Industry Insiders: Bob Shindelar, The Tao of Bob

Tao nightclub hosts some of the hottest parties in Las Vegas, and it’s Bob Shindelar’s job to make sure it stays that way. As the club’s Director of VIP Services, Shindelar is responsible for taking care of the “CEOs, athletes, models, film and music stars, media, politicians, and royalty” who make Tao their nightlife home base whenever they’re in Sin City.

Born and raised in Vegas, Shindelar made the leap from tending bar to guest services over a decade ago, steadily rising in the ranks to control the door at the Venetian Resort’s most exclusive club. He’s up early every day checking in with past guests and reaching out to new ones, while evening brings him to the club, where he ushers his celebrity clients to their tables and makes sure they have an unforgettable time.

Maintaining Tao’s stellar reputation among Las Vegas nightlife venues is a tall order, but Shindelar is up to the challenge, even if it has a tendency to take over his life at times.

“Nightlife VIP services is a unique luxury industry and the people you interact with on a daily basis are priceless,” he says. “It can be difficult to balance everything in your personal life because of the job’s demands. It’s sometimes hard to remember hosting isn’t who you are, it’s just what you do.”

Memorable nights are all well and good, but what keeps the high-rollers coming back again and again?

“The secret is hospitality,” Shindelar says. “That sounds easy enough, but all too often the industry is flooded with egos too great to be humble. The customer service you provide can make or break an experience, which is a lot of responsibility. You have to have enough humility to be nice to people.”

Of course, it helps if you’re relaxed and healthy yourself.

“You need to take time to unplug and hit the reset button every once in a while,” he says. “I kayak, mountain bike, race triathlons, snowboard, and backpack when time permits, but equally as important is that when you’re working, you’re WORKING!”

Vegas Casinos Crapping Out on Recession

The crapped-out economy has hit Las Vegas hard. With the city’s industry crashing like casinos were Chryslers, everyone from CEOs to chambermaids is muttering that “It’s never been this bad.” And, well, it hasn’t. Gambling revenues tumbled, with the take on the Strip’s tables dropping 15% in January (compared to January 2008). Moody’s Investors Service has repeatedly downgraded virtually every casino company — MGM Mirage twice in a week! — citing “aggressive and substantial debt-financed development activity and earnings pressure from slowing consumer spending trends that began in fiscal 2008.” In short: Casinos went into massive hock to expand extravagantly. Then everyone got The Fear, and blowing five grand on blackjack and bottle service became less appealing. Well, not less appealing, but more difficult to get away with on a regular basis.

MGM Mirage (MGM Grand, Mirage, Bellagio, Mandalay Bay, etc.) is struggling to complete its sprawling City Center project. The company was forced to sell the Treasure Island casino to a Kansas billionaire when banks refused further construction loans. The complex’s centerpiece was to be the Harmon Hotel, a shimmering boutique tower designed by celebrated architect Lord Norman Foster — which was chopped in half in mid-build, reportedly due to construction problems and evaporating condo sales. Even with cutbacks and postponements, MGM Mirage is scrambling to restructure debt and float this thing until it opens in the fall.

The Fontainebleau — a sister property to the Miami Beach hotel — is believed to have enough cash to complete construction and open in October. But both Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s are going negative, and some wonder whether the high-tech, high-style resort will sell enough of the all-important condo units to survive.

Another project in limbo is Echelon Place, which was to have contained Vegas’ very own Mondrian and Delano Hotels. Boyd Gaming (Sam’s Town, Orleans, Gold Coast, Main Street, etc.) had to suspend the project when a chunk of financing fell through. Man, they better not have torn down the Stardust for nothing.

The Sands Corporation (Venetian, Palazzo) has been ousting executives and cutting costs — but it’s also opening casinos in Singapore and, erm, Pennsylvania. CEO Sheldon Adelson (Forbes’ third-richest man in America — last year) has expressed confidence in thundering tones, but he’s already had to pour a billion dollars of his own money into the company to meet loan requirements, and may be looking to offload some of his interests in Macau.

