Young Thais are drawn by the big city lifestyle
Former Mayor Oscar Goodman – the one-time mob lawyer who brags openly about getting his (now deceased) client Anthony ‘The Ant’ Spilotro out of the ‘whole head-in-a-vice thing’ – was instrumental in making all this happen, and on the whole, Las Vegans love him for it. When I go to see Goodman at his office near the Las Vegas Convention Center, he refuses to take it all too seriously. ‘Everyone tries to guess the significance of the squished titanium,’ he tells me, of the Lou Ruvo Center. ‘They say, “Oh, y’know, it’s a metaphor for the human brain”, all that stuff. Well – not so.’ Goodman, who is now 73, with a rash of white stubble, ample belly and drinker’s nose, proceeds to give the real story. ‘What happened is that Frank Gehry had an aversion to Las Vegas, and it took us a very long time to convince him to do a project out here. When he finally agreed, we went out to see him at his office, and I remember he had some crepe paper on his desk. He screwed it up, then he threw it down on the floor.’
Goodman shrugs as if in apology. ‘That was it,’ he says. ‘The design never really changed.’
Dining: Steak and cupcakes
Ask Goodman for the official dish of Las Vegas, and he doesn’t even take a breath: ‘Steak!’ The bloodier the better. When the mob still ran the city, it’s all they wanted. Clearly, the members of Sin City’s brutally violent gambling syndicates didn’t spend a great deal of time worrying about cholesterol. Indeed, in the car park of one of Sin City’s better known red meat establishments – Tony Roma’s on Sahara Avenue – you can still make out the scorch marks from the car comb that almost killed Frank ‘Lefty’ Rosenthal in 1982. (Lefty being the former casino executive who gained infamy during a congressional mob investigation for exercising the Fifth Amendment right to remain silent no fewer than 37 times, even when asked if he was left-handed.)
Since retiring as mayor, Goodman has opened his own place, Oscar’s Beef, Booze and Broads in the Plaza Hotel, overlooking the enclosed and redeveloped Fremont Street, which resembles a kind of vast, post-modern take on London’s Smithfield Market. (At night, live bands play on the street while halfnaked girls dance above the blackjack tables in the casinos.) The beef and booze are self-explanatory. As for the broads, well, Goodman is known for ‘never going anywhere without my showgirls’.
In reality, these turn out to be dancers in backless dresses and elaborate headgear who act as hostesses, and while I’m enjoying my New York strip steak at the bar, one of them comes over – a vision of shimmering red plumes – and asks how I’m doing. Couldn’t be better, I blush. I recommend asking for What Oscar’s Having, a gin cocktail, no vermouth, with the olive replaced by a jalapeño. Oh, and avoid the Mitt Romney – unless you want a grinning barman to bring you a glass of water.
If you spend long enough at Oscar’s, you’ll almost certainly meet ‘Hizzoner’ himself, who spends an hour every day in his memorabilia-stacked office behind the bar, composing his memoirs. And if he’s not there, you’ll at least see his likeness plastered all over the walls. ‘Look, no-one else in this town could call their restaurant Oscar’s Beef, Booze and Broads without getting hit over the head by the political correctness department,’ he tells me. ‘But it's me! People just say, “Oh, that’s Oscar being Oscar...”’