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On the Road

Staying Close to the Heart and Spectacle of Las Vegas

New York Times
October 31, 2006

By Joe Sharkey

"IT'S not your typical office, I can tell you. You rarely get sawed in half in your own office," Howard Lefkowitz said.

"Some people I know would disagree with that," I told him.

"Yeah, but not neatly sawed in half and then put back together again with no hard feelings," he replied. "And I'll bet you've never been in an office where a bunch of Hooters Girls show up with buckets of beer on ice and chicken wings."

Well, no. Once, for a newspaper story in Philadelphia, I went to the animal shelter to bail out a stripper's boa constrictor that was part of her act (the job of the snake, who adored her, was to untie her bikini top on stage).

But even though the dancer and the newly liberated snake accompanied me back to the newspaper office for photos, I have to admit that was nothing like Mr. Lefkowitz's office, where a gaggle of Hooters Girls recently showed up in the conference room with the cold beer and wings, not to mention Nathan Burton, the magician who saws people in half; plus Wayne Newton; Gloria Estefan; Blue Man Group, whose members left blue handprints on the walls; and a parade of Cirque du Soleil trapeze artists, clowns and other performers who work in the Vegas clubs.

It might seem like a scene out of Woody Allen's classic "Broadway Danny Rose," in which a sad-sack talent agent handles an office full of wayward acts that vaudeville left behind. But these are world-renowned acts, and this could happen only in Las Vegas. Which it does, routinely, at the sprawling offices of Vegas.com, undoubtedly the world's most unusual concierge service.

There are all kinds of concierges, most of whom work at hotels. The crème de la crème of the profession wear gold keys on their lapels and belong to a group called Les Clefs d'Or. You will usually find these people at top hotels and resorts.

Other hotels have employees who essentially collect information on restaurants, shows and other attractions and make suggestions to guests, usually receiving a commission from the places they recommend.

And then there is Mr. Lefkowitz's Vegas.com in Las Vegas, a city that has a huge business travel base because of the large number of conventions, trade shows and corporate meetings held there.

Vegas.com is a subsidiary of the Greenspun Media Group. Mr. Lefkowitz, who once worked as a road manager for the comedian Totie Fields and later ran the telemedia business of the Home Shopping Network, took over Vegas.com in 2001, when the company had 40 employees. It now has about 430.

The business has several facets, including online booking services; providing detailed, upto- date dossiers of shows, restaurants and other information; and a large network of hotel concierges throughout the city.

But it has evolved into such a crucial component of Las Vegas nightlife and other businesses that, like Broadway Danny Rose, the offices, which overlook the Las Vegas Strip a few miles away, are often full of performers essentially auditioning for the concierge bookers.

Wayne Newton still does auditions?

"I came to Vegas when I was 15 years old and did six shows a night, six nights a week at the Fremont Hotel," Mr. Newton, who practically defines the word trouper, said during a recent visit to the offices, where he also answered some phones and took a few reservations.

Mr. Newton pointed to a framed copy of the famous photograph showing the showbusiness Rat Pack - Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop - posed in front of the marquee of the old Sands Hotel in the mid-1960's.

"You know what the cover charge was for that show, including dinner? $5.95," he said gleefully.

Mr. Lefkowitz says the personal appearances by major Vegas acts are an important way the company's bookers learn who and what to recommend.

"We don't have a contact center in Bangalore. Ours is here. Our folks go to the shows, and then the celebrities come over to the office so our people get the whole gestalt," he said.

"So when they're making recommendations to someone, they know what they're talking about."

On weekends, Mr. Lefkowitz likes to visit Hoover Dam near Las Vegas, where his company also has a booth. "I love to sell tickets to Hoover Dam," he said.

Vegas.com is now expanding to airports. A Vegas.com concierge desk recently opened at the Burbank airport in California, and other desks are planned for Los Angeles International Airport, Phoenix International Airport, Kennedy International Airport and elsewhere.

Mac King, another Las Vegas magician, was recently at the Burbank airport concierge booth, "making things disappear," Mr. Lefkowitz said.

And no, he isn't talking about your luggage.

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