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Las Vegas business owners, performers complain of COVID enforcement

Updated August 31, 2020 - 10:09 am

In a pandemic, the Entertainment Capital of the World is a tough room.

Las Vegas businesses that stage music along with food and drink are learning this the hard way. Last week, such well-known Vegas hangs as Saddle N Spurs Saloon on North Jones Road and E-String Poker Bar in Henderson have been told to knock off any live performances.

This is sort of like being told to get out of the pool, but without the horseplay. Neither business was cited for violating COVID safety protocols. This is about live entertainment, and how it is presented and promoted.

“We have to define who is and isn’t a ‘headliner,’ and what is and isn’t ‘ambient’ music,” Saddles N Spurs owner and musician Bobby Kingston says. “We need to know why we can’t promote what we are doing in our businesses when we have a singer or a duo onstage.”

Kingston refers to an email from a city of Las Vegas business licensing official, which states, “Live entertainment which includes karaoke at this point is prohibited with a few allowances. You can have a singer, piano player, guitar player or small piece band that is there playing music at an ambiance level. There can’t be any ticket sales, admission fee or headliner advertisement for the entertainment & no dancing.”

Saddle N Spurs was following those orders — with the possible exception of promoting headliners with Facebook posts about their scheduled musicians. But really, no offense to anyone, the saloon was not exactly booking Lady Gaga or Bruno Mars. But a visiting OSHA inspector on Friday told him they were in violation of reopening protocols by staging, and promoting live music.

The saloon has already shut down twice during the pandemic, originally in the statewide shutdown in March and again when bars without food were ordered closed in July.

It’s getting old for Kingston, who knows entertainers are suffering and his own livelihood is on the line. “If I am not open, I’ll lose my house,” he says. It would help if he could inform his customers if and when he has live entertainment, too.

“We need to be able to tell people what we are doing, whether it’s offering food, and a singer who is 15-20 feet from people eating, or if we’re selling cars,” Kingston says. “It’s no different than posting a menu on Facebook.”

The governor’s office has responded to an email for clarification with a reminder that COVID sets the protocol and time horizon for the state’s reopening. Addressing public gatherings, the statement reads, “The current statewide baseline standards are the mitigation measures that every county must adhere to, regardless of risk level each county is experiencing. These statewide standards include limits on public and private gathering size, along with capacity limits for businesses.”

That does not explain the inconsistencies in enforcement of live entertainment throughout Clark County. Saddle & Spurs and E-String are being ordered to take down live entertainment that certainly can be described as both “non-headliner” and “ambient.”

Meantime, such businesses as Bobby Mao’s, just 3 miles from E String in Henderson, are allowed to provide entertainment. This, after owner Bobby Grannet had been warned by the city of Henderson that his singers were off-limits. Grannet persuaded the city that he would be forced to close entirely if not allowed to proceed with his full dinner lineup. He’s now back in action.

The Vegas Room at Commercial Center; Chianti’s Italian Restaurant (this weekend with Neil Diamond tribute artist (Rob Garrett); Tuscany’s Piazza lounge, and Don’t Tell Mama at Neonopolis are all providing ambient entertainment. The county curbed karaoke at Ellis Island, where all live music has been turned off — for now.

On the Strip, we’ve routinely name-checked Mayfair Supper Club at Bellagio and Rose. Rabbit. Lie. at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas for their live performances. Caesars Entertainment’s Bally’s, Paris and Harrah’s have reopened lounges, with food boxes offered and unbilled soloists or duos playing in the background.

Yet E-String booker and performer Jonny Bird was informed Wednesday to knock down its scheduled series of soloists and duos in the dining room, including Vinny Adinolfi and his son Vinny “Vin A.” Adinolfi of Bronx Wanderers.

Those gents are indeed headliners, in the sense that they make headlines, at Harrah’s Showroom. Their appearance scheduled for Thursday was among a dozen knocked off the books by the city of Henderson business compliance division. The venue was hit with a $500 fine and threatened with a $2,500 fine if the series continued.

The elder Adinolfi was about to vent on Facebook — where you can find logjam of complaints about COVID reopening inconsistencies — but settled down and started hustling.

“So we’re out of work again,” Adinolfi says. “I’m scrambling, calling agents all over, to see if they’ll take Vinny and I. We’ll travel. “

E-String had been promoting the Adinolfis’ acoustic shows, which were also live-streamed, and charging a cover at the door. That is a no-no. Bird, too, is a showman and had been prepping for his “Schmoozin’ & Boozin’” Vegas-themed, one-man show when the track machine was shut down.

In all, the respective entertainers — most of whom have not seen any unemployment insurance financial support — lost between $15,000-$20,000.

But Bird is investigating options, including a remote live-stream of performances broadcast in that same dining room — but without the performers. In other words, the same sort of entertainment scene you can find at a Las Vegas movie theater, which (performers are fast to note) are about as big as Vegas live-entertainment venues.

“We’ll have the same number of people in the room, except for the one or two people performing, broadcast on the wall,” Bird says. “I’m looking at every way I can get around this, not in a sneaky way but proactive. We need to find a way to solve this, and we will. I’m an eternal optimist.”

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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