitudes come straight out of the ’50s — the 1650’s.  That’s SMU.

To be fair, SMU has produced an interesting gaggle of graduates — from former first lady Laura Bush (who seems like a really nice person) to television mogul Aaron Spelling (who produced many of the shitty big-haired bimbo-brained television shows that most of us grew up loving and addicted to during the 70s and 80s)….from H.L. Hunt (once the richest man in the world) to his son Lamar Hunt (who founded the American Football League and owned the Kansas City Chiefs)….from actor Powers Boothe (who died recently — R.I.P.) to Oscar-winning actress Kathy Bates (who was cast in her first movie after someone saw her performing in a college play).   SMU also produced lots of great football players — from “Dandy” Don Meredith to Eric Dickerson, plus many more.

 

SMU wasn’t always despised as it is today.  During the 1970s, my father took me to most of their college football games, which were played then at the old blue and white striped Cotton Bowl until SMU illegally went pro and moved into the horrors of football warehousing — Texas Stadium.  The Mustangs were plenty terrible way back then.  But they were gutsy.  They were almost always competitive and wildly entertaining.  Seems like SMU lost every game I attended by a score of about 45-36, but we always sat comfortably 25 rows up on the 45-yard line since barely half of the cavernous stadium was filled with fans of a lousy losing football team.

Eventually, SMU and its corrupt alumni living in football-mad Dallas decided they were fed up with losing all the time and didn’t care any longer for playing in a stadium smack dab in the middle of a Black neighborhood, known as Fair Park.  So, they broke just about every rule in the college football rulebook in order to build themselves into a national title contender.  Before the conversion over to the dark side, no good athlete wanted to go to SMU, especially since the in-state powers Texas and Texas A&M were so strong and to the north Oklahoma basically used the entire state of Texas as it’s minor league football farm system.  So, SMU had to get super creative.  They slipped football players envelopes full of cash and gave others new cars to drive — just to play at a rich school in North Dallas.

The tipping point for my loathing of SMU and its horrible graduates (except for Kathy Bates) and the start of my declaration of class warfare came during, appropriately enough, during a football game.  While attending the annual SMU-Texas rivalry when both teams were legitimate national champion contenders, I experienced a true moment of personal and philosophical epiphany.

At that game, on the opposite side of the field (I was sitting in the University of Texas section), the SMU student section unfurled a huge banner like 50-feet long.  It was large enough for everyone in the stadium to see.  The banner was unfurled.  It read:  “Our maids and butlers went to Texas.”

What the fuck!  Hey, it was bad enough SMU openly cheated to recruit players.  Everyone knew those crimes were going on, which ultimately led to the hammer being thrown down called “the death penalty,” which all but obliterated SMU’s football program.  It was bad enough that the perfectly sculpted students who all looked like Tucker Calrson were all spoiled brats who never worked a day in their lives.  It was really bad that SMU was, academically speaking, an inferior school to Texas (quick — name anyone from SMU who’s ever done shit — except for Kathy Bates?).

I hate SMU.  I still hate SMU.  SMU sucks.  Unless I’m betting on SMU.  Then, I cheer for SMU and I become SMU’s biggest, fattest, poorest cheerleader.

______

I love Kuby’s.

Kuby’s is a German-themed restaurant that first opened in 1961.  The family-owned market and eatery nestled in the corner of Snider Plaza, due northwest of the SMU campus off Hillcrest, draws a steady clientele of both on and off campus loyalists — including me.  My first Kuby’s meal was sometime around 1978.  Since then, I estimate that I’ve eaten at Kuby’s at least 60-70 times, including this my most recent visit.

 

Here’s my meal, ordered for lunch.  Question:  What do you think this cost?

Try this — $7.95

Wanna’ know the difference between good versus great?  The Details.

The attention to details here is marvelous.  Three piping hot house-made sausages of your choice.  Two different kinds of mustard are served, including spicy.  Not just one generous side of sauerkraut, but two sides — cut fresh from white cabbage and red cabbage.  The German potato salad is warm and perfectly seasoned.  Rye bread quartered served with real butter.  A couple of pickles serve as garnish.  Plus, a handy steak knife to make shoveling easier.  This is absolute cheap meal perfection.

Dallas is the best city in the country for outstanding cheap eats (okay perhaps, Los Angeles ties for first).  This is a city packed with stupendously tasty meals.  Kuby’s is sort of the embodiment of affordable excellence, am out-of-the-way hermit for insider locals that many people probably have no idea exists, especially in restaurant-heavy Dallas, consistently melding high-quality ingredients with outstanding value.

The layout:  Kuby’s is divided into two sections.  There’s a neighborhood market with a butcher on the premises.  European products are sold here.  It was also something of a cultural center, for a while.  For many years before the Internet existed and made international news and foreign languages easily accessible, this was practically the only place in Dallas you could pick up fresh copies of Der Spiegel or Frankfurter Allgemeiner.  All the waitresses and staff spoke fluent German (and stil, from what I saw last week).

 

The restaurant — open for both lunch and early dinner — offers instant counter seating if things are too busy and heavy wooden lodge-style tables and chairs, as you might expect in the Bavarian Alps.  Lunches are typically bustling.  The counter is mostly stacked with people reading who pretty much keep to themselves.  Tables are filled with college students and Highland Park locals.

VISIT KUBY’S OFFICIAL WEBSITE AND SEE MENU HERE

My only disappointment with Kuby’s was the recent shocking discovery that they’d changed their traditional recipe for the classic German delicacy — Black Forest Cake.  For decades as long as I could remember, Kuby’s used to serve the best Black Forest Cake in America.  I usually ordered two slices.  Yes, it was that great.  The former cake used to be multi-layered with a perfect balance of white Bavarian cream, fresh tart cherries, chocolate sponge cake, and an unusual crunchy texture that made each bite of torte a screaming orgasm for the taste buds.

Inexplicably, Kuby’s altered the dessert.  It wasn’t nearly as good.  So, I asked the waitress about this and she said desserts are now made out of house.  Perhaps it was the cost.  Perhaps it was a matter of space.  Perhaps it was the time it took to make fresh daily desserts for what amounts to a lowe profit margin.  Whatever the reason, changing that classic recipe and bringing in an outside supplier was a huge and a big letdown.  I wanted two slices.  This time, I ordered just one.  Mega-saddenz.

Even with the disappointment of dessert, my meal was almost as good as I remember.  Kuby’s receives my highest recommendation for German food lovers who are looking for quick service and extraordinary value.

Kuby’s the only thing about SMU I love — oh yes, and also Kathy Bates.

 

 

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