Monday, Feb. 15, 2021 | 2 a.m.
Originally formed 60 years ago, the Italian American Club of Las Vegas had evolved quite a bit through the decades. It was once a private social club for men only, eventually taking the big step of purchasing its current property on Sahara Avenue near Eastern Avenue and building a new headquarters, then expanding into a restaurant and lounge that was open to the public and becoming a nonprofit organization that celebrates Italian American culture and raises money for different community projects.
One thing that hasn’t changed is the club’s reputation for great music and live entertainment. In its formative years, the lounge was an after-hours hot spot for casino headliners looking to relax after their own shows. Today, as the club has soldiered on through COVID restrictions just like other restaurants, bars and lounge venues, it has provided refuge for Las Vegas-based performers whose regular gigs are still on hold.
“There are so many great singers and musicians living here and we provide them a place to show their skills,” said Angelo Cassaro, who’s on his second go-round as the club’s president. His first term began in 1988 and he’s been involved since then. “For 99% of them, that’s their life, they live it and the need to entertain. And that’s why people are coming to our place, because they love to be entertained.”
Bucky Heard, who reformed the Righteous Brothers with Bill Medley in 2016 and has been headlining with Medley at Harrah’s for years, has performed at the Italian American Club’s showroom and will be back for another show on Wednesday. Fellow Harrah’s headlining act the Bronx Wanderers also makes a return performance this week, on Thursday, and longtime Strip fixture Jimmy Hopper performs on Friday. Also coming up are country singer Chase Brown on February 24, the inimitable Frankie Scinta on February 26, and Elvis tribute artist Justin Shandor on March 5.
Those are all dinner shows planned for the 300-capacity showroom, which was operating pre-pandemic as a banquet hall and ballroom for weddings, anniversaries, bar mitzvahs and other private events. That space could make the jump this week from 25% to 35% capacity in line with the adjusted restrictions and rules announced last week by Gov. Steve Sisolak.
The Italian American Club has almost always provided live musical entertainment five nights a week in the smaller lounge space, well before COVID struck and other restaurants and bars began promoting “ambient music.”
“When the first shutdown came and everybody closed down, we had to weigh if we could and if we should reopen when it was safe enough,” Cassaro said. “A couple months after places started opening, we did too, and we continue to hold ourselves to strict COVID protocols and cleanliness. And when we couldn’t sell tickets, we set up the big stage in the showroom and started doing ambient dinner shows. Now that we’re able to [sell tickets to shows] again and be in compliance, it gives more entertainers an avenue to come in and make a few bucks.”
And local celebrities are still coming in to enjoy the show and occasionally hop onstage to participate, he said, including comedian Rich Little and Lorraine and Dennis Bono.
“The entertainment industry got hit so hard by all this, we just feel fortunate to be able to have a venue to bring in different people and groups and help keep their passion alive,” Cassaro said.