Weekly Q&A: Dino’s owner Kristin Bartolo
Wed, Sep 12, 2012 (3:08 p.m.)
Photo: Bill Hughes
“Getting Vegas drunk since 1962,” Dino’s merch proudly announces. It may not seem like much of a feat, but few businesses in this town can claim such a long history. Fewer still can boast they’ve had as good of a time as the lively owner of Dino’s, Kristin Bartolo. She inherited one of Las Vegas’ most beloved bars from her father, Chuck, who inherited it from her grandfather, Rinaldo Dean Bartolomucci, or Dino. After 50 years of mobsters, strong drinks, pool games and karaoke, Bartolo lets us step behind the bar to find out what makes Dino’s tick.
So you grew up at Dino’s, in a way.
Totally. When I was a kid, my sisters and I went to church with [Dino] on Saturday. Afterward, we’d go to Dino’s, and he’d give us handfuls of quarters for the jukebox. Our family owned other bars, but Dino’s was always our mainstay. Course, the crowd was different then, mostly people in their 30s and 40s. Now we’re kind of a hipster bar. I feel like I spend all night serving 21-year-olds, which is great. We’ve got that old Vegas appeal for the young crowd.
What’s up with the Mob and Dino’s? Is it something you heard about growing up?
I didn’t really know much about the Mob history of the bar. My grandfather and dad never talked about it, but I came to find out that the guy, Eddie Trascher, who my grandfather Dino bought the bar from, was a mobster. I started finding his signature everywhere on our historical paperwork.
Apparently around 1958 he had a problem customer who would get drunk and punch a hole in the wall of the men’s bathroom, always in the same spot. Finally Trascher decided enough was enough and put spikes in the wall behind the spot the guy liked to smash it in. Needless to say, he didn’t do it again.
Were you nervous when you inherited the bar?
I wasn’t too nervous. Since my dad was semi-retired, I’d been running the place for a while and was 29, but I still called him for advice all the time. I was surprised and really hurt by his death, which made me a little scared—not having him to rely on. But I knew I couldn’t let the bar fail under me after all he and my grandfather did.
Some other long-term Vegas businesses, like White Cross Drugs, have had to sell. Do you ever wonder about Dino’s legacy?
Well, I have kids. My sister has kids. I’m still young. As far as I can say, we’ll never sell it. They tried to shut us down using eminent domain a few years back. When they found out we weren’t going to just let it go, they stopped threatening and gave up. The place is a historical landmark. I was adamant Dino’s wasn’t going anywhere.
Tell me about an unforgettable moment at the bar.
There are crazy things happening here all the time, even in the daytime. It’s the new old Vegas. Playboy (Germany) recently shot here for a few hours. That was pretty wild.
Has Dino’s ever closed?
In 50 years, we’ve only closed three times and never before I inherited the bar. The first was for a private party, the second for the shooting of a Drew Barrymore movie called Lucky You , and then for Playboy. Even then, it was only ever for a few hours.
How did Drunk of the Month get started?
That was my idea. I don’t know how I came up with it, but it has a life of its own now. Basically, the bartenders nominate a person, then the customers vote. You can even vote online now. You win a T-shirt that says “Drunk of the Month” and that you can only get by winning the contest. We’re strict about that. I’ve been offered up to $300 for one. You also get your own parking spot. The only problem with the spot is the sign’s been stolen four or five times. Plus, and I probably shouldn’t be telling you this, the drunks would run it over with their cars if it hadn’t been stolen yet. There’s also a Drunk of the Year award.
Has anyone ever been offended at being selected?
As far as I know, no one’s ever been offended. People have said, “Oh no, don’t out me on that list!” But we tell them to make sure the other customers don’t vote for them.
Anything new happening for Dino’s 50th anniversary?
We’ll definitely have a big party in October for the 50th—still working out the details. Also, about two months ago we started doing these Raise the Roof art installations on our ceiling tiles. Mostly tattoo artists paint a single tile and then we unveil them on the last Friday of every month. It’s Vegas’ first ceiling art gallery. So far we have 12 tiles, and they’re really worth checking out.