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July 28, 2014

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Burton Cohen and the Howard Hughes ‘Ice Cream Saga’; Brooklyn Bowl reps are really digging Las Vegas

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Mona Shield Payne

Long-time friends of Jackie Gaughan arrive for the memorial mass for John Davis “Jackie” Gaughan held at St. Viator Catholic Church in Las Vegas on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, 2014. From right to left are Burton Cohen, Gene Kilroy and an unidentified man.

A quick list of two things I consumed on Thursday:

1. The Maria Salad at Bootlegger Bistro.

2. The Sticky Toffee Pudding at Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill at Caesars Palace.

Winners, both. The Ramsay visit was as part of the Vegas Uncork’d by Bon Appetit event, with journalists who either full time or sometimes cover food and the famous folk who prepare such. The title of this Master Series Dinner was “A Scot’s Tale,” with the main serving a yummy lamb rack.

I have met Ramsay three or four times over the years and am always asked if he’s as angry in person as he is on TV. Not really, but he’s always in a heapin’ hurry. I caught him one night about a year ago walking through the Caesars Palace casino. He was hoofing at a pace at which most people jog. He’s a triathlete and in great physical condition.

Ramsay showed up later than his announced time of arrival (at least an hour), walked in and said, “You have me for 17 minutes.” I responded with, “As the girl said,” and he laughed. He seems a guy’s guy who shaves it pretty close and who has become one of the city’s true culinary stars. And the food? Fabulous. Worth the wait, even.

Let’s clear off the rest of the table, eh?

• Burton Cohen’s death at his residence at Regency Towers on Tuesday at age 90 brought to mind a great interview I had with him as I was writing a story about the 50th anniversary of the Desert Inn back in 2000. I met Cohen that day amid speculation (which was accurate) that Steve Wynn was about to buy the property. Today that property is home to Wynn Las Vegas and sister property Encore.

Cohen had served as president of the Desert Inn three times during the 1960s through the mid-1990s, and if you were a fan of the old “Vega$” TV series from the late 1970s and early ‘80s, starring Robert Urich as Dan Tanna, you heard Cohen’s name from time to time called out on the hotel’s public-address system.

For the D.I. anniversary story, I had asked Cohen about Howard Hughes’ reign at the hotel, famous because the eccentric billionaire took up residency on the ninth floor during Thanksgiving of 1966 and wound up buying the entire resort rather than be kicked out as the New Year’s Eve rush arrived.

But Cohen never, ever saw Hughes.

"I had no personal contact with (Hughes) whatsoever," Cohen said during that conversation about 15 years ago. "Anyone who tells you different is yanking your chain."

Cohen then talked of “The Ice Cream Saga,” as he termed it, at the D.I. The legendary tale centered on Hughes' wish to be served a certain type of ice cream.

"I want to say it was banana nut, but it doesn't matter," Cohen said. "The point is he was a creature of habit. I got word we were running out of banana nut and called Baskin-Robbins in L.A. to have some shipped in. They'd discontinued the line and would only make something like 100 gallons. Then word came in the next day that he changed his mind and wanted something else and we had to switch. Somewhere at the D.I., they still might have old gallons of unopened banana nut."

Cohen also held top executive positions at the Flamingo, Circus Circus, the Dunes, Frontier, Thunderbird and Caesars Palace and was a member of the MGM Resorts International board and Sunrise Hospital board of directors. The last time I saw him was on St. Patrick’s Day at St. Viator Catholic Church, at the funeral of his old friend Jackie Gaughan. Cohen looked chipper that day and stopped just to smile and shake hands and walk into the services. He was a smart man, a sweet man and certainly part of the city’s very fabric. And every time I come across banana nut ice cream, I’ll think of Mr. Cohen.

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The Brooklyn Bowl marquee at the Linq advertises the Elvis Costello and The Roots concert Sunday, March 16, 2014.

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Elvis Costello performs with The Roots at the Brooklyn Bowl at the Linq Sunday, March 16, 2014.

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Mark Kelley, bass player for The Roots, and Brooklyn Bowl owner Peter Shapiro at Brooklyn Bowl on Saturday, March 15, 2014, in the Linq.

• Say this for Peter Shapiro and his team at Brooklyn Bowl: That crew has done its homework in Las Vegas to find acts to bolster the big-name shows in the venue’s music hall. Yes, we know all about Jane’s Addiction this weekend — and I am to be there tonight — but the Bowl also has secured The Funk Jam, Rockie Brown Band, Shaun DeGraff Band and Barry Black and The Sensuals. The Funk Jam is just that — a jam show filled with players who tote their instruments to the gig and just sit in. The performances have been gaining momentum in its Wednesday late-night shows at Bar 702, the former Sand Dollar, on Polaris and Spring Mountain.

You don’t drill much deeper than Bar 702 for a band to play the Strip, trust me. This is a genuine locals hang with a long history of frivolity (and even felonies, in the Sand Dollar days). Brown and her horn-powered lineup have been taking the stage on Mondays and, like The Funk Jam, also have built a strong locals following. The Funk Jam opens at the Bowl at 9 p.m. June 4. DeGraff’s and Black’s bands, about which I am not so educated, are set for July 15, with an opening time to be announced.

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David Perrico's Pop Evolution, an 18-piece band featuring musicians from various Las Vegas productions, performs inside the showroom at the Stratosphere, July 2, 2013.

