We've enlisted comedians, some based here and others who spend their time on the road and come through Vegas, to share their recommendations on great places to dine in Sin City for a feature dubbed Comedian Confidential.
Comedian Bill Engvall celebrates his fifth year as a headliner at Treasure Island tonight. The member of the Blue Collar Comedy Tour with Jeff Foxworthy, Larry the Cable Guy and Ron White was one of the finalists on Dancing With the Stars with partner Emma Slater, coming in fourth place and losing 35 pounds in the process. The former host of Country Fried Home Videos on CMT and Lingo on the Game Show Network even had his own show, The Bill Engvall Show, on TBS. Here he talks about how he loves classic Las Vegas, what he really thinks about fans approaching him while he’s dining and the first thing that shocked him in Las Vegas.
You’ve been coming to Las Vegas for five years as a headliner at Treasure Island. How often do you get to Las Vegas?
Oh, god, honey, I’ve been playing Las Vegas since 1996. Actually before then, but headlining since 1996. I just love it. I love everything about Vegas. It’s one of those places that if you tried to explain it to someone who had never, they would think you lost your mind. You can get whatever, whenever as long as you have the money. This is cool.
There’s also something really cool about seeing your name on a big board, on the Strip. The first time I ever played Vegas, I had billing that was under roast beef buffet. It’s funny but it was the truth. It was like 99 cent shrimp cocktail, roast beef buffet, Bill Engvall.
I got to play the Stardust, which is just a classic old place. Now I’m over at the TI and I just love those people. The room is great. It’s like going on vacation for a night. The shows are great. It’s like the minute you land there’s this cool vibe in Vegas.
Do you remember your first trip to Vegas?
It would of have probably when I played the Improv when it was at the Riviera. I didn’t have the money to go to Vegas. I swear to god, I see these kids, 20-something years old with these wads of money. I didn’t have the money to go to Vegas or go to a club and have bottle service and all that.
The thing that I think sometimes people forget about Vegas is that everyone goes and gambles. I used to love to gamble. I don’t really like it that much anymore just because I finally worked it out that I work too hard for my money. I’d rather go play golf. I’d rather pay $400 on a great golf course. There’s so much cool stuff to do in Las Vegas without gambling. The restaurants. God, you could gain 800 pounds a day if you really wanted to put your mind to it.
Do you have any favorite restaurants you like to visit here?
Yes, but you’re going to have to find the names. I’ll describe them for you. I’m kind of an old school guy. I love old Vegas. I wish I could have been headliner at my level back in the ’60s in Vegas. That would have been the best when the mob ran it. I just love that people got dressed up. It was an event. Unfortunately I don’t think it’s like it used to be.
I like to go to that Italian restaurant that’s not on the Strip. Famous. Old. Back off the MGM.
Battista’s Hole in the Wall.
Yes! And I like to go to is it David’s? Or Mark’s? It used to be the Barbary Coast.
Michael’s! That’s another one of my favorites. I really dig the place that has the wine angels.
Yeah, That’s a really good place to eat.
At some point on your trip to Vegas you have to eat the gigantic hot dog at Circus Circus. As much as I love great food, I love really bad food.
You know what Vegas is missing and I wish they would let them have them? Street vendors. God, that would be the best. They would make a killing. People would come out of the casinos wasted and have a taco cart there? I would be there.
Then the old steak place in the TI. Frank’s? Or something like that.
They’re old school too. I’ll go over to Lagasse’s. I just love to eat, which is why I have to watch my weight. That’s why I did that stupid Dancing With the Stars. I didn’t want to dance. I just wanted to lose some weight. I lost 35 pounds. I also had to have my knee replaced. Nothing’s free.
Do people approach you while you're dining out?
Yeah, but I love that. The only time I ever have problems...listen, there’s a reason people get in this business. People will tell you they’re in it for the art, that’s bullshit. Everyone’s got an ego. I don’t care who you are. Some people have great big egos. Some have little tiny egos. But everybody’s got an ego. You’re not going to tell me you don’t love it when somebody walks up and says, “Hey, Bill Engvall. We love you.” I don’t understand these stars who say, “Oh, I’m just eating dinner now, please.” The only time I’ve ever had problems with people is when they’re drunk and that little switch doesn’t go off that says, “I should move on now.” But 99.99 percent of the people are very respectful. They just want to say hi. That’s one of the reasons I’ve been able to do this for so long, me and the other guys — Jeff, Larry, Ron — we’re very approachable. We’re regular guys who got really lucky. There are a lot of comedians out there who are just as funny as we are. We just happened to be at the right place at the right time.
What about nightlife? Do you ever go out after a show to unwind?
Sometimes I will. Sometimes Gail and I will go out. She loves to see shows but unfortunately they’re always at the same time as mine. I’ve had a date in Vegas at the TI and come in a night early and we’ll go to see a show or something. I think that’s where the funniest stuff in life comes from. I’ll be sitting there playing blackjack next to someone and he doesn’t know who I am. But then somebody else at the table will. I don’t ever say anything.
I had a guy walk up to be an ask if I was Jeff Engvall. I said, “No. There’s nobody named Jeff Engvall. There’s a Bill Engvall. That’s me.” They mean well. I know if I start answering to other names, I’m going to get confused.
What was the first thing that shocked you in Las Vegas?
That is a good question. The hooker cards. We were walking down the Strip and these guys hand you those cards with these girls’ pictures on them and a number you can call. And it’s legal. That’s just really sad. Then I thought, you know, somewhere this girl’s got a mom and a dad. At some point some couple has to be walking down the Strip and looking on the ground. Hey, isn’t that our little Cindy? I thought she was in law school.