Station Casinos (Green Valley Ranch, Red Rock, Aliante, Boulder Station, etc.) is scrambling to renegotiate with bondholders as the clock ticks toward an April 15 bankruptcy filing deadline. Boyd Gaming offered to buy most of Station’s properties, but Station’s Fertitta family rejected them. Boyd persists, meaning we may have a good, old-fashioned casino family war between the Boyds and the Feritttas. Station’s plans for a luxe Strip property — Viva — have died quietly.

So, who isn’t putting a poker face on panic? Well, Boyd Gaming has enough cash to buy other casinos, even if they have halted new ones. Hilton announced that it will take over the foreclosed-upon Cosmopolitan Towers project as one of the launching pads for its new Denizen hotels brand. Wynn Corporation seemed to be weathering the tsunami, but Steve Wynn’s just-announced divorce from wife (and longtime boardmember) Elaine Wynn could cause chaos. Both have lawyered up — Elaine with Don Schiller, who got one of the biggest divorce settlements is history for Juanita (Mrs. Michael) Jordan. Nothing like watching billionaires divorce to take everyone’s mind off of their own bottom line.

Las Vegas Not Happy with Obama

imageLas Vegas is trying its best to clean up the sordid rep its worked so hard to re-create after the last time they failed to become a family-friendly vacation destination. They’ve changed their salacious slogan to something much more benign, and they’re hoping this switch will help sagging tourism. Now, hoteliers like the Wynn and The Venetian are hopping mad about Barack Obama’s perceived slam on Las Vegas. They claim his comment that bailed-out bankers “can’t go take a trip to Las Vegas or go down to the Super Bowl on the taxpayers’ dime” is causing more convention and meeting cancellations in a city already hurt by the recession.

Goldman Sachs heeded Obama’s warning and moved their conference from Mandalay Bay to the San Francisco Marriott. Apparently American International Group, Wells Fargo, and Citigroup’s Primerica unit have also canceled events in Vegas. Sin City is getting the short of the stick here, as the town is now being seen as an increasingly bad PR move and companies are willing to pay cancellation fees rather than be associated with the playboy metropolis. According to the New York Times, Obama isn’t a hater on Las Vegas per se. Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel responded to the complaints by saying “the president’s criticism was aimed at the potential use of taxpayer funds for junkets and in no way reflects his thoughts about any one particular city.” Perhaps the big casinos can reform their image by offering free financial counseling with every $100 lost at blackjack.

Las Vegas: Top 5 Spas

imageBecause if your body ever needed pampering, now’s the time

1. Canyon Ranch Spa Club at the Venetian (Strip: Central) – More serious than your average spa, with classes on nutrition along with a wide menu of scrubs, facials and massages. 2. Spa at Red Rock (Summerlin) – Next-to-nature setting adds hiking and rock climbing to the usual selection of spinning classes and aqua aerobics. 3. Spa at Ritz-Carlton (Henderson) – The treatments are designed to fight off the effects of desert climate. The serene, gardenlike setting is as relaxing as the massages.

4. Bathhouse at THEhotel (Strip: South) – Sleek, gray-slate setting with Zen-like water features, offering treatments that sound like desserts. 5. Qua Spa at Caesars Palace (Strip: Central) – An “Arctic” room with actual snow falling. A “tea sommelier” mixing something specially calibrated to your treatment. Did we mention the celebrity hairstylist?

Las Vegas: Top 5 Shows

imageIt’s always good to do at least one thing on your trip that you can tell your boss about.

1. KA at MGM Grand (Strip: Central) – With martial-arts-inspired acrobatics, thundering music, and a set that rotates 360 degrees, KA is the least airy-fairy of the Cirque du Soleil offerings. 2. O at Bellagio (Strip: Central) – Cirque du Soleil performers + giant tanks of water = jaw-dropping acrobatics. 3. Tom Jones at MGM Grand (Strip: Central) – Come for the kitsch, stay for the charisma. There’s a reason he’s been doing this for 40 years.