• As the Bowl makes some noise for late-night creepers, one of my favorite weeknight hangs has been quieted as David Perrico’s Pop Evolution show-band performances are finished at Stratosphere. The final night was May 2, with Naomi Mauro characteristically blowing the place apart amid guest appearances by Anne Martinez of BBR and Lora Kelsey of “Zombie Burlesque” giving the crowd a good once-over (Kelsey turned in a stunning dance number to Van Halen’s “Hot for Teacher,” tearing pages out of an encyclopedia and throwing them airborne while stripping from her teacher’s costume; it was just wonderful).

Perrico’s roaring 22-piece band initially performed on alternate Tuesdays, then was drawn back to once a month in November. Perrico is keeping the vibe positive in the face of this move that has effectively left the act without a venue, saying, “We couldn’t come to an agreement to keep playing at the Stratosphere, but we did appreciate the opportunity and enjoyed working with Matt Mascali.”

Mascali is the Strat executive who oversees entertainment at the property, and who booked the Pop Evo performances in the first place.

Anyone who has made these shows realizes the eye-popping (and, sometimes, ear-popping) talent onstage. Perrico has managed to build a band of many of the top musicians in the city — the trumpet and sax sections alone feature some of the most respected players in town. But the show was not an easy sell at $20 a ticket and was third in line (and a distant third) in the Strat’s marketing strategy after its two primary headliners in Frankie Moreno and “Pin Up.” As it turned out, Perrico’s performances were well-attended but became, in effect, loss leaders at the property, pulling in a decent crowd that would otherwise spend Tuesday nights elsewhere.

There were only two directions to take Pop Evolution: Bolster the shows with an aggressive marketing and advertising campaign to sell tickets or cut the admission cost entirely (maybe forging a two-drink minimum) and subsidizing the show as a marketing tool. I often compare these types of expensive, yet worthwhile, entertainment options to the Bellagio Fountains. That aquatic spectacular, of course, costs nothing to observe. You don’t even need to walk into the hotel to watch it; you can check it out while posing for photos with the spilthy SpongeBob character on the Strip. But the pricey spectacle provides great value to the hotel because it lures scores of humans to the property and also has become a popular and universally recognized amenity.

Great entertainment is a proven draw for hotel-casinos. You just need to let people know what is happening, and when.

As for Perrico’s show, Pop Evo is now a free agent. Over the past couple of years, it has played South Point Showroom and Lounge at the Palms, and I’ve long felt it could toggle dates at the Smith Center with the Lon Bronson All-Star Band. Vinyl at the Hard Rock Hotel, too, as a suitable venue. Perrico is still fronting the “Pin Up” band, so his relationship with the hotel remains intact through that production. He’s also involved in assisting the Tuscany in its efforts to become the busiest hotel in Las Vegas in presenting live entertainment. Read on for more about that off-Strip hovel.

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Ryan Kelsey, Anne Martinez and Eric Michael Morgan of BBR perform at T-Spot Lounge at Tuscany on Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014.

• With Perrico’s consultation, the Tuscany has added to its already strong lineup at T Spot Lounge. The hotel located on East Flamingo Road just east of the Strip is busy each night with live entertainment and has hooked Brown’s band on the first and third Wednesdays of the month beginning in June; Franky Perez and The Dirty on the second and fourth Wednesdays of the month, also beginning in June. Bronson’s band debuts at the hotel on July 19. There is no admission cost announced for any of these acts, but expect it to be somewhere between “none” and $20.

BBR is back at T Spot Lounge on Tuesday, too, for free at 10:30 p.m. Kenny Davidson and his bow-tied extravaganza, the Celebrity Piano Bar, is back on Fridays as Davidson has just signed on for another year at the hotel. No admission there, either.

Also, still on Mondays from 6:30-10:30 p.m. at the Tuscany’s Piazza Lounge, which is just off the entrance to the hotel (T Spot is down the hall and off the casino floor) is Laura Shaffer & The Noir Nightingale Trio. I’d never darkened the doors of Tuscany until about three years ago, and even then it was a random duck-in. Now it’s a regular hang, brimming with great talent and great people, and a real player on the Vegas entertainment scene.

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Inductee Andre Agassi speaks during the induction ceremony for the Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Fame on Friday, May 31, 2013, at The Orleans Arena.

• We’ve not caught up with Andre Agassi lately. Let’s rectify that now with something Agassi said during a series of interviews with members of international news outlets in his role as spokesman for Longines watches. He told the Singapore newspaper Straits Times that Rafael Nadal should be considered the greatest tennis player in history, instead of Roger Federer, even as Federer has captured 17 Grand Slam titles to Nadal’s 13.

As Agassi said, “I'd put Nadal No. 1, Federer No. 2. It's just remarkable to me what he has done, and he has done it all during Federer's prime."

Nadal is likely to retire with a winning record over Federer, too, holding a 23-10 advantage.

“Nadal had to deal with Federer, (Novak) Djokovic, (Andy) Murray in the golden age of tennis,” Agassi, winner of eight Grand Slam titles, said. “He has done what he has done, and he's not done yet."

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at Twitter.com/JohnnyKats. Also, follow “Kats With the Dish” at Twitter.com/KatsWiththeDish.

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