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Kats Goes Cowboy: If it’s shots and beer and a mechanical bull, it must be Gilley’s

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Surprise guest Bill Engvall takes the stage to sing a few favorites with Austin Law at Gilley’s Saloon & Dance Hall at Treasure Island on Thursday, Dec. 9, 2010.
Photo: Christopher DeVargas

It is an unwritten rule that one night of the National Finals Rodeo should be spent at Gilley’s, and Thursday was that night.

Gilley's Saloon & Dance Hall

Austin Law rocks the house at Gilley's Saloon & Dance Hall during a night of fun after some serious NFR action Thursday, Dec. 9, 2010.

Gutsy riders take a chance at a $200 cash prize during Gilley's Toughest Cowboy Competition on Thursday, Dec. 9, 2010.

It was a fine night to be there, this being Gilley’s first NFR celebration since it opened at Treasure Island (or, if you will, T.I.): Beer flowed into plastic boots as about 15 guys took part in a Toughest Cowboy Competition. It’s a one-dimensional contest, wherein the victor earns $200 in cash and a $250 gift certificate for Wrangler-branded products.

The band is Austin Law, with burly lead singer Michael Austin yelping the outfit’s “first Top 40 single,” which also is the title of the band’s first album: “Neon Halo.”

At the side of the stage, cordoned away in an off-limits zone, is blond, bespectacled comic Ron White. In the second set, some time after the Gilley Girls perform a loosely choreographed dance number in their briefs and leather chaps, Bill Engvall shows up to sing a few numbers.

The mechanical bull remains busy, even between contest rounds. This Gilley’s is a lot smaller than the former hotspot in the now-leveled New Frontier, where the club hosted mud wrestling contests and cult-like line dance parties for nearly a decade.

“We need more space, and we’re going to get it,” says Gilley’s Manager Robert Perry, who has moved over from the hotel’s chic Asian restaurant Khotan and is admittedly not a true cowboy. But Perry is well-acquainted with the culture from his days at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces. There will be 2,200 square feet built out to the casino floor to accommodate the need for space at the club and restaurant.

“Me, I’m a wine sommelier and sake specialist,” Perry says. “But I can tell you we are outgrowing where we are, and we sell a lotta Coors and Coors Light.”

Perry is speaking in his office, but outside you can here the buzz of the crowd and Austin Law gearing up for another set. There is music and laughs and Crown Royal shots backed by cold beer. There’s that devilish mechanical bull that is an entertainment vehicle unto itself, two celebrities sitting with the band and women dressed in skimpy leather.

John-Bob says check it out.

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at twitter.com/JohnnyKats.

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