Eat Like a Gangster

Las Vegas is ever mindful of its history. In the works right now is a ten-million-dollar renovation of the the storied Flamingo Hotel’s recently-closed steakhouse. Set to open in the spring of 2020, the swanky new eatery will be named “Bugsy & Meyer’s Steakhouse,” an homage to the Flamingo’s developers and founding fathers of modern-day Las Vegas, Bugsy Siegel and Meyer Lansky.

Promoters say Bugsy & Meyer’s will be an ode to old-school Vegas, serving dry-aged prime beef and classic cocktails. “We want our guests to feel like they’ve traveled back in time,” a spokesperson says. (In a nod to the twenty-first century, there will also be a vegan menu.) Inside the establishment will be a super-exclusive “Count Room,” door accessible to the privileged few through an unmarked. It will feature its own secret menu. (Hey, “secret menu” works for In-N-Out Burger.)

[Personal favorite: check out the Downtown Cocktail Room on the edge of the original Las Vegas Strip.]

The Flamingo opened for business on December 26, 1946, beginning Las Vegas’s transformation from dusty frontier town to destination for Hollywood celebrities and assorted high-rollers. The honored namesakes of the steakhouse came west to Las Vegas with a mission to seize control of the city’s nascent gambling and ancillary money-makers as the rightful province of organized crime.

Bugsy Siegel

Benjamin Siegel was born in Brooklyn, New York to Jewish immigrants. His erratic personality earned him the sobriquet “Bugsy.” He began his career by extorting money from pushcart peddlers in New York. From there he grew his business to include bootlegging, gambling and prostitution. He also was a founding member of the contract-killing enterprise known as Murder, Inc. In 1937, he moved to the West Coast where he consolidated the already existing prostitution, narcotics and bookmaking rackets and set up his own gambling operations. (That same year, Hoover Dam began delivering abundant electricity and water to Las Vegas.) He settled his wife and two daughters into a Beverly Hills mansion. Bugsy’s extravagant lifestyle made him well known among movie-industry glitterati. He took up with actress Virginia Hill. The couple moved to Las Vegas in 1945 to pursue new career opportunities for Siegel. His wife took exception to the philandering and so divorced him, going back to New York with her daughters.

Warren Beatty gave the Hollywood treatment to the gangster with his 1991 film “Bugsy.” Beatty played the title character; his soon-to-be wife Annette Bening portrayed Virginia Hill.

Siegel’s business partner in murder-for-hire and other endeavors was Russian immigrant Meyer Lanksy. After a brief career as an auto mechanic, mathematics prodigy Lanksy built his business on gambling. He was a protege of Arthur Rothstein. (Rothstein is perhaps best known for throwing the 1919 “Black Sox” World Series.) Lanksy operated roadhouses across the U.S. and had significant dealings in Cuba. He also worked closely with Charles “Lucky” Luciano in the bootlegging profession.

Meyer Lansky

Bugsy Siegel was not known for conservative business practices. Originally budgeted at $1.2 million, the Flamingo’s cost had ballooned to $6 million by the time it opened. Siegel owed construction contractor Del Webb more than $1 million. He was deeply in debt to friends, including actor George Raft, and mobsters back east, including his partner Meyer Lansky and crime notables like Frank Costello and Lucky Luciano.

After a slow start, the Flamingo began making money — by the buckets-full. But Siegel’s investors in the East became impatient to see some financial returns. His earned reputation for profligacy and less-than-exact accounting practices aroused their suspicions about why they had received no returns on their iinvestments. Six months after the grand opening, Bugsy Siegel was sitting in Ms. Hill’s Beverly Hills home when bullets fired from outside a window hit him four times in the face and chest. Moments later, associates of Meyer Lansky entered the Flamingo, gave the news of Siegel’s demise to employees and announced that they were now in charge. Lansky, of course, swore he knew nothing about Siegel’s untimely end.

It’s easy to see why Siegel and Lansky are held in such high regard and why patrons will revel in the experience of eating expensive beefsteak while basking in the romance of Las Vegas’s entrepreneurial days.

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