There will always be a romanticism in Las Vegas for the mob whether it’s the downtown museum and nearby bar or characters like Tony Montana.
“If you were a teenager living back in 1930s Chicago, either you became a priest or one of ‘them,’” said Montana, who had recently operated LaScala Restaurant (off Joe E. Brown and E. Desert Inn) until a flood six months ago shut it down permanently. “At 14, I was not ready to become a priest.”
Montana prides himself on being “the original Tony Montana” and not the Al Pacino character in “Scarface.”
“Tony Montana is not a taken name,” he said. “No ties to Pacino or the original ‘Scarface’ movie made in the 1920s starring Paul Muni and George Raft. But it is a good marketing name.”
So Montana rode the notoriety and just finished co-writing a book with Nathan Nelson about his life in the Chicago outfit called “The Real Tony Montana” ($17.95 on Amazon). He’s lived in Las Vegas since early 1970’s during that glorious era where the mob ran this town and the Rat Pack was in its heyday.
“I thought Vegas was paradise then,” Montana said. “There were only 180,000 people. Now you have that many on I-15 at any given time.”
The Montana story really begins as that 14-year-old living in the Italian section of Chicago during the Depression when the choices were limited during the days of Al Capone.
“Organized crime was all over that area,” Montana said. “Everybody was doing moonshining for Capone and all. Eventually I had to get out of Chicago. It was just too cold. I wanted warmer weather.”
Enter Vegas, the desert mecca for those who were mob-connected to live and flourish.
“The 70s was the greatest decade,” he said. “When I walked into a grocery store there were 10 people. I knew six of them. That was Vegas. The town was run real tight but there was a lot of money being made and you got free comps.”
Montana stresses he was not a mob hit man, but acknowledges his ties to organized crime had the law monitoring him.
“They put a tracer on the bottom of my car and followed me around,” he said. “The law was all over the place. But I wanted to be legitimate in making money. That’s the reason for the book, to show that the mob wasn’t all about pulling out baseball bats and killing people.”
Many in the Vegas mob were driving around in Mercedes and living in multi-million dollar homes. It’s a lifestyle few people wouldn’t want.
“I ran clubs here like Tiffany’s at the Jockey Club and Villa d’Este, which is now Piero’s,” Montana said. “I liked the restaurant business. If you gave people plugs, they respected you.”
Montana took two years to write the book, opting to wait until everyone he knew was dead and buried. Even Jimmy Hoffa.
“I was really under the radar,” he said. “I was making a good living. If I needed a favor, I could get it anytime I wanted. I still enjoy Vegas, it’s a great town.”
With LaScala now history, Montana is focusing on promoting his book around the country and working on a film script to his story.
“I’m 81 and active,” he said. “I do book signings, I talk at UNLV before Rhodes scholars. They always ask me how many bodies are buried in the desert or what happened to Hoffa? I tell them it could have been the last hot dog he ate.”
Montana is sad about what he sees as Vegas having lost a lot of its old style charm that came from gaming and the mob. The town is now corporate, and entertainment, not casinos, is the top draw.
“Out of 100 people who come here, 70 go to the nightclubs,” he said. “Gaming is failing. They are going to parties. I’m not an economist, but they shouldn’t have built some of these buildings. It was a mistake.”
When asked to describe his book, Montana’s response does have a ring of Pacino.
“It’s not ‘War and Peace,’” he said. “But, it’s a nice read and leaves a lot for people to understand.”
Mark Mayer has over 35 years covering sports events and is the sports editor at GT. Reach him at [email protected].