Saturday, July 11, 2020 | 2 a.m.
Notoriety Live, a unique new entertainment venue on the third level of the Neonopolis complex that connects the Fremont Street Experience to the Fremont East Entertainment District, had just started to rebuild its momentum. The downtown destination was one of the only places across the valley offering different Vegas-style shows — comedy, magic and music — since businesses began to reopen after the statewide shutdown to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
The fun stopped again on Thursday when Gov. Steve Sisolak ordered all bars not serving food in Clark County to close by 11:59 p.m. Friday, July 10, the first major rollback of reopening efforts since Nevada entered Phase Two of its pandemic recovery plan at the end of May and casinos were allowed to open on June 4.
While Notoriety contains several different theatrical and showroom spaces, it had been producing live entertainment events in recent weeks in its Robin Leach Lounge under a tavern license. Owner and operator Ken Henderson, one of the founders of the well-established local talent and modeling outfit Best Agency, said the audience volume at the shows was well below the mandated 50 percent capacity and all guests were properly social distanced, among many other safety measures taken at the venue. A six-foot-tall plexiglass screen had been installed onstage to separate performers from guests.
On Friday Henderson posted a message to his and Notoriety’s social media pages expressing frustration with the Governor’s decision and confusion regarding the rules and restrictions: “There are many bar owners that have gone above and beyond to keep both staff and patrons safe and have followed all guidelines so they could stay in business. Instead of closing down those who chose not to care and were defying the guidelines, he takes the easy route and punishes us all.”
Prior to last week’s bar closure mandate, Notoriety had been selling tickets to shows, an unlawful practice under Phase Two directives. Other local venues including the Downtown Grand hotel and casino and the Mosaic Theater on the Strip also attempted to sell tickets to entertainment events last week and were forced to cancel planned programming.
Henderson said once he realized ticket sales were not allowed, the venue shifted to a two-drink minimum format, essentially operating as a lounge with entertainment. His goal all along was to get local entertainers back to work, he said.
“They’re in such a tough position because most are [independent contractors] and so many have had problems receiving unemployment [benefits],” Henderson said last week, before Notoriety was forced to close. “We’re just trying to get them some revenue where they can breathe a little bit and get out there and practice their craft.”
Among the recent performances at Notoriety were the Tenors of Rock, the vocal group that has maintained residency shows on the Strip for more than three years at the Planet Hollywood Resort and Harrah’s, and Late Night Magic, an illusion-packed variety show produced by Michael Mayfield and hosted by Douglas “Lefty” Leferovich.
Leferovich, who works on a variety of Vegas shows including Murray Sawchuck’s comedy and magic residency at the Tropicana’s Laugh Factory, said Late Night Magic was planning for more shows at Notoriety in late July and early August.
Notoriety originally opened in December after Henderson worked on planning and renovating the former movie theater space at Neonopolis for about a year and a half. The idea for the place was something he’d thought about for years — a multipurpose live music and entertainment venue that could shine a spotlight on undiscovered talent in Las Vegas, something Henderson has spent his career cultivating.
“It’s always been the same idea, discover the undiscovered,” he said. “I’ve seen so much talent come and have nowhere to go. We’re not trying to be the Smith Center or compete with any of the beautiful showrooms in the hotels but we would like to be a kind of launching pad. It’s all about wanting to support [entertainers] and get them what they deserve, a proper platform to do what they do.”
Notoriety has two cabaret-style rooms that can hold 300 and 500 people, respectively, and six more smaller theater-style spaces with tiered seating that range in capacity from 60 up to 250. The design and multitude of spaces is built on the idea of accessibility to different kinds of performers and flexibility in the types of productions it can accommodate.
Henderson said he has been in discussions with different artists and producers about new shows there, including former Sly and the Family Stone drummer Greg Orrico, “Beacher’s Madhouse” creator Jeff Beacher, local composer and producer Keith Thompson and Vegas favorite Clint Holmes, who Henderson has represented for years and collaborated with for a show at the Venetian.
Now, like so many things in Las Vegas, Notoriety is on hold indefinitely.