Today the Las Vegas lounge performer is considered the poor cousin to the showroom performer, an open area with a minimal cover charge where gamblers can get a break from the tables. Usually there are some young guys with a synthesizer doing cover tunes of rock hits of the day, or maybe a disco standard like Kool and the Gang or Gloria Gaynor.
While there are some really entertaining lounge performers if you look for them (see below), the practice of lounge-hopping from hotel to hotel to see great lounge acts is mostly a gone the way of Cadillac fins and chrome.
Lounges were open-area bars where the wives of gamblers could wait while their husbands would gamble and keep their eye on her. The music tended towards classy piano cocktail music. That all changed when Las Vegas entertainment history was made on November 24, 1954. That’s the day Louis Prima and his wife Keely Smith made it in from New York and stepped onto the stage of the Casbah Lounge at the Sahara Hotel. Louis was broke, and begged the Sahara for a shot, but the only thing open was the lounge. They would do 5 shows a night from midnight until 6 in the morning.
Keely Smith remembers...”The service bar for the waitresses was right in front of the stage. We’d be singing and a waitress would come up and yell, ‘I need four beers, two scotch and sodas, and gimme a Coke!’ right in front of us. Louis would stop everything and say, ‘Are you through , honey?’ She’d nod her head and we’d start singing again, right where we left off.”
Louis and Keely, along with sax man Sam Butera, were not just musicians but also entertainers who put on a show. Their mixture of jazz, r&b and swing were so louder than the slot machines and the hotel had to start enclosing the room. Soon the crowds began to come and before long they were out-drawing the main room.
From those beginnings in the 50s, lounge-hopping became a ritual among visitors to the Strip. You could go up and down the strip and see performers like Billy Daniels, Eartha Kitt, Red Norvo, Don Rickles, Redd Foxx, Billy Daniels, Shecky Greene and others for just a cover charge.
Still today, there are some unique performers performing in Vegas lounges that are worth searching for. If you’re sick of seeing rock acts in stadiums and needing binoculars just to see the stage, it’s refershing to sit in an intimate setting and be entertained by up and coming performers. Who knows....one day some of those performers may be working the Big Room.
Today’s Lounge Performers
Are you prepared to enter the Inner Swankdom of Vargas? If so, then head over to the Fontana Lounge at Bellagio. “He jumps. He kicks. He swings. He does karate chops to Neal Hefti’s Batman Theme,” writes Las Vegas Life, who named Vargas as Best Lounge Singer. “Vargas is exactly the kind of entertainer that visitors come to Vegas expecting to see.”
Art grew up in Detroit and arrived in Vegas in 1987, did a stint as Bobby Darin in the Legends in Concert show, and now has developed a following in the lounges of Vegas..hoping for the day he makes it to the Big Room.
Art tells Classic Vegas that “so many tourists are disappointed when they find synthesized Top 40 disco cover bands all over town...I actually had Entertainment Directors say to me that nobody wants to hear Frank Sinatra or Louis Prima, that the stuff is old and nobody would be interested. What fools they are! Swank on!”
In the meantime, be sure to visit Art’s web site at www.avargas.com where you can check out his new CD, You Perfect Stranger
Vargas Performance Schedule
Bellagio Hotel Fontana Room
July 8 (5:15 pm-9:30 pm)
July 30 & 31 (5:15 pm-9:30 pm)
August 3 & 4 (2:15 pm-6:30 pm)
August 5 (5:15 pm-9:30 pm)
Do you know other good Las Vegas lounge performers that we should know about? Maybe you’re on yourself. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org