The Jazz Age is alive and well in a speakeasy tucked away on the Las Vegas Strip.
Just off the casino floor in Mandalay Bay, you’ll spot a classic 1920s Model T Ford. There, a couple of bouncers, complete with suspenders and fedoras, will meet you. Tell them Frankie sent you. If that doesn’t work, give them the secret password. From there, they’ll lead you to a door hidden behind a bookcase, where you’ll enter a quaint lounge where barrel-aged bourbon drinks flow freely.
You’ve just entered 1923 Bourbon & Burlesque by Holly Madison. A DJ plays house music, but then it fades away as a four-piece jazz band takes it place playing classic tunes.
The barkeeps expertly mix cocktails like the Mule Kick (a bourbon version of the Moscow Mule) and the club’s signature cocktail, the 1923 Barrel-aged Manhattan.
If it’s the weekend, you might spot the ever-vivacious Lady of the House Skye Dee Miles working the room, singing to and teasing the audience.
Madison, who had headlined in Peepshow at Planet Hollywood until 2012, opened 1923 Bourbon May 1 with a striptease performance while singing the American blues classic “Why Don’t You Do Right.” With her recently dyed red locks and buxom figure, she brought to mind Jessica Rabbit’s sexy cartoon performance in 1988′s “Who Framed Roger Rabbit.”
“Opening weekend was great,” Madison said. “It was really energetic. The girls had a great time. The performances went well. I had a blast.”
On Friday and Saturday nights, six dancers and Miles perform in Bourbon Burlesque, with Madison making occasional appearances. Miles acts as hostess, interacting with the crowd and belting out popular classic songs. The dancers perform burlesque, but will stray from the classic format to keep the show fresh, Madison said.
One of the show’s performers is Buttercup Delight, who twirls tassels and “assels” in a neo-burlesque performance that seems to be plucked from the 1920s. Madison said that as a longtime burlesque fan, she wanted to incorporate some of its classic elements, but also some modern dance elements too.
“A lot of the girls are dancers plucked from other shows on the Strip,” she said. “There’s definitely traditional burlesque elements, but I didn’t want to limit myself to just that. I just didn’t want to corner myself. It’s there, but it’s not everything that’s there.”
On nights when Madison performs, she plans to sing.
“I was in Peepshow on the Strip for four years, and I was just dancing,” she said. “Eventually I ended up singing in that show, but I just want to stretch myself a little bit more. I take off a few pieces here and there, but if I’m not singing or doing something else, it’s not really much of a challenge for me, so I wanted to add that in.”
The weekend show starts at about 11:30 p.m., she said, allowing plenty of time to sample from the cocktail menu. Madison described the drinks as “beautiful,” but admitted to not having a chance to try any.
“I’ve been working hard when I’m there,” she said. “Several of the dancers like to invite their friends and stick around (after the show), so it’s definitely been put to the test.”
One aspect of the speakeasy vibe that thankfully misses the mark at 1923 Bourbon is the bad booze served during Prohibition. The booze here isn’t some poor-quality swill smuggled in by a truck keeping an uneasy eye open for the cops or a rival gang. Instead, the spirits served at 1923 Bourbon include such notables as Pappy Van Winkle (seasonal), Jim Beam Devil’s Cut, Bulliet, Woodford Reserve, Four Roses, Eagle Rare Single Barrel and Blanton’s. Just pick your poison.
The outfits of the bartenders and servers are inspired by the 1920s, with some putting a modern twist to their look. Cocktail waitresses don flapper dresses paired with fishnet stockings and black boots. The dancers are dressed minimally, far less than what would be seen almost a century ago in Prohibition America, Madison said.
“I love the look of the 1920s and the glamour of it, but I didn’t want to be limited by it,” she said. “If you look at actual old catalogs and old photos, they’re authentic and look at what people actually wore in the ’20s, it really isn’t quite so sexy. Maybe it was sexy and shocking for the time, but it really didn’t show much.
“If you’re a bartender or a cocktail waitress, you’re going to want to wear some comfortable shoes and some hot stockings. Same with the dancers too. I mean, what we wear is inspired by the 1920s and is inspired by early 19th century glamour, but it’s definitely a lot skimpier than anything you would have seen back then.”
A primary inspiration for Madison when it came to creating 1923 Bourbon was “The Great Gatsby” soundtrack, as were the fashions of “Chicago” and “Boardwalk Empire.”
1923 Bourbon, with its antique embellishments, dark wood and chandeliers as well as three machine guns positioned high above the entrance, can accommodate 325 people, including two dozen in the Art Deco-designed cigar room.
1923 Bourbon & Burlesque by Holly Madison is open from 10 p.m. to close Wednesday – Saturday. No cover charge.
Burlesque performance from the grand opening: