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Is Las Vegas’ Mob Museum shaken? Forget about it

Updated June 3, 2020 - 8:56 am

The Mob Museum is reopening resolutely. No sudden moves for our friends in downtown Las Vegas.

“We’re making sure everyone feels safe, that the environment is as safe as it can possibly be,” Mob Museum President and CEO Jonathan Ullman says. “We need folks to enjoy the museum and not have to worry.”

Ullman, a guest on the latest episode of “PodKats!” was referring to the museum’s COVID-19 reopening. The Mob Museum is adhering to all social distancing protocols and safety directives. Safe spacing between guests, complimentary hand sanitizer made at the Distillery (80 percent alcohol, which is a party). We even conducted our interview in the refurbished Kefauver Courtroom while wearing Mob Museum-branded face masks.

The recent protest unrest in downtown Las Vegas has also tossed an obstacle in the Mob Museum’s reopening path. This is not exactly an optimum environment to reopen a public attraction. As Ullman says, “I’m starting to wonder, how long can this go on?”

The unpredictability of visitor volume at the Mob Museum has prompted a change in hours, with the Underground speakeasy and Distillery moving off its usual midnight closing time to 8 p.m. (the regular museum hours, 9 a.m.-8 p.m., are unchanged).

But as Ullman reminds, it’s not unusual for the Mob Museum to shift its hours at the Underground according to demand. It’s not unusual, either, that the Mob Museum is facing obstacles in opening (or reopening) to the public.

The Mob Museum was not an easy sell when its opening was announced a decade ago. The attraction’s focus on such gangsters as Frank Costello, Lefty Rosenthal and Tony Spilotro drew concern and skepticism across this city. Many concerned Las Vegans decried the $42 million in redevelopment funds to overhaul the old federal courthouse for this mob show.

Then-Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman snapped back at that contention, famously saying of the use of taxpayer money, “What do they want me to use it for? A sewer?”

The term “interactive” was not as prevalent as it is today, a challenge when describing how guests could get close to the actual blood-stained, bullet-riddled St. Valentine’s Day Massacre wall.

Also, we remember, the Mob Museum wasn’t the only organized-crime amenity to open in Las Vegas. Its rival was the Tropicana’s Mob Experience, with hologram figures, re-created scenes from “Casino” and partnerships with members of the Sam Giancana, Bugsy Siegel and Spilotro families.

“Back before we opened, there was a concern that this would be a shrine to the mob, it was going to glorify the mob,” Ullman recalled. “A lot of folks in the community didn’t really know what to expect. We knew what we were building, but it was hard to impart that on the general public. I could understand the apprehension there.”

But the Mob Museum prevailed, outlasting that other attraction (which closed in November 2013) and winning over tourists visiting downtown. The Mob Museum still doesn’t glamorize the mob as much as lay out the history and let visitors decide.

There is no embellishment needed. The story tells itself at the Mob Museum, where the good guys always win.

Lowe blow

Carole Baskin has finally seized control of the Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park in Oklahoma. The zoo is the center of the Netflix series “Tiger King,” or as outgoing proprietor Jeff Lowe refers to the property, “Sixteen acres of mud.”

On Monday, an Oklahoma judge ruled in favor of Baskin’s Big Cat Rescue Corp. in a lawsuit against the Greater Wynnewood Development Group, owned by Joe Exotic, Baskins’ nemesis.

The Vegas connection — and you know there is one — is that Laugh Factory magician Murray Sawchuck visited the property last month. Magic Murray and Lowe have been buddies for about five years, since Lowe attempted to run a tiger cub attraction in Vegas and wound up being cited for operating the business without a proper license.

Sawchuck has been holding onto the footage he recorded for a YouTube series of his own, which is set to debut Wednesday. Lowe and his wife, Lauren, say they are clawing their way out of Wynnewood to a new park in Thackerville, Oklahoma, in the next four months. Call it the Sequel Zoo, and I’d bet Sawchuck will be back for more footage. It’s good pub.

Pick of the pics

The South Point posted a a classic Instagram photo Monday of owner Michael Gaughan, GM Ryan Growney and a Budweiser Clydesdale at the hotel-casino’s South Point 400 Bar. The shot was taken before the South Point 400 NASCAR race in September 2018.

The Clydesdales often stay at the hotel’s equestrian center and have been used for photo ops at the sportsbook, the Benny Binion statue and walking through the casino.

Growney says he’d like to get a shot of one of the famous horses at the South Point pool one of these days. I feel it would be more likely to get the Clydesdale out there than the owner, but never say never.

John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His PodKats! podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at jkatsilometes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.

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