The lounge act, long a staple in the golden age of Las Vegas, is not dead – just disguised as an Italian restaurant.
“I remember when I first came to town 43 years ago and being able to see the best in entertainment in the lounges from 4 in the afternoon until 2 a.m.,” said Tony Montana, owner and operator of LaScala (1020 E. Desert Inn Rd). “I know what those shows meant.”
At the height of its popularity, many of the cast of Casino dined here after filming some scenes in the restaurant. “Marty Scorcese, Nick Pileggi, Robert DiNiro, Joe Pesci would all eat here. Joe Pig (owner Pignatello was Frank Sinatra’s personal chef) and was my boss.”
Of course there is the inevitable link to the Tony Montana of the famed film Scarface, but any comparison to the Al Pacino character is by name only. This Tony is 80 and closer in resemblance to Andy Worhol.
“Living in Las Vegas has extended my life 10 years,” Montana said. “The weather was rough in Chicago. There were only 180,000 people in Vegas when I first came here in 1970. Today you can still get an affordable one bedroom place to live at $600 a month. Not many places can say that.”
And there are reportedly two movie opportunities for LaScala on the horizon, including one called Mafia Heaven slated to star Las Vegas icon Christopher Walken.
“This is all great for us and we continue to attract business by word of mouth,” said Montana, who has run LaScala the last 12-1/2 years with a staff of 11. “My philosophy is simple. You hire the best chef, buy nothing but the top grade of food, make sure you have the best ambiance and keep prices down as much as you can.”
Much like Casa D’Amore on the eastside of town, LaScala is a trip back in the rich and romantic past of Las Vegas when the Rat Pack was in charge and every night was an experience.
“It was a Damon Runyon town, full of characters,” Montana said. “We still get a lot of celebs like Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, Bill Lucking (Sons of Anarchy) and poker pro Jennifer Harman. But people come for our atmosphere, food and entertainment.”
Being a simple person from the 212 area, this New Yorker enjoys the killer meat balls and spaghetti combined with Mr. Saturday Night, Craig Canter, now a weekly performer at LaScala. There is also a lively Friday night lounge show here with a revolving group of lead female vocalists.
“We’ll always be Italian,” Montana said. “And we’ll always be a place for martinis and cognacs. Dinner, drinks and entertainment here are high caliber.”
There is also free parking and valet available. Chivalry and class, thankfully, haven’t totally disappeared.
“People come here from Summerlin and Henderson,” Montana said. “They are regulars because I am good with people. Sure, it’s a different time than it was. Customers you had at 45 and 50 are now in their 70’s. They don’t go out and eat as much. It’s necessary to recruit an age 30 to 40 middle class, which we do.”
LaScala has been able to survive, despite a neighborhood with its share of difficulties due to the tough economic times we’re facing.
“Location is something you deal with, but we like our situation,” Montana said. “You have 100,000 vehicles riding along Desert Inn all the time in front of us. I am putting in 12-14 hours a day in here. And as we speak, the bar area is expanding from 12 to 24 seats. I think the fact we can seat 125 people works real well for our venue.”
Mark Mayer has over 35 years covering sports events and is the sports editor at GT. Reach him at [email protected].