Talk to Tom Michel about The Vegas Room, a restaurant with entertainment, owned by his life partner, Chef David James Robinson, and the superlatives keep coming.
“Seventy five-percent of people who come to The Vegas Room once are returning again.”
“Our food is hand crafted and has had many very positive reviews.”
“The Vegas Room has manifested itself as a friendly gathering spot for locals; it is like Cheers for the live-music crowd.”
“Our Director of Entertainment (Brent Barrett) has set a high bar for the kind of entertainment we provide.”
‘In the midst of this coronavirus mess, the stars have aligned and we are doing what we are supposed to be doing.”
That last statement has plenty of implications. Robinson and Michel were New Yorkers when 9/11 hit. Both men changed careers as a result. Robinson the home cook who worked in an ad agency decided to attend culinary school and Michel, a TV executive, sought employment in the world he loved, the arts. Both men felt “life is too short” not to follow their passions.
After Robinson operated a luxury catering business in New York’s Hudson Valley for almost a decade, the pair moved to Salt Lake City Utah where Robinson opened a Southern restaurant and Michel was head of marketing and development for Ballet West (in New York he held the senior-most marketing role at cultural institutions such as The Metropolitan Opera, The Public Theatre/Shakespeare in the Park, The New York Film Festival, etc.) From Salt Lake City and later from Las Vegas, he assumed the head of marketing role for Arizona Opera.
In 2017 after three years in Salt Lake City, the pair made the move to Las Vegas, their favorite vacation spot. Robinson decided to continue his catering business as Las Vegas Fine Catering & Events. He secured restaurant space in an older commercial space off Sahara Blvd. and he and Michel went on to extensively renovate the space. “We leased a space that was a former Korean restaurant and we touched every single part of the space with our renovation. When you walk into the space now, it definitely feels like us based upon the multitude of design choices that we made,” said Michel. The lease, incidentally, is for five years.
Along the way Robinson planned a large private party for friends to honor Michel on his 60th birthday. He knew Michel had been a big fan of singer Brent Barrett when Barrett was in New York. (Michel had seen Barrett’s performance off-Broadway in “Closer then Ever” multiple times.) Robinson knew Barrett had also moved to Las Vegas years ago, and he invited the singer to be a special party guest, singing for the crowd accompanied by Michel, a pianist. The party was a huge success and the private gathering was repeated again as a holiday party, again with Barrett as a special guest.
As a result of the party successes, Robinson and Michel decided when they opened for business, they would have one night a month open to the public with entertainment.
The Vegas Room opened for business in early March. Ten days later, with the coronavirus restrictions in force, the business closed.
During the closure, the pair met singer Amanda King who eventually was offered the pair’s home as a setting for her Stageit streaming concerts. Having the arts performed at home was appealing for Robinson and Michel, as it was also a way for them to help local performers raise funds to pay their living expenses. With the help of Barrett, they sought out other local talents who may have needed a setting for live streaming. The whole experience was exciting and the pair then decided, encouraged by Barrett, that when they reopened The Vegas Room, they would focus much more of their attention on re-opening as a cabaret and less on external catering.
On June 19th, The Vegas Room reopened for dinner and entertainment featuring Broadway veteran and local favorite Eric Jordan Young. The restaurant’s 110 seats had been reduced to less than half that number though Michel says the space’s “sweet spot” from a guest comfort standpoint is 30 to 35 guests and with that number the bills can be paid.
Brent Barrett has become the Room’s Entertainment Director; Michel is company President. A fourth member of the team is General Manager Sean Stephenson, a jack of all trades. “He may be a carpenter one day, a lighting designer, a greeter and/or a server of desserts. His role is critical,” says Michel.
These days The Vegas Room is open Friday and Saturday nights for dinner and Sundays for brunch. Prices for dinner and a show run from $49 to $79 per person. Audience members have seen shows by Barrett, celebrating a 40-year Broadway career, Eric Jordan Young, Janien Valentine, Amanda King, Toscha Comeaux, Anne Martinez, Randal Keith, Travis Cloer, Patrick Hogan, Ian Ward and Skye Dee Miles. Barrett, incidentally, spent three years in Las Vegas as the Phantom in Phantom of the Opera. He and his partner, Bernie Blank, then moved back to New York for three years. The pair then realized they loved living in Las Vegas and moved back to Las Vegas for the long term.
The Vegas Room today is one of the few venues in the “entertainment capital of the world” to feature live music. Be prepared to wear a mask when entering, have a temperature and hand-sanitizer check. Also be prepared to be welcomed genuinely and re-welcomed as you sit at your table or booth.
Currently The Vegas Room is open Friday and Saturday nights and Sundays for brunch. The future may include Thursday night performances as well and quite possibly alignment with local non-profit organizations for fund-raising. Inquiries have also been made about private events at the space as well.
Author’s note: I have attended several of The Vegas Room performances and the attached video features excerpts from performances by Brent Barrett, Tosha Comeaux and Ian Ward.