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Audiences may not miss Debbie’s showroom, but performers will

“It was part of Vegas history. Debbie Reynolds started something at that little spot.”

“Debbie Reynolds did it right.”

“It was good just keeping Debbie’s place up and running.”

You can call it the Greek Isles or the Clarion, or even jump back before the ’90s and call it the Paddlewheel.

But it’s clear how the little hotel, which just closed on Convention Center Drive, will be remembered by magician Seth Grabel (the first comment), specialty performer Antonio Restivo (the second) and the last guy in charge of the show venues, Ray Wolf (the third).

It was in the early 1990s that Reynolds branded the Debbie Reynolds Hotel. She and her son, Todd Fisher, outfitted what seems to be the only part of it people will miss: the old-school 350-seat showroom and a 100-seat theater (originally part of a movie memorabilia museum).

It’s less clear now just how many people will miss the bottom rung on Las Vegas’ show ladder.

Magician Jan Rouven made it a successful steppingstone. But the list of people who didn’t is a lot longer, from Larry G. Jones and Tanya Lee Davis to its final tenants, “Kentos Asian Invasion” and “The Balloon Master Show.”

If a showroom falls in the woods, does anybody hear it?

They will if they were ever there.

“The theater was a magical theater,” says Restivo, who self-produced “Ignite” there in 2009. “It was intimate, the acoustics were amazing, the backstage was great. It was really set up well. It was set up for 300 or 400 of your closest friends to enjoy a show.”

Producer Dick Feeney had a solid six-year run there in the 2000s with “The Rat Pack is Back” and “The World’s Greatest Magic Show.”

“Once you got inside, it was a great showroom,” he agrees. “It had the booths, it had the feel. Tables instead of that theater seating stuff.”

Not that the host property’s iffy condition didn’t affect things.

“The sewage was backing up all the time,” Feeney says. And the roof leaked right onstage when it rained, inspiring Pete Willcox as Dean Martin to fill his martini glass from the drip during a “Rat Pack” show.

Henry Prego’s Frank Sinatra dared him to take a sip. He did.

He didn’t drop dead, but a customer once did. Right by the soundboard. “People were bitching in line. ‘When are we going to get in?’ ” Feeney recalls.

But that could happen anywhere, right?

For the past three years, both venues have been overseen by Wolf, a low-key guy who fell into the business producing hypnotists at another bygone venue, the Harmon Theater.

“I might have been hypnotized, I don’t know,” he says with a laugh.

The Clarion was a hike for pedestrians on the Strip, and leased most of its rooms to airline flight crews who just needed a few hours of shut-eye.

But Wolf says it was nonetheless rewarding.

“The midlevel performers, if you want to call it that, they put their heart out,” he says. “You just knew you were part of completing a person’s little dream of what they’re trying to shoot for.”

Wolf said he was told to clear out his equipment rather than banking on a reopening. The Clarion is likelier to be demolished and the land combined with surrounding property. Wolf is starting a production studio near Mandalay Bay, since a good 60 percent of the showroom’s revenue came from TV and film production, including the Lana Del Rey video “Ride.”

No one is quite sure what will happen to Debbie’s place, but Restivo at least knows what should: “Somebody should preserve the theater. Bulldoze the rest of the hotel and rebuild it with that theater in it.”

Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at mweatherford@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0288.

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