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Steve Martin’s infamous Empty Booth was left empty on purpose — by the Riviera owner

The Riviera’s Versailles Showroom was wiped out in the first of two implosions last summer. But the famed entertainment venue, and its infamous Empty Booth, is still seeping with Vegas lore.

Steve Martin referred to the showroom recently during an interview leading to his co-headlining show with Martin Short on Sunday at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace. As Martin recalled, and also recited in his book “Born Standing Up,” he’d spotted the Empty Booth during a show in about 40 years ago. This was just after the peak of his stand-up career, after “Let’s Get Small” and “Wild & Crazy Guy” concert albums were top sellers and “The Jerk” had been released.

Martin said he hadn’t seen an empty booth at a Vegas show in about eight years, and decided to leave the stage rather than suffer further showroom emptiness.

But a musician who played that room at the time, house bassist Brent Alverson, says the Empty Booth was unoccupied for reasons beyond Martin’s marketability. The hotel owner at the time, Meshulam Riklis (married to starlet Pia Zadora at the time), held a booth for late-arriving VIPs — especially members of Riklis’ family.

“If any member of his family were to come into the showroom at the last minute and weren’t seated in the best seat in the house, heads would have have rolled,” says Alverson, who was the original bassist with the Lon Bronson All-Star band, which debuted at the Riv in the mid-1990s. “In the three years I worked there, I saw people in that booth maybe two or three times at the most.”

Alverson added that Vegas musicians considered the Riviera to be the best gig in town at the time, for all the superstars who played there. Martin was among them, and in one stretch his opening act was his then-girlfriend, Bernadette Peters. That’s how showrooms used to be in Las Vegas.

John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. Contact him at jkatsilometes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.

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