Friday, Jan. 4, 2013 | 2:09 p.m.
Map of Plaza Hotel and Casino
1 Main Street, Las Vegas
Grifters and con artists infest the world, but the lure of "easy money" in Las Vegas combined with the city's mobbed-up history has to add incentive for them to try their ploys here.
Business owners, likewise, are always on the lookout for cons.
Four women had a grand time dining on steak and potatoes and sipping drinks Wednesday night at Oscar’s Beef, Booze & Broads in the Plaza at the far west end of Fremont Street. Three of them appeared to be playing the parts of grandmother, mother and granddaughter, all of them wealthy and from Beverly Hills.
Michael Cornthwaite, who co-owns the restaurant with former Mayor Oscar Goodman, was in the back when a waiter came back holding a plate and forkful of potato – with a dried mealworm on top. One of the women said she found the worm in her potato.
Cornthwaite, who also operates the Downtown Cocktail Room, The Beat Coffeehouse & Records, as well as Emergency Arts, has a long history in the service industry. Take the potato off the bill and give them a free dessert, he told the waiter: “I guess it’s not impossible," Cornthwaite reasoned, "potatoes come from the ground and we can’t X-ray them."
Cornthwaite came out and talked to the women, who derided the restaurant, haughtily informing Cornthwaite of their wealth.
“We own property in Beverly Hills,” they told him. “It’s not about the money, it’s the principle.”
Cornthwaite sensed something was going on. He told his hostess to call security; the four women suddenly disappeared into the bathroom.
The busser then approached having found a plastic Ziploc bag full of about 100 mealworms under the women’s table.
They came out saying they would report the restaurant to health inspectors. Cornthwaite offered to call the police, telling them that defrauding a business is a crime. Then he pulled out the bag of mealworms.
They were stunned for a moment, then collected themselves and claimed to have no idea where they came from.
Not only was he going to insist on payment, Cornthwaite told them, he was adding a 20 percent gratuity. The three women foraged through their purses and came up with a credit card. He also got an ID card to verify that the card wasn’t stolen.
The card said the woman was from Atwater, Calif.
“I didn’t know Atwater was in Beverly Hills,” Cornthwaite said.
The card cleared, the four left, and Cornthwaite ended the night with a tiny victory in the ongoing fight against visiting thieves and grifters.
“A few people still deserve to get whacked,” Cornthwaite said. “I’m glad Oscar wasn’t there.”
The Plaza, renovated in 2011, has a lobby that features marble and inlaid mosaic tiles, chandeliers and a plush front desk that matches the classic Las Vegas feel with a contemporary look.
The hotel has 1,003 rooms and suites that showcase views of the Las Vegas Strip and downtown Las Vegas. Amenities include world-class entertainment, a casino floor that offers an array of classic gaming choice, which include 600 slot machines, a 400-seat bingo room, 18 table games and 57,120 square feet of casino space.
Among the dining options is Oscar's Beef * Booze * Broads, a steakhouse opened by former Las Vegas Mayor Oscar B. Goodman, which is located in the glittery dome enclosure above the hotel's main entrance.
The Plaza sits at the west end of the Fremont Street Experience on the site of the first train depot and auction site in Las Vegas, dating back to the San Pedro-Los Angeles-Salt Lake Railroad in 1905. The railroad was sold to Union Pacific in 1921 and the depot was demolished in 1970 to make way for the Union Plaza Hotel, built in 1971.
The hotel has been featured or is visible in several movies, including the 1971 James Bond film, "Diamonds are Forever;" the 1989 film "Back to the Future Part II;" the 1995 move "Casino," and the 2000 movie "Pay it Forward."
Joe Schoenmann doesn’t just cover downtown, he lives and works there. Schoenmann is Greenspun Media Group’s embedded downtown journalist, working from an office in the Emergency Arts building.