“According to the map, it’s right next to the Viva Las Vegas Wedding Chapel.” This is me talking, navigating for my accomplice as we head toward Ron DeCar’s Event Center for the first time. We’ve come for a show featuring Kelly Clinton, whose performances we have so often enjoyed at the Bootlegger.
“Actually,” I continue, “it looks like it’s attached to the wedding chapel.” I scan the map again. “And a Thai restaurant.”
We head up Las Vegas Boulevard, amazed that something as imposing-sounding as an event center could have eluded our awareness. We’ve been to the Viva Las Vegas Wedding Chapel more than once. It just might qualify as our favorite such establishment. Whether you want a zombie, a pirate, or a traditional Elvis as officiant, it’s the place to head for a fantasy wedding with classic Vegas ambiance.
We pull into the parking lot at 1201 South Las Vegas Boulevard, which is adjacent to the wedding chapel. Sure enough, just past the Ocha Thai Restaurant in a long, low stucco building, we find a door labeled “Ron DeCar’s Event Center – Vintage Las Vegas.”
How have I never heard about this place before? I wonder as we try the event center’s arched church-style doors. They are locked, but judging from the other people loitering about in evening dress, we figure they’ll open as advertised at seven o’clock. We fill the few intervening minutes with a circuit of the wedding chapel and motel. We overhear a couple exchanging vows in an enclosed garden, and we hear Elvis crooning from a larger indoor venue.
Back at the Event Center, the crowd has grown to several dozen when the doors swing open. We join the crowd filing inside. I have learned, in my decade-and-a-half of living in Las Vegas, that judging a building by its exterior can lead to serious error. I never would have eaten at Rosemary’s or Lotus of Siam, for example, if I had allowed their mundane facades to guide me, and I certainly never would have gone inside the Pinball Hall of Fame. Ron De Car’s Event Center is exactly that sort of Las Vegas secret. An unrevealing oyster from the street, it’s a sweet pearl on the inside.
Somehow, like Dr. Who’s phone booth, it’s bigger on the inside, too. The hall is roughly the shape of a grand piano, and large enough to qualify as a ballroom. The main section is filled with tables and chairs swathed lavishly in taffeta. Chandeliers hang from the ceiling, theater lights trained on their twinkling crystals. In the corner, a stage is concealed by a gold curtain accented by sumptuous fringed brocade swags. Off to the right, in the slightly narrower section of the room, a full bar sparkles. Against the far wall, servers are putting the finishing touches on a buffet.
We’re shown to the “VIP” table we reserved (for $25 a person. Regular seats are $15 apiece.) It’s in the front row, less than an arm’s reach from the stage. A card has our names on it. As we take our seats, I am still absorbing all the vintage Vegas ambiance, perfect right down to the server who appears wearing black slacks and a white shirt.
The menu reveals a full menu with prices that are refreshingly vintage, too. The reasonably priced buffet ($18; $14 for seniors) looks inviting, but we settle on pulled pork sliders and a bottle of Cabernet. Our total tab is about forty bucks.
Ron DeCar himself welcomes the assembled multitudes. Every table is occupied by the time he steps into the spotlight. A veteran of the Folies Bergere at the Tropicana, DeCar is now known to thousands of newlyweds as the Elvis (or zombie or pirate) who married them. Assisted by illustrations on the two large flat screens flanking the stage, DeCar gives a quick history of his eponymous venue. Less than two years ago, the building was a neglected, junk-filled warehouse. But now, DeCar explains, “We have all the permits,” by which he means he has acquired every possible governmental stamp of approval necessary for serving food, pouring beverage, and providing entertainment.
All this info — and the photo of the distressed warehouse he began with — makes me even more impressed by how well DeCar has recreated the look and feel of Liberace’s era. Classic sound happens here, too, I learn, as he runs through the lineup of upcoming shows. From “Big Band Saturdays” and “Swingin’ Sundays” to “The Queens of Jazz” and a variety of vocalists, it’s as though The Las Vegas lounge era never ended. (Tickets run from $10 to $55.)
As always, Kelly Clinton and her ensemble of special guests captivated the full house. She promised us she will return. No one asked me for a commitment, but I will return, too. Often.