Insider's Guide to Vegas
We hit the road with inimitable mayor Oscar Goodman for a look at his Vegas.
(FORTUNE Magazine) - There are really two Las Vegases. The first is that mythic patch of Nevada desert called the Strip, whose best-known monuments are a New York skyline and an Egyptian temple.
The other is Oscar Goodman's Vegas--a real metropolis of 518,000 souls that stands just a few minutes' drive from the tourist mecca. As mayor and mascot of one of the fastest-growing cities in America, Goodman wants the world to know about his part of town, where an expanding array of stores, restaurants, galleries, bars, and casinos are open for business. To that end, he recently rounded up a few friends--including one Elvis impersonator, two showgirls, three burlesque performers, a glittering exotic dancer named Leonard the Magnificent, and four-foot-tall Little Tim, whom the mayor calls his "good-luck piece"--for a personal tour of his favorite haunts.
"I drink like a fish, gamble with both hands, and cavort with showgirls," says the 66-year-old mayor. A former Mob lawyer who often travels with an entourage and who won reelection with 86% of the vote in 2003, he is almost Donald Trumpian. ("A brilliant move by the mayor," he says of one land development he's helping plan.) Strolling through the GOLDEN NUGGET (129 East Fremont Street)--one of the big casinos off the Strip, in the downtown area--the mayor is continually stopped by fawning patrons and dealers. We don't stop to gamble (Goodman prefers betting on sports to the slots), but he talks eagerly about the Nugget's planned expansion--a new condo tower, a theater, an aquarium. "There hadn't been a new building built in 25 years downtown" until recently, says Goodman.
But casinos are only part of his city's charms. His day starts at what he refers to as "City Hall East," an old-school Vegas diner named THE OMELET HOUSE (2160 West Charleston Boulevard), where the mayor orders coffee and holds court in his regular booth. (For the best service, he says, "ask for Betty.") Goodman doesn't dine--"I don't eat anything until I drink gin at five," he says wryly. "I don't want to ruin the jolt"--but he encourages breakfast partners to feast on the six-egg omelets and the famous pumpkin bread.
When 5 o'clock rolls around, one spot Goodman raves about for a gin jolt is HOGS & HEIFERS (201 North Third Street), a newly opened bar known for its vast collection of donated bras (and its mayor Goodman bobblehead collection). The mayor, who arrived at the grand-opening celebration in September on the back of the owner's Harley, brags about the crowd the place has attracted: "They had 8,000 bikers in here the first weekend!"
Another of the mayor's favorite watering holes, ART BAR (1511 South Main Street), is just a short jaunt from City Hall. The day we visit, we're greeted by proprietor Jesse Garon, who also happens to be an Elvis impersonator. (Despite $15,000 of plastic surgery, Garon acknowledges that he "can't be Elvis forever.") As the showgirls and I take in the local paintings, slot machines, and yards of velvet, the mayor heads for his honorary martini glass (the size of a giant inverted party hat). Garon demonstrates a "shot of burning love," a Jell-O shot squirted into a drinker's mouth via a phony syringe. "He's a nice kid," Goodman says, "very reliable."
For a slightly more highbrow experience, the mayor points us toward what he calls "the best-kept secret in Las Vegas." Tucked away inside the Fremont Hotel & Casino is the SECOND STREET GRILL. With dark wood-paneled walls, cozy booths, and a $16.95 T-bone, this is where the mayor goes on the rare occasion when he doesn't want to press the flesh. "My wife and I will sneak in there and pretend that no one knows us," says Goodman. When the Conference of Mayors descends on Vegas in June 2006 (a coup for Goodman), expect the grill to be packed.
Gambling, eating, drinking. What's left for a humble mayor to share? After-hours action, naturally. To wind down a late night with fellow city dwellers, the mayor recommends the WHITE CROSS DRUGSTORE (1700 Las Vegas Boulevard South), a 24-hour pharmacy and luncheonette where Elvis types rub shoulders with cab drivers and hookers. "If I'm up at three in the morning, there's no other place to go," says Goodman. At least until it's time to do it all over again.