4. Cher at Caesars Palace (Strip: Central) – 17 Bob Mackie costume changes. An entrance that involves descending from the ceiling. Truly, in coming to Vegas, Cher has come home. 5. Phantom: The Las Vegas Spectacular at The Venetian (Strip: Central) – Onstage fireworks, a falling giant chandelier and — we think — some people singing.
Cirque Du Soleil Tickets Bryce Jordan Center Tickets University Park Tickets

Las Vegas: The “Hey Ladies” Weekend

Friday 2 p.m.: The Venetian. Check in. Large, velvet-upholstered rooms make one feel like an imperial mistress. 3:30 p.m.: Lunch at Mon Ami Gabi. Sit on the patio, watch the Bellagio fountains, and plan the weekend’s attack. 5 p.m.: Sephora. Someone forgot their cleanser/lipgloss/eyeshadow brush. Or whatever excuse you want to make.

7:30 p.m.: Napoleon’s (at Paris Las Vegas). Have a pre-dinner champagne cocktail. 9 p.m.: Strip House. Dinner with sexy food, flattering lighting, and a glam crowd will get you in the mood for the rest of the evening. 11:30 p.m.: Privé. Vegas’ hotspot du jour brings a little South Beach flair and celebrity style to the Strip. 2 a.m.: Drai’s. The city’s longest-running after-hours makes ladies feel welcome without feeling hassled.

Saturday 11 a.m.: Canyon Ranch Spa Club at The Venetian. Yoga class. Facial and/or manicure optional. 1 p.m.: Tinoco’s. Have a virtuous salad for lunch. Which doesn’t feel so virtuous when it’s mango-glazed salmon or lemongrass portabello. 2:30 p.m.: Shopping. Hit the shops at Caesars or The Palazzo. Or both. It’s your credit limit. 5 p.m.: The Venetian pool. Order up a round of vodka tonics and start the dishing. (“Lance Burton or David Copperfield? Death is not an option…”) 8:30 p.m.: American Storm. If you must see a male strip show, this is the one. The music is the Killers instead of Bon Jovi, and the dancers are more like the cutest guy in the club than your usual steroid casualties. Live at Polly Esther’s in the Stratosphere. 10 p.m.: Mix. Let Alain Ducasse (well, his minions anyway) make you dinner in this 43rd-floor Strip-view aerie. Virtuous salad at lunch means scrumptious dessert now 12:30 a.m.: Blush. Relax with a cocktail on the patio of this small, beautifully appointed nightclub. 2 a.m.:: Gipsy’s. Dance until dawn in late-night, locals’ gay club.

Sunday 12 p.m.: Le Village Buffet. Unlimited champagne version. 2:30 p.m.:: Get out of town.

Industry Insiders: David Burke, Foodie Wizard

David Burke builds a foodie empire, parties in Vegas, drinks up a new name, and pours some out for Jerz.

Point of Origin: I was born in Brooklyn, and left there as a one year old, and went to the Jersey Shore. Although I trained at the Culinary Institute of America, I traveled to France where I spent several stages with notable chefs such as Pierre Troisgros, Georges Blanc, and Gaston Lenôtre, but eventually returned to the US as a sous chef for Waldy Malouf at La Cremaillere, and then worked for Charlie Palmer at River Café. Charlie hired me as [his] number two, which is how I got back to Brooklyn where I lived for ten years. Two years under Charlie, then five years as a chef.

Occupations: In 1992, I opened the Park Avenue Café with Smith & Wollensky CEO Alan Stillman. My first cookbook, Cooking with David Burke, was published in 1995, the same year I became Vice President of Culinary Development for the Smith & Wollensky Restaurant Group. In 2003, I teamed up with Donatella Arpaia to open davidburke & donatella. My second book, David Burke’s New American Classics, was published in April, 2006. I then purchased Fromagerie, a fine dining restaurant in Rumson, New Jersey where my culinary career began under founders Markus and Hubert Peter. David Burke Las Vegas opened in the Venetian hotel 2007. Back in 1996, I launched David Burke at Bloomingdale’s, offering both a full service “Burke Bar Café” on one side and a “Burke in the Box” take-out/eat-in on the other … then David Burke’s Primehouse in the James Chicago Hotel.

