The so-called “Old Las Vegas” style seems to be slowly disappearing. If you’d like to sample a flavor of that era, however, just visit Carluccio’s Tivoli Garden Italian Restaurant on the east side of the city, a couple miles off “The Strip”. Carluccio’s first opened in a plaza on Eastern Avenue; however, the famed pianist and entertainer, Liberace, died in 1987, and the Carluccios bought and moved into his “Tivoli Gardens” restaurant on Tropicana Avenue in 1988. Liberace’s name can still be seen in lights above the Carluccio name on the restaurant marquee. The food and service are good, and the prices are very reasonable, but the history of the place doesn’t take a back seat.
Liberace’s influence can be seen and felt in every corner … not to mention, the museum he established is still right next door. He designed and built the restaurant, which has mahogany trim, fountains, and statues situated throughout. In the English lounge, Liberace placed an early twentieth century bar that he imported from an English pub. Of course, there’s a piano lounge! Liberace’s mirrored, autographed grand piano takes center stage in this room. The bar, shaped as a grand piano, was certainly a fitting choice. His theme song was I’ll Be Seeing You, and if you look carefully, you will see it etched into the mirrored walls around the piano lounge. The lounge is complete with twinkling ceiling lights and sparkles, just as you would imagine a room designed by Liberace to be decorated.
Many celebrities and notorious characters have been known to feast at this restaurant. Debbie Reynolds and Rip Taylor, good friends of “Lee’s”, were often guests. Siegfried and Roy, among many others, can be seen to this day enjoying an occasional meal. Many years ago, Anthony Spilatro showed Liberace’s chef the Sicilian way to make calamari and the recipe is still used today. A large dining room, still called the “Mafia Room”, was reportedly often used by Spilatro and his comrades.
Another interesting fact is that paranormals believe that this restaurant is alive with Liberace’s spirit. Unusual activity seems to peak in February and May, the months of his death and birth, respectively. Employees have spoken of toppling bottles, lights that go on and off…especially in close proximity to Liberace’s piano. The place has been visited over five times by mystic researchers.
John Hosier, who started working at Carluccio’s as a waiter, became the owner in 1999. His philosophy is to try to maintain good customer service, which is why you’ll spot him visiting nearly every table. The restaurant enjoys many long-time, loyal patrons. The establishment is child-friendly, so families can enjoy it as well. The service I’ve received in Carluccio’s has been great almost every time. We held my mother’s birthday party a few years back in the piano lounge. There were approximately 50 people in attendance and the comments were all positive. It was an intimate and comfortable setting, and the servers were very attentive.
Of course a restaurant is all about the food. At Carluccio’s, the homemade bread is my favorite. There are delicious appetizers, including the fried calamari and my #1 choice, artichoke hearts ($5.99). Many homemade pastas, chicken, veal, seafood, and steak dishes are served in generous portions. I don’t think there’s anything over $20 on the menu. Most complete meals are between $12 and $20. If you’re not in the mood for a traditional meal, try the thick, Sicilian-style pizza. The ravioli and the chicken picatta are among my preferences. For those who like to imbibe, there are plenty of wines and at least 10 martini choices on the menu. Take-out is also available. (702) 795-3236.
If you’re looking for a little bit of the old Las Vegas flavor combined with good food and reasonable prices, give Carluccio’s a try. They’re open at 1775 E. Tropicana Avenue from 4:30-10:00 every day except Monday. You never know … Liberace’s spirit just may stop by to visit you!