By Jerry Fink <firstname.lastname@example.org> Las Vegas Sun
1501 W. Sahara Ave. 214-4000 www.theartisanhotel.com
Tucked away in an industrial district - surrounded by freeway overpasses, welding shops, recycling businesses and the occasional topless club - a Las Vegas jewel hides.
You can see the 64-room boutique hotel from Interstate 15. You can find it in the phone book: the Artisan Hotel and Spa, 1501 W. Sahara Ave. But unless you are familiar with the confusing convergence of major arteries and dead-end streets, getting there can be an adventure.
"I like the seclusion," says Michael Dennis, who discovered the diamond in the rough a couple of months ago while searching for a hip spot to hear jazz - close to the Strip but miles away from its chaos.
"The isolation is part of the charm," says hotel owner Doug DaSilva. "It's quiet, off by itself, off the beaten path, very bohemian."
When he bought it five years ago, it was an old Travelodge - a nondescript motel in an unattractive neighborhood, a place to get a cheap night's sleep. But DaSilva and his wife, Ninette, could see what wasn't there - a safe haven for those seeking to escape the noise and the neon. They transformed the hotel into a quiet constellation in the Las Vegas night.
Now, patrons find a spot to enjoy a pleasant meal, a quiet drink and, on many nights, some of the best live music in town - all without the clanging of slot machines.
Tireless celebrity reporter Robin Leach and creative impresario Franco Dragone have discovered the Artisan. Casts from the Strip's shows find it a convenient place for a celebration - the third anniversary of "Zumanity," the first of Dragone's "Le Reve" - or for lamentation - the farewell party for "Hairspray."
"Word has gotten out that we are a unique and interesting place," DaSilva says. "We're a place to be seen."
And a place to see.
Framed replicas of famous paintings by the likes of Renoir and Rembrandt are glued to the ceiling and hanging on the walls in the lobby and lounge. Each room is dedicated to a different artist - Chagall. Van Gogh. Cezanne. The largest is the Masterpiece Suite, a 1,200-square-foot room adorned with the works of Michelangelo. In addition to his paintings, the amenities include two plasma TVs, a billiard table and a wet bar. The suite goes for $899 a night on weekends.
DaSilva's wife is responsible for the design, which features dark mahogany walls, massive doors, bronze statues everywhere and a 15-foot-tall water fountain in the middle of the lobby. Its wedding chapel has ancient-looking pews rescued from an old church and cut down to fit the small room. Two weddings and their celebrations packed the hotel on a recent night.
So far, the restaurant isn't drawing much of a lunch or dinner crowd, much to DaSilva's chagrin, but it gets heavy after 10 p.m.
"I don't advertise a lot. My advertising would just get lost in the shuffle," he says. "I can't compete with casinos that spend millions a month on advertising."
But the hotel rooms are almost always full, DaSilva says, not just with tourists but locals who like to get away from the house for the weekend, loll by the pool and listen to good jazz.
But what's missing from the Artisan is what sets it apart.
You won't find slot machines embedded in the 60-foot horseshoe bar. Nor will you find a jukebox, neon signs, free food or happy hour.
"It's a distraction," DaSilva says, proud that he hasn't had to resort to gaming to keep the lounge going.
His vision challenges the notion of what sells in Las Vegas, and it provides a glimmer that the city is growing big enough to support life off the Strip.
The DaSilvas had more to overcome than the location initially, including a report that incorrectly labeled the Artisan as a hangout for gay men, confusing it with the Blue Moon Resort just around the corner.
Now, they are building on their Las Vegas success, opening a 173-room Artisan in Memphis, Tenn., and planning others in Phoenix; El Paso, Texas; and Spokane, Wash.
The family - daughter Jennifer is food and beverage director - experimented to find the proper entertainment for the hotel. A dinner theater didn't make it. Rock bands were nixed because they brought in a younger, rowdier crowd.
Jazz became the music of choice, and the lounge with its plush leather sofas and easy chairs the center of activity.
Saxophonist Martin Mancuso performs Wednesdays, Thursdays and during a Sunday jazz brunch. A DJ spins jazz with a Latin beat on Fridays.
But the big draw is Ronnie Foster, who performs from 10 p.m. until 1 a.m. Thursdays and Saturdays at the Artisan. Foster's main gig for the past four years has been playing keyboards backing Clint Holmes at Harrah's. A native of Buffalo, N.Y., Foster recorded several funky albums as a bandleader and has been a sideman for the likes of George Benson, Stevie Wonder, Roberta Flack and Jimmy Smith. He started doing local shows with his own group as a sideline, and DaSilva persuaded them to come to the Artisan about two months ago.