Any non-industry projects in the works? Table to Table in Bergen County: Each year we honor a chef and a restaurant. Everybody thinks Jersey is Siberia, but all of the money we raise goes to feed the poor, and the support is good. Claire Insalata Poulos partners with this. Everything is tied to the industry, QVC in pots and pans, and we’ve shot a pilot of a day-in-the life of what goes on in the life of a celebrity chef, budgeting, staying ahead of the curve, working out consulting projects, and the fun part of the night when you let out some steam. I fly all of my chefs for a weekend in Vegas. It’s actually funny; it captures the people and the corporate office. We’ve got a television project going with the Gordon Ramsay temper — it’s not the focus of the show, but it sells. We’ve got a little bleeping there about the mashed potatoes.

Favorite Hangs: I’ve got to tell you, I like the neighborhood restaurants like Geisha, Aureole, and of course my own in Bloomingdales. I live in Jersey, and there are two or three places I go: Grissini in Englewood Cliffs; River Palm, Armando, J.D.’s, a rib joint, and a Korean barbecue place I can’t even pronounce (that does sushi and bbq). And I try new restaurants in New York. I don’t tend to go back because there are so many new restaurants to try. I’m not a nightclub guy, I’m just too busy to hang out. When I go to other cities, I dine out more than I do in New York — you’re never in a rush when you go to a neighborhood restaurant with Springsteen.

Industry Icons: I got to tell you, I’ve worked for Alan Stillman and Buzzy O’Keefe, and without Buzzy O’Keefe, I wouldn’t be here. Alan taught me a great deal about managing, marketing, and knowhow. I like Drew Nieporent a lot; he’s a down-to-earth real guy — he got his hands in the kitchen in the front, so he’s got his finger on the pulse of what’s happening, and we’re close. Annie Meyer, and of course the chefs I’ve worked for like Daniel Boulud, Wally Malouf. I like some of the service guys: wine guys like Josh Wesson, and Joey DeLissio who has been at the River Café before I was, and is one of the best out there. My son is now in restaurant school as of Monday — he didn’t tell me he was going to apply, as he didn’t want me pulling strings for him at the CIA, so he started at Johnson Wales in Providence in restaurant management. I always tell him to work for the best guy, and he wants to do it all himself. My other son is a junior at the University of Vermont.

Who are some people you’re likely to be seen with? I’m really friendly with all the chefs, and if I’m out, Rick Moon, Wally, Terry Brennan — when I see guys, most chefs connect. Daniel and I see each other at events, Drew and I get together as families; his brother and I are on the board of a charity together.

Projections: We’re at a turning point in the community and company: We bought Donatella out recently after five years, we’re opening a fish restaurant, and we’re expanding the fast-casual and the steak concept. We’re reinvigorating the lollipops, flavor sprays, pots and pans line, another cookbook … But we want to take it at the right pace — we’ve opened very quickly, but the future means having a great core of people around you. We’re hard workers, but it’s hard to keep your hand on everything. It’s a big family of restaurants, and we want to build nice restaurants with nice people working for us. The goals are quality and profitability.

What are you doing tonight? I’m picking a name for my new fish restaurant. We’ve been playing with 20 names for 45 days, and tonight we’re getting together 10 guys and a bottle of wine to wrap our hands around the new restaurant and chef. Tomorrow is designers, a writer for the day, catering on a yacht. We’ve got a catering company opening next January in New York City. Rumor has it that we’re going to be consulting for the new Yankee Stadium. I’m a Mets fan, but … when the Yanks win, it hurts my business! I’m a Giants fan!