Evan Glusman shares stories about the 33 years of this Las Vegas institution.
It’s 5 p.m. on a Wednesday and Evan Glusman watches as his three kids run around Piero’s Italian Cuisine, the 33-year-old restaurant near the Las Vegas Convention Center. It’s something he used to do as a child in the early days of the restaurant until he started doing prep work in the kitchen, roasting red peppers and cutting the ends off green beans and tops off strawberries.
Over those three decades, so much remains the same except the clientele coming in to fill this 354-seat restaurant.
"The food hasn’t really changed," Glusman says as he talks about adding the Garbage Caesars Salad to the menu. One brutal summer, he wanted something light and decided to put shrimp, avocados, tomatoes and hearts of palm in it. That salad became a secret item on the menu and then it was finally added to the permanent lineup when everyone started ordering it. "Thirty-three years ago if you had asked my dad to put something on the menu with ‘garbage’ in the name and he wouldn’t have done it.
"My dad is slowly coming around," he says of Freddie, who originally opened the restaurant on in a 1,400-square-foot space that seated 62 on Karen Avenue and moved it five years later to Convention Center Drive. "Eventually you get outdated. Your customers get old and don’t re-up."
The classics remain. The osso buco, the dish the restaurant is probably best known for, has been on the menu "forever." They sell between 90 and 130 of the beef shank that’s simmered for four hours every day. "The linguine and clams hasn’t changed since Frank Sinatra ordered it. He’d be sitting on a plane from Palm Springs and he would take it back with him."
Even though Piero’s was already a must-stop for many, an appearance in Martin Scorsese’s 1995 film Casino propelled it onto the national scene.
Glusman remembers skipping school during the three days that Scorsese filmed in the restaurant, shutting it down for a $90,000 payoff. The scene toward the end of the film where Robert De Niro and Sharon Stone fight in a booth in the A Room was filmed there, as well as the scene where Joe Pesci throws Stone down the stairs. "My dad was helping. You can see him in the background. Bus boys were extras. A lot of that movie was shot in this restaurant," he says.
On this night, it’s Pia Zadora taking center stage in that booth, sipping a martini named for her on her night off. The singer has her own show, dubbed Pia’s Place, on Friday and Saturday nights with Frank Sinatra’s pianist and musical director Vincent Falcone as part of the quartet backing her. Adding to that old-school charm, Zadora’s renditions of "The Lady is a Tramp," "Old Black Magic," and "All of Me."
"Every night is different," Glusman says as the restaurant starts to fill up. Already every one of the 10 tables in the main A Room, where everyone wants to be seen, is filled. "It has its own life form. One night the hostess might be in a bad mood. She grew up with my dad. There are so many personalities in this room. So many our customers have big personalities."
Piero’s is a spot where celebrities, the mob bosses and casino head honchos converge. Freddie could probably name 400 to 500 celebs from Sammy Davis Jr. to Phyllis McGuire who ate at the restaurant. Mob bosses would check under the tables for bugs. One mob boss even asked him to move a picture of the Kennedy brothers to another room because he couldn’t stand them. Evan recalls seeing the FBI watching with binoculars to see which of the made men were eating at Piero’s that night.
Now it’s a little different. Casino owners and celebrities still make the rounds, but you’re just as likely to see singer Justin Timberlake or UFC head Dana White. After the last Country Music Association awards, Blake Shelton, Miranda Lambert and Luke Bryan had a table. Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones come in when they’re in town. NBA greats Michael Jordan and Larry Bird frequent the place.
"One of the things we always did was try to make Piero’s safe place to dine. We’re going to protect you. You can sit right in the middle of the room and we won’t let people approach you," Evan says. Unless it’s boxing promoter Don King, who loves it when fans ask for an autograph or a photo.
Some of the more famous clientele have a space of their own. Over there is the Tark Room, decked out with former UNLV basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian memorabilia from the Runnin’ Rebels’ high-flying days at the top of the NCAA. Piero’s remains a hot spot before Rebels games, and Jerry and his son Danny come in once in a while for dinner.
Even after all these years, the interior hasn’t changed much. The brick in the main dining room, the bronze roof and some of the original wood all remain. Aldo Luongo lithographs, original oils by José Bellver, and huge fresh floral displays on antique pine tables dot the room.
Some of the staff have been at the restaurant since the beginning. Gilbert Felez, a classically trained chef who believes the food should speak for itself, has been with the restaurant almost since the beginning. In fact five weeks after the restaurant opened, Piero Broglia of Chloe Cafe fame walked out when a table ordered vegetables and he refused to serve them. Felez has been in the kitchen ever since.
By 8 p.m. on this Wednesday night, the place is full with guests piled up in the small lobby, waiting for a table. Some of the A Room tables have already turned over to a new set of regulars.
"Piero’s is a hard act to follow," Freddie Glusman says. "You pull up, valet’s right there. Harvey knows who you are. You walk in the door. Everyone knows who you are. You have a special table most of the time if you’re a special customer."
"At the end of the day, Piero’s is just fun," Evan says. "I think Piero’s will be timeless. I see Piero’s getting better every year."
The list of notables who have visited Piero’s includes former Presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton, Keith Richards, Mick Jagger, Justin Timberlake, Michael Jordan and Larry Bird. Las Vegas regulars include Jerry Lewis, Mike Tyson, Phyllis McGuire, Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme.
A portion of the movie Casino, starring Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, and Sharon Stone, was shot in Piero’s. Even some scenes of different restaurants in the film were really shot at Piero’s.