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July 25, 2014

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Off the Strip:

Out to revive a locals joint

‘Troubleshooter’ wants to restore bar to a haven for dancers, gamblers, eventually diners

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Sam Morris

Turk Atilla has opened Turk’s Lounge at the former P.J. Mcrae’s at 1487 E. Flamingo Road, a spot he patronized since the mid-‘70s but says he never dreamed of running.

Owning a bar is one headache Turan “Turk” Atilla doesn’t want to get rid of.

“I like the challenge,” the 59-year-old native of Turkey says.

Five years ago he started the Euro Place Ristorante at Maryland Parkway and Sahara Avenue, where he tried to provide a venue for live jazz and blues. But he ran into conflicts with the landlord, and he closed up shop and began looking around for another headache.

He found it at 1487 E. Flamingo Road, where P.J. Mcrae’s was in a financial bind when he bought it.

“I’m becoming like a troubleshooter,” Atilla says. “I don’t want to take over a successful operation. If you do you pay top price and you will only lose. The best you can do is keep it going. The only way to go is down. This way I get into it for less money and the only way to go is up.”

It took him two years, but as of April 1 he has another headache, which he relishes.

P.J. Mcrae’s is now Turk’s Lounge, which offers gaming, dancing on the weekend and, in the future, dining.

Over the years the club has had a series of owners and at different times has been a hot spot for locals, or just limping along, trying to survive with a few regulars.

“I want to own a bar; I have always liked that,” says Atilla, who arrived in Vegas in 1972 and became a dealer at the Sahara before moving to Caesars, the Riviera, the Golden Nugget and finally the Hacienda near Boulder City before becoming a restaurant manager.

During his 37 years as a Vegas local Atilla has networked and cultivated friendships and learned the bar and restaurant businesses — what works and what doesn’t.

It’s serendipitous that he now owns a bar he has frequented from the time it opened in the mid-’70s.

“I’ve been coming here from Day One,” Atilla says. “I never dreamed of owning it.”

The place was once called Mickey’s Appetizers, known as a friendly, sophisticated neighborhood bar that served appetizers. Mickey Spinello owned the club for more than 10 years.

“This place has the best layout for a bar I have ever seen,” Atilla says.

To the right as you enter is a dance area, flanked by a piano.

“Where the piano sits now there was a little pool of water that had fire coming out of it — a fire lounge, they called it,” Atilla says. “It was copied from the Peppermill Fireside Lounge from down on the Strip and the guy who owned the Peppermill sued the bar and got $100,000 for it, so they closed down the fireplace and put the piano there.”

After Spinello, it changed hands a couple of more times and then John Monaco, a retired shift boss from Circus Circus, bought it and turned it into Monaco’s. It kept the name as ownership changed a couple of times, finally becoming P.J. McRae’s four years ago.

“The place is like a landmark, a classy local tavern where everyone knows everyone,” Atilla says.

Former bar manager Tina Quarry said when Monaco had the club it was one of the busiest locals bars in town.

“It was a happening place,” she says. “I hope Turk can get it back to where it was. I’m sure he can. Everyone in town knows Turk.”

After Spinello sold the business, owners began featuring live entertainment.

Currently, vocalist Joni James and keyboardist/vocalist Mike Shane play for dancers at 9 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.

“I want to put one more night of entertainment in, maybe a three-piece jazz group,” Atilla says. “But I can’t have loud music or music that is repetitive — the same songs all the time. I have customers who come in every night, so there needs to be a little variation, but soft and mellow.”

When he decided to buy the bar, Atilla says, he was going to pay homage to Spinello in some way, at least invite him as a special guest to last week’s grand opening.

But he says the former owner was injured in an accident six months ago.

“He was run over by a truck,” Atilla says. “He was in a coma for three months. Now he’s in a rest home in Providence, R.I., paralyzed.”

Turk’s is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

He plans to add dining, which it was known for before smoking laws began killing the bar business.

“Maybe in two or three months,” Atilla says. “I’m just waiting for the smoking laws to get settled before I do anything.”

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