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December 18, 2014

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King of Clubs’ has Gentile clan, famed Palomino in sharp focus

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Dominic Gentile, in courtroom mode.

Powerhouse attorney Dominic Gentile was hard at work last night and deep into the morning, his navy blue suit dusted with glittery residue from freshly painted bodies. He squinted while surveying the scene through a thick fog of cigar smoke. He tapped a snifter half full of light-brown liquid and announced, “I think I’ll have another. You know why? I’m not driving tonight.” Gentile’s purple tie hung loose around his neck, and his jacket showed frayed threads where a button should be. He tried for a while to retrieve the lost item, but good luck with that in this chaotic, strobe-lit, slammed-with-revelers party.

This was no courtroom, though court was definitely being held by Gentile, who by nature of his business interest in the Palomino is a king of clubs. Great title for a show, actually, and that’s what it was, the backdrop of the in-production Playboy TV series, “King of Clubs.” The centerpiece of the reality-based series is the Gentile family and the famous/infamous Palomino on Las Vegas Boulevard North, across from Jerry’s Nugget in North Las Vegas. The show has been shot over the past two weeks, and taping runs through April.

In one of the more tantalizing slices of Las Vegas lore, Gentile owns the five acres of land on which the Palomino sits. He became a North Las Vegas strip-club proprietor a little more than two years ago as payment from former Palomino owner Luis Hidalgo Jr. in exchange for Gentile’s representation of Hidalgo in the investigation of the May 19, 2005, shooting death of Timothy Hadland. Hidalgo and his son, Luis Hidalgo III, were convicted last month of second-degree murder for conspiring with others to mastermind and carry out the murder of Hadland, whose body was found near Lake Mead. The victim was a former Palomino doorman who, according to police reports and court testimony, trashed the club to cab drivers and cost the business several thousand dollars in lost customers.

As part of the Gentiles’ business arrangement, son Adam owns the club itself, and Adam’s mother (and Dominic’s ex-wife), Michelle Gentile, manages the books. The Gentiles are a colorful lot already and would make good TV even if just tailed by a video crew for a month. When you mix in the salty setting of Las Vegas’ only all-nude club that operates under a full liquor license (Palomino, which opened in 1969, holds a license that was grandfathered with North Las Vegas and expires in 2019) and the club’s rich history, it was only a matter of time before someone with an eye for reality-based TV would show up on the scene. It turned out to be Leslie Greif of Boutique TV, the executive producer of “Gene Simmons Family Jewels” for A&E. The Simmons show aired footage from the Palomino last year, and Greif saw an opportunity to turn the club into a set for an unscripted, adult-themed series, a visit to a strip joint as if produced by Larry David. It would never work on A&E, as every scene would likely be indecipherable for all the pixilation. Instead, in all its boobs and bluster, “King of Clubs” will begin airing its 12 half-hour episodes on Playboy TV in October.

What to expect? Last night, the crew was canvassing the club to record a contest in which the bodies of a dozen women were painted by Las Vegas artist A.D. Cook, who has a rife-with-nudes gallery at the Southern Nevada Center for the Arts at Neonopolis. The dozen paint-enhanced women took to the stage, and a winner was determined via a scientific polling of the crowd, which shouted gutturally at their favorite figure.

“We want it to be sexy, but smart,” said Greif, who managed to stay remarkably focused during our conversation at the bar, even as a totally nude woman painted as a slot machine with three 7s across her tummy stood next to us. I pulled her arm, and she performed quite a convincing impression of a jackpot.

“This show has to be funny, but not in a sitcom way. We come in and capture the characters, the scene, the club, which has a lot of history, obviously,” Greif said. “I don’t have a background in this sort of entertainment, which is good, I think. I come in with my own ideas of what works and apply them to this material.

“I’ll tell you, we’ve been to all the clubs in town, and this is the only one where you can just hang out.”

That’s been known to happen at the Palomino, yes.

The show, in its second week of taping, should bring business to a business desperate for such. At its peak, the Palomino pulled $13 million a year in gross revenues. When the Gentles took over, that number was down to $1 million, and the business was sagging like a dancer far past her prime. As Dominic noted, the Palomino is the only strip club in Las Vegas doing better business today than two years ago, “But that’s mostly because it was doing so lousy before.”

It helps that Adam Gentile, producer of “Men the Show” and, later, Club Seven, renovated and de-trashified the club to make it more appealing to a slightly higher-end clientele. Attorneys, for example. The Palomino will continue to cater to a local crowd – it sits three miles north of downtown – though the series should serve as a 12-segment, national ad campaign. A promotional push by Playboy put last night’s bar take on a pace to become the largest since Adam started managing the club.

Figure that all the Gentiles will be featured extensively in the Playboy TV show. “I’m in it a lot, yeah, but I’m never out here,” Dominic said. “I leave the business to Adam.” But last night, the father looked every bit the star of the show.

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