Las Vegas council reverses, grants tavern license to Heart Attack Grill

No need to have a coronary, booze and burger fans, the Heart Attack Grill will have a tavern license for the foreseeable future.

On Wednesday, the City Council granted the downtown tourist attraction known for massive burgers and raunchy slogans a permanent tavern license.

The unanimous decision reversed an earlier move by the council that denied a permanent license because not all of the restaurant's investors - a group that includes Zappos CEO and downtown enthusiast Tony Hsieh - were subjected to intensive financial suitability checks through the Metropolitan Police Department.

Ward 5 Councilman Ricki Barlow, whose objections back in June helped sidetrack the permanent license, made the motion to rescind the decision and to vote again on the issue. In addition, Barlow directed city staff to prepare for future council discussions about the city's process for privileged licenses.

In June, operators of the Heart Attack Grill came before the council in order to transfer their tavern license from temporary to permanent.

Business licensing director Karen Duddleston recommended approval but council members, particularly Barlow, balked when police Sgt. Carmen Donegan objected.

Donegan said not every member of the ownership group had completed the financial background information that's part of the privileged licensing process.

Duddleston said principals and managing members of the group had been sufficiently vetted and that she exercised her power to waive the requirement for minority investors with no day-to-day role, such as Hsieh.

Without the votes to approve the permanent license, the council agreed to extend the temporary license so the restaurant could continue selling alcohol and revisit the issue again.

It came back Wednesday and Barlow agreed to relent on the Heart Attack Grill issue but not on a broader review of the privileged licensing process, which includes financial background checks. There was also a one-year review and other conditions attached to the license.

The background checks for people involved in gambling, taverns and other businesses that require a privileged license date back to Las Vegas' mob fighting days.

They were an attempt to prevent people from using seemingly legitimate businesses to launder ill-gotten gains.

Critics, including Ward 2 Councilman Bob Beers, have said the process can dissuade investment and isn't necessary for minority investors like the people investing in Heart Attack Grill.

Barlow has said he thinks the process could be streamlined, perhaps by bringing more steps in-house rather than outsourcing them to police. But he's also suggested that the tough scrutiny of applicants' finances is important, too.

During discussion Wednesday, Barlow said the scrutiny keeps people from "basically slipping money into businesses inappropriately."

Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at or 702-383-0285.