Frank Sinatra would be proud of what’s happening at the Italian American Club, one of his few remaining haunts.
Sinatra, who was a member, “would be thrilled to death” with one of the most impressive restaurant revivals in Las Vegas, said Angelo Casaro, president of the club.
“Part of his roots were laying the foundation of this club over 50 years ago,” said Casaro, president from 1988 to 1994 and since 2010.
“He would donate a new Cadillac to the club every couple years to raffle it off and help us out,” said Casaro.
For seven years the club “was in a tailspin,” said Casaro, after the sudden death of operator and chef Joey Tegano.
“He could put together a dinner for 250 without breaking a sweat, and then he’d walk around with his Bailey’s Irish Cream and make sure everyone was OK,” Casaro said.
The best efforts of club members failed to fill the void left by Tegano’s death.
Food quality dived and so did membership, bottoming out at 67 a few years ago, Cesaro said.
One of Casaro’s first moves after returning as president was to seek advice from members Jim Girard, Bob Harry and Ben Spano, longtime restaurateurs.
Girard and Harry formerly ran Fellini’s, a westside neighborhood hotspot, where famous entertainers would drop in and perform.
The comeback began in March 2013, when club operations, including food and beverage, were turned over to Girard, Harry and Spano, with the latter serving as maître ’d.
Chef Guillermo “Memmo” Perez, who had worked with Harry and Girard for 18 years at Fellini’s and Salvatore’s at the Suncoast, brought much of the menu with him.
Soon they had a hit that gave the east side restaurant scene a shot in the arm.
“We’re up to 440 members now,” said Casaro. “We’ve almost doubled the dues to $200 a year, honestly, to slow it down.
“It’s going really well.”
In its heyday, many of Las Vegas’ biggest names dropped in as members or supporters. Casaro ticked off the names: “Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Dean Martin, Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme (“Steve still comes in once a month”), Joe DiMaggio, Sonny King, Dick Contino, Don Dino and Sam Butera.
“Keely Smith was here. I can’t say for sure if Louie Prima was here, but his daughter, Lena, is a member.
“Oscar Goodman and Jerry Lewis,” said Casaro.
Few former Sinatra hangouts exist.
Tower Pizza, at the south end of the Strip, is long gone. The Sahara is being transformed into the upscale SLS Las Vegas. Former mob hangout Villa D’ Este became Piero’s Italian Cuisine.
According to legend, Sinatra loved Villa D’ Este’s homemade sausage so much that he had owner/chef Joe Pignatello ship it by plane to Palm Springs.
“The difference between our place and most of the other Italian restaurants,” said Casaro, “is our wines go for around $30 and the others start at $80.”
I stopped in Saturday night to check out the scene and cuisine. Both lived up to the word of mouth.
The place was packed with a Sinatra-style crowd. Carmine Mandia was performing in the lounge, and a private birthday party was raging in the ballroom.
“It’s NSA, security people,” someone whispered during our sneak peek.
Oh, would Ol’ Blue Eyes have loved that.
THE SCENE AND HEARD
It is rare that a Las Vegas radio or TV personality returns from a hot war zone, but that will be the case when Alan Stock goes back on the air Wednesday, 6-9 a.m., at KDWN-AM 720. He has spent most of the past two weeks in Jerusalem interviewing Knesset leaders and other officials. He was in Tel Aviv during the rocket attacks from Gaza. “Air Raid sirens becoming a way of life from here and yet thousands on the beach,” he said in an email. …
Tropicana headliner Murray Sawchuck competed on ABC’s “Wipeout” on Sunday night.
Fred Schneider of The B52’s, in the audience at Carrot Top’s show Sunday. They met at Pia Zadora’s show Friday at Piero’s. … “Wheel of Fortune” hostess Vanna White, meeting the cast of “Mamma Mia!” (Tropicana) after Saturday’s show. She was greeted by the cast spelling out the words Wheel of Fortune-style “M-A-M-M-A-M-I-A.” … Lady Gaga’s friend and DJ, Lady Starlight, holding an after-party at Chateau Nightclub & Rooftop (Paris) after Lady Gaga’s tour stop at the MGM Grand Garden on Saturday. … Sharon Osbourne of CBS’ “The Talk” taking in Shania Twain (Caesars Palace) on Friday and dining at Nobu (Hard Rock Hotel). Twain is reportedly close to a deal to join ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars.” … Ian and Erin Ziering, renewing their marriage vow Saturday at A Little White Chapel. … Miss USA Nia Sanchez, riding the High Roller at The Linq on Saturday. … Singer Ryan Cabrera, pulled on stage for a birthday cake presentation at Beacher’s Madhouse (MGM Grand) on Saturday. Instead of a stripper emerging from the cake, it was 3-foot-8 Donny Davis in a sexy skirt. In the crowd was Daymond John of “Shark Tank.” … The singing group Danity Kane (Aubrey O’Day, Dawn Richard and Shannon Bex), spraying the crowd with champagne-filled supersoakers Saturday at Liquid, the Aria pool venue.
THE PUNCH LINE
“People love the new pope, but I think it’s safe to say he’s gone crazy. Now he’s thinking about doing away with celibacy for priests. Are you like me? Are you thinking ‘Real Housewives of the Vatican?’ ” – David Letterman
Norm Clarke’s column appears Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. He can be reached at 702-383-0244 or email him at email@example.com. Find more online at www.normclarke.com. Follow Norm on Twitter @Norm_Clarke. “Norm Clarke’s Vegas,” airs Thursdays on the “Morning Blend” on KTNV-TV, Channel 13.