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Off-Strip music club thrives despite pandemic restrictions

Updated December 4, 2020 - 12:04 pm

If any venue has lived a charmed existence in COVID, it’s been The Vegas Room. The venue is tiny but mighty, and ready to expand.

Since relaunching in March, the cabaret supper club at the Commercial Center is small enough to continue to run live entertainment, ambient or otherwise, through pandemic restrictions. Multicourse dinners are always on the program, and the place is aggressively attentive to COVID protocols.

Seating is less than 50 at all times in the venue, with masks up unless eating and drinking. Even the electric hand-sanitizer dispenser at the entrance is a unique touch. That thing seems supercharged, shooting the liquid like a little fountain show.

The Vegas Room is being rewarded for its diligence and capacity to survive. The business is expanding to a neighboring venue, to be called The Nevada Room, which will also offer food and live entertainment. The club will open (hopefully) in the first quarter of 2021.

The Vegas Room is also staging its first holiday production, conveniently titled “A Vegas Room Christmas,” filled with popular Vegas entertainers. The 21-dinner show series opens Wednesday and runs through Dec. 27 (go to thevegasroom.com for details).

The production arrived from a conversation between venue owner and culinary artist Chef David James Robinson, who mentioned to The Vegas Room President Tom Michel that a show themed for the 1954 classic holiday film “White Christmas” would be a fun fit in the venue.

“We have this intimate setting for great music, so we thought of really putting a soundtrack to the movie, in The Vegas Room,” Michel says. “We have this jewel box that we kind of liken to being in a warm glove. For Christmas it’s more like a warm mitten.”

The show is drawing from several top-level performers in its rotating casts. Singers Randal Keith, Michelle Johnson, Amanda King, Sam Holder and Carnell “Golden Pipes” Johnson are in the opening cast. Vocalists Janien Valentine, Ruby Lewis, Ian Ward, Rob Hyatt and Luke Striffler also perform through the run. Keith Thompson is on piano throughout, with dance numbers by Ben Tucker and Emma McGirr.

Songs in the mix include the requisite classics, among them “White Christmas,” “Love You Didn’t Do Right By Me,” “What’ll I Do,” “How Deep Is The Ocean?” and “Always.”

“We have seen how people respond so happily when they leave the club, and we want that feeling when they leave this show,” Michel says. “Putting together something like this is harder than ever, but it’s more important than ever, too. We want people to get lost in Christmas again.”

New digs

The Vegas Room investors’ new haunt is The Nevada Room, taking over the former La Cueva del Pirata restaurant and music club, just next door to The Vegas Room on the Sahara Avenue side of the property. You pass this business on your way to The Vegas Room, if you are entering from Sahara. A third of the 7,000-foot venue, the piano bar and bistro, is tentatively set to open by Valentine’s Day.

“We’re looking at having dinners five nights per week, with a grand piano at the center,” Michel says. “We can have a pianist, or someone on guitar, violinist, singers. It’s basically a restaurant with ambient music.” The food will be a bundle of burgers, pasta, salads, and other inventive dishes conceived by Chef David.

Later in 2021, the 150-capacity, live-entertainment piece will open. That space is for trios, quartets and brunches with live entertainment. The facility’s new entertainment director himself is a great and familiar Vegas performer, JassenAllen, who has spent the past few years co-producing shows at The Space. Allen is also a singer at Mayfair Supper Club, and will continue in that role after taking over his responsibilities at The Vegas Room in a week or so.

Michel points out that generations ago The Nevada Room building was Commercial Center Deli, a well-known Rat Pack hangout. The Commercial Center itself, which opened in 1960, is steeped in Vegas nostalgia.

“We love that the footprint of this place has such a history,” Michel says. “The place has a great retro-Vegas feel, and we’re bringing in some classic entertainment. I think it’s a place where the Rat Pack would have felt at home.”

Hsieh connection

Before The Vegas Room moved into its current location, the team considered the space vacated by the chicken restaurant Chow, just next to Ferguson’s Downtown, originally a Tony Hsieh/Downtown Project investment. The talks went on from March through June 2019.

“We decided that we would rather be closer to the Strip, although not directly on it,” says Michel, who is enamoured of the Commercial Center’s history. “Being able to bring what we do back to this iconic area makes us feel really good.”

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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