The smooth voice of “Frank Sinatra” and the strength of my martini carried me back in time.
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It had been an especially fabulous day in Las Vegas. I’d spent much of it getting gussied up at the spa and salon at the Encore. Then my travel companion and I enjoyed quick drinks before the high point not just of the day but really of our week-long, fun-filled trip to Las Vegas: “The Rat Pack is Back!” tribute show.
Granted, it’s hard not to have a blast in Las Vegas. The personal-finance site WalletHub recently ranked America’s 100 biggest cities on their “recreation-friendliness”.
And not surprisingly the winner is: Las Vegas, Nevada.
“Las Vegas has the most playgrounds per square root of the population,” the site notes.
Um, okay. Personally, I prefer the indoor playgrounds that are Las Vegas hotels.
“[T]he best cities for recreation have a positive and friendly vibe that transcends just the place,” observes Kenneth Cohen, a SUNY-Cortland professor of Recreation, Parks and Leisure Studies.
And Vegas hotels have great vibes — the action of the casinos, the world-class restaurants, and the state-of-the-art music facilities.
It’s a great city for music lovers, with opportunities to see big-ticket headliners, lots of free shows, and Elvis impersonators galore. I’ve seen shows ranging from an Elton John concert at Caesars Palace to the Beatles LOVE by Cirque du Soleil at the Mirage. And I look forward to one day seeing my school-girl crush Donny Osmond at Harrah’s.
But until then, my favorite is “The Rat Pack is Back!”
History of the Rat Pack
The Rat Pack is likely the best remembered group of entertainers in the history of Las Vegas. Sinatra was its leader. Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr., were key members. Joey Bishop and Peter Lawford were also part of the gang.
In early 1960, the group came to Las Vegas to film parts of Ocean’s 11 at the Flamingo, Desert Inn, Riviera, Sahara, and Sands hotels. Over a three-week period at the same time, they performed in the Copa Room of the Sands.
They called their show the “Summit at the Sands” — an unsubtle allusion to an upcoming meeting in Paris among U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, U.S.S.R. Premier Nikita Khrushchev, U.K. Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, and French President Charles de Gaulle. The name was cheeky and cocky, but it was also determinedly optimistic: America wasn’t going to let the Soviet threat stop us from having fun.
The political summit was intended to ease Cold War tensions. But it did the reverse.
In Paris, Khrushchev angrily demanded that Eisenhower apologize and end anti-Soviet espionage. Eisenhower refused. Khrushchev stormed out of the summit before it began. A year later, the Soviets built the Berlin Wall.
Meanwhile in Moscow, Powers was interrogated by the KGB, convicted of espionage, and sentenced to three years in prison and seven more at hard labor. But in 1962, he and an American student were exchanged for a Soviet spy in a deal approved by Sinatra’s friend and Lawford’s brother-in-law President John F. Kennedy.
Twenty-five years later, Sinatra’s friend President Ronald Reagan demanded of Khrushchev’s successor: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this Wall!” Two years later, the Berlin Wall fell; two years after that, the Soviet Union followed.
The Summit at the Sands was more successful than its political namesake. It became hugely popular, led to more record and movie deals, and went on the road to Miami, Atlantic City, and Palm Springs. And it marked the (re)birth of the Rat Pack.
The original Rat Pack was a group of Hollywood friends, including Sinatra, who often gathered at the home of Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart, the group’s original leader. Not surprisingly, the origins of the name are uncertain. But legend has Bacall one night telling the drunken Bogart, Sinatra, and others:
“You look like a G-dd–n rat pack.”
Bogart died in 1957. In short order, Sinatra proposed to Bacall, ghosted her, and put together a new group of friends. They became the second Rat Pack, and took off with the Summit at the Sands.
History of the Sands
The iconic Sands had a remarkable history, thanks mainly to the mercurial Sinatra, who hosted Jack Kennedy there several times, insisted that Nat King Cole be allowed to dine in the still-segregated restaurant, but could be appallingly rude to the staff.
Hughes won out after after Sinatra sparked a weekend-long incident, investigated by the FBI, which began when his third wife Mia Farrow lost $20,000 in the Casino and ended with the singer reportedly driving a golf cart through the window of a coffee shop and screaming obscenities at the Casino manager who was seated there.
After that, Sinatra began performing at Caesars Palace.
Caesars remains the quintessential Vegas resort. But over the years, the Sands lost its allure; it was demolished in 1996. The Venetian now stands in its place. It opened in 1999 with a Sands Showroom at the site of the original Copa Room. The resort has since changed the venue’s name to the Summit Showroom.
“The Rat Pack is Back!”
Like the Sands, the Rat Pack are all gone now. The last to pass away was Joey Bishop in 2007.
But Sinatra, Martin, and Davis impersonators channel the cool charisma of the originals at the Copa Room in the Tuscany Suites and Casino, an off-Strip property with large guest rooms, two pools, and four restaurants, popular with locals.
And they sound just like their legendary counterparts as they croon classic tunes like “Luck Be a Lady”, “That’s Amore”, and “What Kind of Fool Am I?” The music is wonderful. The comedy is 1960s racy, neither witty nor hilarious, but just edgy enough to heighten the mood of the show. And the chemistry among the elegant players and even their back-and-forth with the audience is warmly jovial. Together these elements bring not just the Rat Pack back to life, but with them the deliberately hopeful fun in the time of the Cold War and the gritty glamour of old Vegas itself.
Sitting in the old-school Vegas showroom, I truly felt carried back in time.
What to Know before You See
“The Rat Pack is Back!”
“The Rat Pack is Back!” currently plays Monday-Saturday at the Tuscany Suites and Casino at 255 East Flamingo Road in Las Vegas, Nevada. The approximately 80-minute show begins at 7:30pm.
The site requests “Resort Casual” attire, and you’re likely to see people whose interpretation of even that is something closer to “Camping Deshabille”. But you’ll enjoy a more immersive time if you dress as you would have in the 1960s. After spending my day at the spa, I donned a cocktail dress for the show. My companion wore a suit. The maître d’ pulled us out from the sea of khakis and polos and jumped us to the front of the line.
There are three main ticket options: General Admission, VIP, and VIP with Dinner. There’s also a pre-show “Mob Tour” option. My companion and I chose VIP. After being pulled out of the line, he tipped the maître d’ $20, and we were seated up front.
It always pays to dress well and tip well.
If you wish to have dinner on the Strip after the show, a 9:30 reservation should give you plenty of time. If you’d like to extend the Rat Pack vibe, I highly recommend the Sinatra restaurant at the Encore; I enjoyed one of the greatest meals of my life there.
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For two decades, I worked at political jobs. Then my parents got sick, and I went home to help care for them, and they died, fourteen weeks apart, in their late 60s. And I decided that life is too dear, and too uncertain, to fritter away in political offices. I fought back the sorrow with travel, and started this blog. I believe that passions are more fun when you share them with others, and my hope is to share my passions for travel and culture with you. Welcome! Read more …