"One of the things that I like about it is that it's one of the few lounges where there is no gaming," Foster says. "That gives it another atmosphere - laid back and warm.
"We get an eclectic crowd."
That includes Dennis, a contractor and former gallery owner who maintains homes here and in Chicago.
"I'm a jazz fan, and I'm an artist. I paint and sculpt, do photography," he says. He's also been a fan of Foster since college, and his music is what drew him to the lounge. Now he's at the Artisan at least once a week. "It's trendy and classy and mature, the kind of place I like - especially when it's really hip."
In the beginning, former NFL running back Jim Brown and talk-show host Lee Pete hit the airwaves with something unique, offering game analysis from a betting perspective.
And for 25 years, "The Stardust Line" radio show has been an odds-on favorite with listeners in Las Vegas and wherever else the 50,000-watt signal from KDWN-AM (720) reaches on the West Coast.
In the end, at about 9 a.m. today, host John Kelly will sign off and put the show to rest. It will be a sad occasion for many.
"You do feel a little sense of loss," said Arne Lang, who hosted the show for parts of 14 years. "I'm sure it was the granddaddy of sports betting shows. It had quite a longevity."
Pete is given most of the credit for the early popularity of the show, which launched in April 1981. Pete teamed at different times with Brown, Mike Toney and Donnie Bader.
"The most important part of the show was the beginning, because there were no mentions of sports betting or point-spread information in the mainstream media," Kelly said. "This was the only show out there that talked to the sports gambler."
But the Stardust will soon be reduced to a pile of rubble. The legendary casino will close late this year and be replaced by the $4 billion Echelon Place in 2010.
The sports book will remain open in the fall, but KDWN has been sold, and the convergence of events led to the closing of "The Stardust Line."
During his second season in the NBA with the Chicago Bulls, Michael Jordan was a special guest of Pete's on the show at the Stardust sports book.
"We had some really big-name guests," said Lang, who assumed the host role in the mid-1980s and recruited boxer George Foreman and baseball star Tony Gwynn, among others.
Lang's co-host for a while was oddsmaker Michael Roxborough. Other hosts included Dave Malinsky, D. Wayne Mauldin, Stephen Nover, Jay Richards, Scott Spreitzer, Doug Castaneda, Russ Culver, Greg Daraban, Ted Sevransky, Dave Cokin, Ron Frazier, Andy Iskoe and Seat Williams.
"We've always had good hosts, and they've always taken the job seriously," said Stardust director of marketing Jim Seagrave, who has guided the show the past 18 years.
Gene Harvey has been the show's engineer for 21 years. "Gene's as steady as the clock on the wall," Seagrave said. "We've had quite a record of consistency."
Kelly took over as host six years ago. Before that, he was the show's horse racing correspondent and has contributed to the program since 1992.
"A lot of times the show's listeners became the show's contributors," Kelly said.
In the early years, Lang would read scores off a ticker on weekend nights, he said, and "The Stardust Line" was often the first source of information for bettors.
"It sounds like 1,000 years ago," Lang said. "We used to get huge audiences because the show predated (ESPN) SportsCenter and the Internet."
Kelly said the key to the show's success was the Stardust paid the bill and was "not reliant on advertisements for handicappers."
"That eliminated the nonsense and it really helped the show's credibility," he said. "Lee Pete recruited handicappers to the show, and he gave a lot of guys their start.
"It was a great show for a second opinion, a different look at what's happening. We had credible handicappers who were willing to go on record with plays and offer insightful, sophisticated opinions."
The show also featured Stardust sports book directors Joe Lupo and Bob Scucci and several prominent sports gamblers such as Alan Boston, Ron Boyles and Brent Carter.
The Stardust Invitational handicapping tournament was aired Friday nights during the football season on KDWN. Oddsmaker Ken White won the inaugural contest in 1995 and repeated as champion in 1996.
"The Stardust Line" aired Monday through Friday at 8:30 a.m., and there were evening shows on Saturdays and Sundays.
The demise of the Stardust is another sign that old Vegas is fading away to make room for corporate Vegas. But Kelly said he expects a big casino will start a similar show to fill the void.
"You would like to think it's irreplaceable," Kelly said. "But Las Vegas is so good at filling needs, I'm confident there will be something to replace 'The Stardust Line.' I know the demand is there."