Just picture it: Frank Sinatra in his prime, as one of the most celebrated and iconic entertainers of all time, christening the brand-new Theatre Ballroom (now the Gordie Brown Showroom) inside the Golden Nugget in 1984. What’s more, it’s right in the heart of Downtown Las Vegas, a town he had become synonymous with for decades.
Photo: Las Vegas News Bureau
The pomp. The pageantry. The electricity of opening night.
And Sinatra prepared for this momentous show – in the freight elevator.
The room where Ol’ Blue Eyes headlined from 1984 – 1989 was originally never intended to be a showroom, and once the resort inked Sinatra to the deal, it scrambled to convert the room into a theater. But one thing wasn’t ready in time – Sinatra’s dressing room.
Eventually the dressing room was completed, and part of it remains the same as it was more than a quarter of a century ago. But despite the temporary inconvenience, the late Sinatra – who would have been 100 years old on Dec. 12 – would look fondly on those days.
Sinatra headlined at the Golden Nugget from 1984-1989. Some of his dressing room, which wasn’t built until after the show opened, remains intact from when he performed there.
Sinatra and his legacy will also be honored at a huge made-for-TV gala at Wynn Las Vegas Dec. 2 (airing Dec. 6) in celebration of the 100th anniversary of his birth.
Las Vegas was Sinatra’s playground, and he loved to play here. The trail that Sinatra blazed through the city covers a variety of dining hot spots, showrooms, lounges and more all over the valley. Here’s a guided tour down some of that path:
GOLDEN GATE HOTEL AND CASINO
A quick stop for a drink at Bar Prohibition will definitely give you that vintage Vegas feeling. After all, it’s where Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. and the rest of the Rat Pack were said to have had drinks together.
Sinatra and friends are said to have shared a few cocktails at Golden Gate where Bar Prohibition is today.
GOLDEN STEER STEAK HOUSE
Heading south from downtown on Las Vegas Boulevard and making a quick right at Sahara Avenue will take you to the Golden Steer Steak House. This iconic Las Vegas dining destination for celebrities has been around for a half century, and music icons from Ol’ Blue Eyes to Elvis to to B.B. King were consistent patrons of the cozy and intimate steakhouse and lounge.
Sinatra often dined at the Golden Steer Steak House – so often that he had
a private booth where people can still make reservations to eat today.
In fact, Sinatra was such a frequent visitor, that he had a booth named after him – even while he was still coming to dine there. That was his spot, and you can still make reservations to eat in the Sinatra booth to this day.
East a few blocks on Sahara, south on Maryland Parkway and you’re not far from Champagnes Café. This otherwise unassuming dive bar is rich with Las Vegas history, as both a popular hangout for the Rat Pack back in the day, but also Tony Spilotro’s infamous Hole in the Wall Gang.
Champagnes Cafe was a favorite hangout of the Rat Pack.
Check out the red velvet and pictures of Sinatra and Co. The nostalgia alone makes it worth a visit.
Photo: Michael Groth
If you hop back on Maryland Parkway southbound and hang a quick right on Twain Avenue, you’ll be heading toward the fabulous Strip. Twain Avenue eventually becomes Sands Drive and when it reaches Las Vegas Boulevard, you’re at The Venetian/Palazzo. This is the former site of the Sands, where Sinatra and the Rat Pack headlined at the Copa Room in the 1960s.
Sinatra backstage at the Sands’ Copa Room, circa 1965.
If you’re looking for an existing venue where Sinatra played on the Strip, keep heading south to Flamingo Road and pay tribute at Caesars Palace, Sinatra’s home in the latter part of the decade.
Sinatra began headlining at Caesars Palace after Howard Hughes’ 1967 purchase of the Sands led to a heated dispute with Sands management over Sinatra’s credit at the casino.
Just across the street is the Flamingo hotel. Sinatra never headlined there, but if you’re a fan of the original Ocean’s Eleven, here’s a neat piece of nostalgia: The Flamingo is the only remaining hotel from that classic film.
The places Sinatra hung out were classic, but Sinatra’s resonance extends far beyond these locations. He represents a vintage style, a culture that is still embraced by fans today.
Vintage music isn’t the only sign of the times at the Las Vegas Church of Sinatra meetings.
A visit to any monthly meeting of the Las Vegas of the Church of Sinatra will confirm that the culture of the Rat Pack days is alive and well, even in 2015.
“That’s really the foundation for it – the vintage culture,” says Donny Jacobs, the bishop of the Vegas chapter. Jacobs first attended a Church of Sinatra meeting in 1998 in San Francisco and is responsible for creating a branch in Las Vegas.
“It started as an excuse for friends to dress up, listen to old music, have some fancy cocktails and enjoy a piece of that lifestyle, and it just grew from there,” Jacobs explains. “They are all over now and when I came here from Houston, I was encouraged to start one here in Las Vegas.”
“This used to be a town where, after 6 p.m., if you went to Caesars Palace (another venue where Sinatra regularly performed in his heyday), it was always black tie. Nobody wore shorts and sandals and T-shirts. There’s such a decline in style over the years and I think that’s what people enjoy the most here – getting dressed up,” he said.
Attendees at Church of Sinatra meetings love to dress in that vintage Sinatra style.
Las Vegan Eric Foemmel opens his home up to meetings, which range in attendance from seven to 75, as frequently as possible.
“I turn the pool into a ‘dive-in’ theater and we project old movies on the wall in the back yard .… We have the best time enjoying music and a few drinks with friends. That’s what this party is really all about.”
In many ways, Sinatra’s life was all about the same things. We may be celebrating a century since his birth, but the memories he created in Las Vegas will live forever.
Happy 100th, Chairman.
Photo: Las Vegas News Bureau