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Off the Beaten Path, a Vegas Throwback

by Bill Ordine (Knight Ridder Newspapers, October 28, 2001)
 

The petite brunette got up from the dining table, strolled to the concert piano in the corner, leaned back against it and began to sing. First, a soulful version of "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered," then a sultry rendition of "Time after Time." They're called torch songs, and Lorraine Hunt could make them smolder.

Anyone who had wandered into the Bootlegger Bistro, an Italian restaurant tucked away a few miles south of the mega-resorts on the Las Vegas Strip, would not have been surprised to learn that Lorraine Hunt, 62, had once been a top lounge act in town. However, it would probably be something of an eyebrow-raiser to learn of Hunt's day job. She's the lieutenant governor of Nevada.

Only in Las Vegas.

Lorraine and her husband, Blackie Hunt, run the Bootlegger, a longtime family business. Both are former professional entertainers, and the restaurant - a secret to most of the 34 million out-of-towners who annually visit Las Vegas - is a well-known eatery and late-night watering hole for in-the-know locals and showroom performers.

Recently, Harrah's headliner Clint Holmes, an accomplished virtuoso vocalist, stopped in to jam with the Hunts. Holmes was just one of the many Strip stars who find their way to the Bootlegger microphone.

Hunt started her Vegas show-business career in the mid-1960s as Lauri Perry (the family name was changed from the original Italian Perri at Ellis Island). She played the International, now the Las Vegas Hilton, and the Landmark, now gone, when it was owned by Howard Hughes.

Her advocacy on behalf of small businesses led to a political career and election as lieutenant governor in 1998.

Blackie Hunt, 71, a native of Pottstown, Montgomery County, arrived in Vegas in the mid-1950s, playing the Sahara as part of a song-and-comedy quartet. His partners were three young fellows from South Philadelphia, brothers Freddy and Carmen Baccari, and Johnny Ricco.

Now, he helps run a restaurant with a menu that includes Saltimbocca alla Blackie, a dish of rolled veal stuffed with Genoa salami, Parmesan cheese and garlic, battered and sauteed Francaise-style ($20.95).

The recipes belong to Lorraine's mother, Maria Perry, who, at 84, is still the executive chef.

What really distinguishes the Bootlegger, though, is the entertainment that's a throwback to the lounge-act days of Louis Prima and Keely Smith. On Friday and Saturday, Blackie, a master on several instruments (some of which he plays upside down), and partner Sonny King perform. On Wednesday and Thursday, pianist Tommy Deering plays standards, and aspiring singers showcase their talents.

And when the lieutenant governor isn't attending to affairs of state, she melts the crowd with a few sultry melodies.

"This is what I do for relaxation and recreation," Lorraine Hunt said. "If presidents can play golf, I can sing."

Tip of the week. Besides providing authentic lounge entertainment, the restaurant is true to another Vegas tradition. It's open 24 hours a day. If you have a yen for polenta with maple syrup at 7 a.m., you can get it at the Bootlegger. Need a dish of spaghetti and meatballs at 4 a.m., just ring the buzzer.

The Bootlegger Bistro is located at 7700 Las Vegas Blvd. South, near the Belz Factory Outlet mall. Entertainment begins at 9 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, and 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

Bill Ordine's e-mail address is ordineb@aol.com.

Copyright 2001 Knight Ridder Newspapers


 

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