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April 24, 2014

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Columnist Jerry Fink: Atilla keeps live music alive at Euro Place

Turk Atilla.

It's a colorful name, one that evokes images of a warrior: a large, domineering and perhaps vicious man who leads legions of soldiers on a mission to conquer the world.

But that hardly fits the physical description, or the demeanor, of the mild-mannered, unassuming, 54-year-old native of Turkey whose nickname -- "Turk"-- replaced his given name (Turan) decades ago.

Atilla may be a warrior, but he isn't out to conquer anything but the night life scene in Las Vegas, where live music is a casualty in the expensive entertainment war.

It is a war that has been waged for years. Too few places are willing to pay the price for living, breathing musicians, preferring to economize with canned music or DJs.

But Atilla, in his own humble way, is fighting the trend at his Euro Place Ristorante, 1243 E. Sahara Ave. (at Maryland Parkway).

"When I first came here there were some nice places you could go after hours," recalled Atilla, who arrived in the United States 34 years ago. "We used to go to the Musicians Union on Duke Ellington Drive -- it was a great hangout.

"Every Monday all the musicians came out of the showroom late at night and after 1 in the morning, sometime there would be 20 of them jamming."

Atilla said that atmosphere has been lost.

"Now there are a lot of discos and nightclubs without live music and they're all in the hotels and casinos," he said. "And they're too expensive for the regular working stiff."

Not at Euro Place, where the drinks -- and the food -- are reasonably priced.

And on Thursdays and Sundays, starting about 10 p.m., Atilla provides a place for Nathan Wolf and his army of blues musicians and vocalists to jam.

"I love blues," said Atilla, whose heart is kept beating by a pacemaker and a love of music. "I like all kinds of music -- except a couple of them -- but I especially like blues. Blues and jazz. I'm thinking about a night of jazz, maybe on Saturdays."

Atilla has had Euro Place since March. For three years prior to that it was Polonez, which specialized in Polish food. But when Atilla took over he expanded the menu to cover items from 11 different countries (specializing in an Eastern European cuisine) and has slowly begun to add live music.

"Some places have piano bars," he said. "But that's not what people are looking for. They want live -- lively -- music."

Atilla had never owned a restaurant or nightclub before getting into the business, but he has worked around them all his life, beginning in Turkey, where he attended Roberts Academy -- an exclusive, private American high school.

When he graduated from high school he began working in the VIP division of the room service department for the Hilton in Istanbul. While there he met a group of executives who were about to open Istanbul's first casino.

Because he could speak several languages he was hired as a dealer for the new casino, which opened in 1968.

But Atilla's father, who graduated from Penn State University in 1949, wanted him to go on to college.

"I was making $1,600 a week cash money," Atilla recalled. "This was in 1968 in Turkey. That was a lot of money."

His father opened a Turkish restaurant in McClain, Va., gave Atilla $200 and a one-way ticket and sent him to the United States in 1971.

The restaurant was called Caesar's Forum.

"All marble, and beautiful," Atilla said.

Atilla worked at the restaurant and enrolled in college, but got married after a year.

Looking for a way to make money, he moved to Las Vegas to capitalize on his casino knowledge. He became a dealer at the Sahara in 1972, where he worked for almost 10 years before moving on to Caesars, then to the Riviera and finally the Golden Nugget.

In 1985 he was hired to manage a casino in Cairo, Egypt, but terrorists ended that phase of his career.

Four PLO terrorists took over the passenger ship the Achille Lauro, killing a wheel-chair-bound passenger, American Leon Klinghoffer, before being allowed safe passage aboard an Egyptian airliner.

The airliner was being escorted by an Egyptian air force jet but the U.S. Navy forced the plane down in Sicily and the terrorists were arrested. Egyptian officials, angered that their airspace had been violated and their agreement with the terrorists ignored, demanded an apology from the U.S.

"As a result Egypt canceled all temporary work permits for Americans, including me," Atilla said. "I was even detained for six hours."

He came back to Vegas and worked at the Hacienda until he got a job managing the now-defunct Tony L's restaurant at Tropicana and Eastern avenues.

"It was the best gathering place in town," Atilla said.

In addition to being night manager, Atilla tended bar. But then he decided to fulfill his late father's wish and earn a college degree.

He attended UNLV, majoring in political science and minoring in hotel management. Then he and a friend began building and selling custom homes.

And then he had a heart attack.

Working seven days a week at his restaurant doesn't seem to be bad for his heart.

"I love the business," he said.

And he loves the music.

Lounging around

Trumpeter Rick Jones and keyboardist Dennis Mellen are now at Casa di Amore at 6:30 p.m. Thursdays through Fridays. The two classy jazz musicians invited assorted guests to perform with them during their sets.

Popular saloon singer Joey Gian has left his Wednesday night gig at the Bootlegger to pursue his acting career in Hollywood. His replacement is the richly talented vocalist Mark Giovi.

John Kaye, nephew of Mary Kaye and son of Norman Kaye (the heart of the Mary Kaye Trio from the late '40s through the '70s), is adding a new dimension to his own musical career.

"I have caved in to the inevitable change in my music selection," he says. "For those of you who know me as a rocker, it may come as a surprise to you to find out that my roots were planted firmly in the standard jazz and contemporary adult music as a child.

"My family are the original pioneers of lounge entertainment, Las Vegas style, which I watched from backstage and light booths before I could walk or talk."

Kaye (not the John Kay of Steppenwolf) says he decided to make some changes after running across a lot of unreleased music written by his father.

"That and the inspiration of a fabulous keyboardist David Haertels has prompted me to continue the legacy of my family," Kaye said.

Norman Kaye has written for (among others) Johnny Mathis, Perry Como, Keeley Smith, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Steve Nelson, Mac David and Bob Russell.

Among Norman Kaye's biggest numbers are standards in the Hawaiian Islands: "A Maile Lei for Your Hair" and "And So for Now Aloha."

The Home Plate Grill & Bar (4785 Blue Diamond Road at Decatur Boulevard) will feature BluesStorm from 8:30 p.m. until 12:30 a.m. Jan. 29 and Feb. 5.

The four-piece band, based in Las Vegas, has recently performed at the House of Blues and the Cannery.

The Winchester Cultural Center (3130 S. McLeod Drive) will feature the Calvin Brooks Quartet at 2 p.m. Sunday. The group includes guitarist Brooks, tenor saxophonist Bobby Burns, organist Tyrone Bowers and drummer Clifton Workman.

The event is sponsored by the Las Vegas Jazz Society, the Guitar Society and the Clark County Parks and Community Services.

Admission for Jazz Society members and Guitar Society members is $7; seniors and students are $10 and general admission is $15.

For more information call 455-7340.

Jessica Marciel and Michael Shane will be at the Joey Bistro, on the ninth floor of the Carriage House, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. through Sunday.

Saxophonist Tommy Alvarado, who can be heard at 9 p.m. Sundays at the Hurricane Bar & Grill and at the Tangerine club at Treasure Island at 10:45 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, will perform from noon to 3 p.m. Sunday at Gordon Biersch, 3987 Paradise Road.

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