Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2013 | 6 p.m.
Anthony Bourdain found a feast of material while visiting Las Vegas last week, and we are not referring to the city’s innumerable great restaurants.
While touring Vegas to record an episode for an upcoming edition of his CNN series “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown,” Bourdain said he appreciated “the non-ironic enjoyment of red sauce and spaghetti and meatballs and a lounge singer and big drinks.”
About that singer: Some acute advance scouting led Bourdain and his production team to Bootlegger Bistro and one of the city’s favorite lounge performers, Laura Shaffer.
Shaffer appears 6 to 10 p.m. Sundays at the Bootlegger with her father, Charlie, on piano. That was the sort of scene Bourdain was seeking when he visited Shaffer last Friday night, sitting with her afterward in one of the restaurant’s burgundy booths to talk about her colorful history in the city. A jazz specialist who can sing in most any style, Shaffer has performed in lounges all over the city since 1987, gracing the stages at Bellagio, Mirage, Mandalay Bay, Paris, Rio, Venetian, Palazzo and MGM Grand. More recently, she’s been booked at Mandarin Bar in Mandarin Oriental and also has sat in with David Perrico’s Pop Evolution band during its first shows at South Point.
Bourdain’s team sought to build a segment about Shaffer in three parts: Her getting ready for a show, her talking with Bourdain over drinks at the restaurant and then her onstage. The Bootlegger does not have a dressing room per se (unless you count the restrooms, which have actually served as changing rooms for some Clark Kent-styled changeovers), so Shaffer sought South Point Showroom. In an example of Vegas’ vaunted interlocking relationships, Shaffer has appeared at the Showroom on “The Dennis Bono Show,” and Dennis — conveniently enough — is married to Bootlegger owner Lorraine Hunt Bono.
Shaffer said her appearance is to be broadcast during the spring of next year. In an email, she said of the experience, “I’m thrilled and beyond flattered to be picked out of all the entertainers in Las Vegas to be featured on this critically acclaimed program.” She’s a longtime fan of Bourdain, and we expect the opposite is now also true.
On Monday night, days after hitting up the Bootlegger, Bourdain dropped in on Oscar’s at the Plaza to interview … Oscar. At one point, Goodman told Bourdain of the prominence of pool parties in Las Vegas, talking energetically of his appearance opening Wet Republic at MGM Grand in the spring of 2012. Goodman also said he did not want to return to the private sector and preferred his ambassador role with the LVCVA, explaining, “"When I was mayor, I was treated like a king. ... I couldn't go back to being subservient.”
In his sweep of the city, Bourdain also stopped at Atomic Liquors, Lotus of Siam in the Commercial Center and Raku in Chinatown on Spring Mountain Road.
His take on the quick tour?
“I was at Raku today, and that was amazing. Lotus was amazing, too,” he said in a quick interview after finishing his session with Goodman. “I think snarky food writers are wary of the fact that (Lotus) has been overpraised, but it has not been overpraised. I’ve been to Northern Thailand, and it’s a very specifically delicious type of Thai food. It really is a great restaurant. It’s as good as they say.”
Bourdain said Las Vegas is bolstering its reputation as one of the world’s great culinary cities not for the superstar chefs, but for its smaller, “hidden gem” restaurants.
“Look, you’ve always had great high-end outposts of great chefs here. Meaning, Joel Robuchon, Guy Savoy, Tom Colicchio, Thomas Keller — they are all here, even if they are not physically here, they are all running very, very high-quality restaurants,” Bourdain said. “You’ve always had that. But, you know, I think that when you get a restaurant like Raku getting the kind of attention and business that it is getting, that’s a tipping point. That’s where it matters. Those are the places that will put you on the map as a serious dining destination.
“When your city can provide the kind of volume and diversity that Los Angeles does, at that price point, now you’re talking.”
Bourdain then asked his own question: “Do people come here just to eat? No. But it’s a part of bigger picture. While you’re here, Vegas needs to provide a big, delicious dining experience. I don’t think Joel Robuchon came out here because he liked the desert. He came out here because this is where the money is.”
And, as Bourdain found, it’s still where you can find that great Italian meal, tall cocktail and terrific lounge singer. You just need to know where to look.
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."