Giada De Laurentiis’ first visit to Las Vegas rocked her world.
She was 15. One of her older Los Angeles girlfriends had a convertible. Off they went on a one-day lark with a car full of galpals.
“We drove down the Strip and we all stood up, waving our arms,” she said.
Looking back, she said, it was a rite of passage.
“It felt like we were grown up all of a sudden. It was a very exhilarating moment, even though years and years ago the Strip was different, it was still extremely fun and extremely exciting. There’s nothing like the lights.
“So it was phenomenal that we could actually drive here and see it for ourselves and drive back. We felt independent and mature.”
Decades later, she was again smitten by the Strip. This time, she was being courted by Caesars Entertainment Corp. and they wanted the Food Network star to see Bill’s Gamblin Hall, formerly the Barbary Coast.
“I had seen spaces all over,” she said last week while in town for a key-to-the-city presentation. “But I always would walk them and go ‘nope.’ And I walked other spaces in Vegas. I took one step in and took a look and said ‘OK, we’re going home. We’re done.’ ”
She didn’t expect to be wowed. “The space was a two-floor parking garage. It was a hotel and building that hadn’t seen a lot of action for many years,” she recalled.
Then it happened. After checking out the Strip-front corner space, she was taken to the rooftop.
“I looked at (the view),” she said, “and went, ‘Holy (crap).’
“I remember telling my husband it’s like meeting a person you know is for you, your soulmate. And that my soulmate was this space.
“I knew it, and I fought for it, and now we’re here. I won out on a space that was very coveted by very many people. Lots of people wanted this space,” she said.
“I think it’s a pretty great trio,” she said, referring to the hotel, now known as The Cromwell, Drai’s Beach Club and Nightclub and her restaurant, Giada’s.
“We are a nice sort of boutique hotel, small enough so it’s not overwhelming and intimidating like some hotels can be. You can find everything easily. We have all the amenities of other hotels, spectacular views.
“I think the three of us together can be a real powerhouse on the Strip, even though we are the petite ones.”
Giada’s opens to the public at 7:30 p.m. June 3 with a menu featuring her takes on Italian cuisine, with California influences.
R.I.P. JERRY VALE
Singing legend Steve Lawrence bid a fond farewell to one of his dearest pals last week.
Lawrence, Shecky Greene and Jack Jones were pallbearers for crooner Jerry Vale, who died last Sunday in Palm Springs, Calif. He was 83.
Lawrence agreed to a rare interview because Vale “sold millions of records, and he never got the true recognition I felt he deserved.”
Vale would have loved the sendoff, Lawrence said.
“I’ve never seen such a crowd jam a church for any individual. In my head I’m saying Jerry always played to full house,” said Lawrence, who has had a home in Las Vegas Country Club for decades.
“After the services at the church, I swear to ya, it was like a scene out of ‘The Godfather’ or ‘Goodfellas.’ There was a 40-car procession that went from the church to the cemetery. Forty cars! You would have thought it was John Gotti’s funeral,” Lawrence said with a chuckle.
Vale was such an avid fan of the New York Yankees, Lawrence said, that he hired a 40-piece orchestra and background singers and recorded the national anthem and gave it to the Yankees as a gift.
Vale’s national anthem became a fixture at Yankee Stadium for 40 years, said Lawrence, and “might be the first song that was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown.”
Former Yankees manager Joe Torre was among many sports figures who attended the funeral. Lawrence said Vale was so beloved over the years by Major League Baseball umpires that they sent a dozen white orchid plants to the funeral.
“These were guys who called balls and strikes. I’ve been to a lot of funerals,” Lawrence said, “but I’ve never seen a gift from major league umpires. They must have loved him. What a tribute to this man.”
Lawrence and Vale met in New York City, early in their careers, “and we remained friends for 55 years,” Lawrence said. They shared the same birth date, July 8, with Vale three years older.
“He was a softspoken, wonderful guy. I was just so fond of him. He had quite a history in Las Vegas. He worked Carnegie Hall, all the big places,” Lawrence recalled.
“He told me he met Frank Sinatra at Lindy’s, a big hangout on 51st and Broadway. Frank got him a week’s gig at the Sands.”
Sands chief Jack Entratter “heard him and said, ‘One week, are you crazy,’ and signed him for 22 weeks.”
De Laurentiis, Elaine Wynn and Elizabeth Blau, checking out Drai’s Beach Club and Nightclub at The Cromwell on Thursday. ... Two-time UFC champ Cain Velasquez at The Deuce Lounge (Aria), celebrating his wife’s birthday; UFC fighters Anthony Pettis and TJ Dillashaw at Kumi (Mandalay Bay) on Friday; At Citizens Kitchen &Bar (Mandalay Bay): fellow fighter Anthony Njokuani. ... At Dom Demarco’s Pizzeria on Wednesday: the University of Nevada, Reno Alumni Booster Club met with football coach Brian Polian and head basketball coach David Carter.
THE PUNCH LINE
“It’s been reported that Beyoncé gets paid $100,000 just to sit in the front row at a fashion show. Meanwhile, her sister, Solange, is getting paid that amount by Jay-Z to take the stairs.” — Conan O’Brien
Norm Clarke’s column appears Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Reach him at 702-383-0244 or email@example.com. Find more at normclarke.com. Follow @Norm_Clarke on Twitter.