In a manufactured garden at Caesars Palace, just steps away from slots and Roman statues, Lisa Vanderpump clutches a Pomeranian that’s as motionless as a stuffed animal. It’s opening weekend at Vanderpump Cocktail Garden, her first Las Vegas restaurant, and everything is pink: her dress, the lighting, the beet hummus that’s being served. Even the fountains outside have been dyed Hawaiian Punch fuchsia.
For the casual Las Vegas diner, Vanderpump Cocktail Garden might seem like another celebrity restaurant. Las Vegas visitors are accustomed to looking up at Giada De Laurentiis on a billboard and Gordon Ramsay glaring from a replica of the Arc de Triomphe. But to Vanderpump Rules fans, the new venture is the culmination of a show that’s been chaotically — and delightfully — entangled with Las Vegas since its inception.
Currently in its seventh season, Vanderpump Rules chronicles the lives and alleyway shouting matches of the staff at SUR Restaurant & Lounge (it is never not hilarious to remember that SUR stands for “Sexy Unique Restaurant”). Unlike Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, which also features Lisa Vanderpump, the show isn’t a glossy look at the lives of millionaires who own swans and purchase new Porsches each summer; it’s a glimpse into the world of people who carry trays, chain-smoke, and live in apartments without central air.
There’s bartender Jax Taylor, a lovable sociopath who has a habit of tattooing girlfriends’ names on his body before cheating on them. There’s former server Stassi Schroeder, a blue-eyed princess who rhapsodizes about murdering her enemies in eerily specific language (“I literally want to come at them with daggers and chop their faces and hide them in the walls.”). There’s now-fired server Kristen Doute, who still stalks SUR in hopes of destroying ex-boyfriends. There’s bartender/unfortunate hat enthusiast Tom Sandoval and perpetually unemployed Tom Schwartz, who together bumbled their way into part ownership of Vanderpump’s Los Angeles restaurant TomTom. The former is the boyfriend of bored bartender Ariana Madix and the latter is the husband of longtime server Katie Maloney-Schwartz, who goes by the nickname “Tequila Katie” and once confessed to only having $200 in her checking account while drawing up a prenuptial agreement. Lastly, there’s doomed pop star/server Scheana Shay, hostess Lala Kent, a Utah transplant who genuinely believes that Tupac’s spirit lives in her body, southern belle Brittany Cartwright, and James Kennedy, godson of George Michael and occasional SUR DJ.
Because the show is rooted in Los Angeles (Lisa Vanderpump operates four restaurants in West Hollywood), Las Vegas serves as the perfect location for misadventures. In season one, episode four, Jax crashes Stassi’s birthday party at off-Strip restaurant Marrakech. Having previously cheated on her with a bottle service girl who he impregnated (a separate Vegas incident), he is unwelcome and dressed in a low-cut, chunky sweater — an unsettling sartorial choice for June in the desert. Suddenly all of the men are shirtless and brawling in the parking lot.
“I am being set up,” Jax assures himself from a room at the Hard Rock. ”I’ve done a lot of bad things. Have I done drugs? Yes. Have I slept with a prostitute? Yes. Was I a bad guy? Yes. I have nothing to hide. Did I get a girl pregnant in Vegas? Yes, I did.”
Of all the cast members, Jax Taylor’s experience with Las Vegas best exemplifies the false belief that what happens here, stays here. During forays to Las Vegas, he has met and convinced at least two different women to move to Los Angeles with him, cheated on multiple partners, and solemnly chugged vodka in countless stretch Hummer limos.
Other castmates have also tangoed with Las Vegas over the course of the show’s run. In season two, episode 13, Tom Sandoval confesses to cheating on former girlfriend Kristen with current girlfriend Ariana in the pool at the Golden Nugget.
“That’s like an all time low,” Stassi chastises him.
“Are you kidding me?” he says. “I love that place.”
Several seasons later, Tom Sandoval and Tom Schwartz are shown getting butt tattoos to prove their devotion to their girlfriends. In a questionable display of further emotional growth, season six sees them heading to Las Vegas on business with Lisa Vanderpump.
“I’ve established some rules to make sure things don’t fall apart,” Tom Schwartz says. “No shots after 6 a.m., OK?”
Before a meeting with Las Vegas-based restaurant designer Nick Alain, the Toms celebrate their newfound adulthood with shots of Fireball. They stumble through his showroom like drunk but well-meaning golden retrievers until Lisa says, “Can you settle down for a little bit or go do something else?”
At an opening weekend tasting event at Vanderpump Cocktail Garden, the Toms and their fellow cast-mates are absent and most likely asleep in their hotel rooms.
Lisa navigates the restaurant in bejeweled heels alongside a beaming Nick Alain, who spent 16 weeks designing the space. Her Real Housewives of Beverly Hills co-star Camille Grammer stands holding a rabbit named Theodore.
“He’s nocturnal,” she says, when someone remarks on the animal’s mellow temperament.
The tables are strewn with lobster flatbreads, spicy salmon squid ink cones, and rosé cake. Cocktails bear cheeky titles and superfluous garnishes. Ambient music, intended to overshadow the jangling slot machines, plays over Lisa’s voice as she thanks the crowd.
“Will Vanderpump Rules shoot in Vegas?” someone asks. “Will Vanderpump Cocktail Garden get a spin-off?”
The idea of more shirtless parking lot spats is certainly an appealing one, but regretfully, no one at Vanderpump Cocktail Garden is willing to talk specifics. One can’t help but wish for the presence of the Toms, Jax Taylor, Kristen Doute, and anyone else from the cast who might be inclined to throw back a few shots and confess that they’ll be hanging around Vegas with cameras in the nearby future. Unfortunately it’s noon — way too early by Vanderpump Rules standards — and anyone who might be willing to divulge such secrets is still asleep.