Las Vegas Sun

October 18, 2019

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An experiment in pop culture fun on the Strip: Anime-attired waitresses

In lounge at Monte Carlo, Japanese characters do the serving


Leila Navidi

Cocktail servers, from left, Heidi Haldman, dressed as “Rukia Kuckiki,” Fatima “Phoebe” Barkoff as “Sailor Jupiter,” Janae Tigrett as “Ichigo Momomiya” and Carmen Yau as “Airgear Simca” joke around in the new cosplay-themed lounge in the Monte Carlo. Cosplay is the hobby of dressing like Japanese anime characters.

It sounded like an odd fit for Vegas.

The fact is the waitresses in the new lounge at the Dragon Noodle Co. inside the Monte Carlo aren’t wearing uniforms. They’re wearing costumes.

It’s true that melding entertainment and service isn’t new to town. There are the singing waiters at Paris Las Vegas and celebrity impersonators dealing cards at the Imperial Palace. But these waitresses are dressed as characters from Japanese anime cartoons, a hobby known as cosplay.

Two things stand out about the American cosplay community: it skews very young, to teens and even pre-teens, and it is, well, geeky, neither of which is an audience that gets catered to often in Las Vegas. Yes, there was Star Trek: The Experience, but that’s closed and besides, those were old geeks. They could buy drinks. This sounds like having a Miley Cyrus-themed lounge.

We asked the co-owner of Dragon Noodle Co., Charles “Chipper” Pastron, the man who came up with the idea for a cosplay lounge in Las Vegas, for an interview and an explanation. He responded by bringing along his new bartender and cosplayer, Heidi Haldman. She was already working in town as a bartender, one who happened to have a side hobby dressing up in homemade Japanese cartoon costumes. (“It’s the only thing that keeps me sane in this crazy town,” she says.)

Haldman said that when she saw an ad on Craigslist for a cosplay bartender, she knew she had found the perfect job. Pastron says she’s his anime expert and an ambassador to Las Vegas’ fledgling cosplay community. She says that while most fans might be too young to drink (though they could still order food and soda), the organizers of cosplay conventions are old enough. Plus, there’s an anime club at UNLV. So that’s a few people right there, plus word should get out online for tourists.

It is only a 40-seat lounge, after all.

For Pastron, cosplay was an aesthetic reference point when he remodeled the 13-year-old restaurant, with its Pacific Rim fusion cuisine and tiki drinks. He was looking to update it, add a little bit of pop culture fun to it. He kept talking about cosplay-like things, maybe occasional cosplay events until one day, he just figured he’d go all the way and dress the waitresses up in cosplay costumes.

So far, the experiment is a month old. Mostly the costumes are schoolgirl outfits from the well-known “Sailor Moon” series. And how do they go over with tourists?

“They look at us like we’re kind of crazy and then they take pictures with us,” says Janae Tigrett, one of the waitress, who is dressed in a shiny red maid outfit of a mutated cat girl from “Tokyo Mew Mew.”

(Don’t ask.)

Someday soon, Pastron and Haldman say, they will redecorate the lounge to make it more cosplay and anime themed. So far the restaurant has invested only about $800 in four costumes, which Pastron says is “not a tremendous amount of money, provided they last,” which is an open question. These are, after all, costumes designed to be worn once a month, not nightly for a six-hour shift of work. Some reinforcements and repairs may be needed.

Oh, one other thing about the costumes: the skirts, in keeping with animie norms, are about as long as Nebraska’s coastline.

“I can’t bend over in this dress at all, it’s so short,” Haldman says.

“But that’s how it is in anime,” says Pastron.

And in Vegas.

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