Friday, November 7, 9:30 p.m.
Like most middle-class Americans, I’ve been singing the blues a bit lately. But everyone from my doctor to CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta would probably agree that a) I’m not alone and b) “This too shall pass.” So when I dragged newly dubbed official wingman Mike out one night to hit the two-day-old B.B. King’s Blues Club at the Mirage, I half-expected he would go along with it with the same blind faith with which he’d followed me to Forbes late one night, just seeking a little blues diversion. But it was I who practically had to hold on as he rushed to get us a seat right next to the stage while the 10-piece band endlessly tuned up.
Occupying—we guessed—a former coffee-shop space and something else that bit the dust across from Revolution Lounge, B.B. King’s Blues Club is an amalgam of very good ideas: part restaurant, serving reasonably priced southern-style breakfast, lunch, dinner and late-night comfort food; part concert venue, with a 30-foot stage and ample space for dancing; and part bar—well, actually there are four of them! Tall beers, straight shots and all the foo-foo ’tinis to satisfy the sweet-seeking American palate.
With low, beamed ceilings and a down-home country feel that’s straight off Memphis’ Beale Street (home to B.B. King’s first blues club, opened in 1991), this location seems like the love child of the House of Blues and Cadillac Ranch, with a little Hash House A Go-Go thrown in for good measure. As Marc Cohn sang, “They’ve got catfish on the table/They’ve got gospel in the air.” While there wasn’t any gospel per se the night I visited, B.B. King’s All-Star Band did play some very high-energy blues, southern rock and soul.
“This works for me,” Mike said as we parked ourselves at a booth down by the stage. The whole room seems to orient itself in this direction, whether you are seated at one of the far-off dining-room tables or the nearby booths and bar stools.
“The only thing missing is the mechanical bull,” Mike said as our server dropped off two beers. “Not yet!” she laughed long and loud. “That’s a good idea, though!” An abundance of staff zipped to and fro among the kitchen, tables and bars, most of which were populated by casually dressed tourists in giant mardi gras beads or Caché evening gowns, fresh from intimate Vegas weddings, no doubt presided over by that other King. Slowly they made for the dance floor, leaving behind shoes and inhibitions as the Jack Daniel’s girls circulated hats, tees and patches.
“It’s Disney!” Mike exclaimed. As a former Disney “cast member,” I knew exactly what he meant. Despite the obviously faux church doors, faux brick walls and what looks like a faux mine-shaft gate, B.B. King’s is spanking new, devoid of the odor of sweat, beer and smoke, badges of honor earned by more venerable clubs over the eons. It’s “the land of the Delta Blues” through the eyes of a Disney Imagineer. That’s not a bad thing, though, “as long as the music is good,” said Mike, bopping his head in time to “Proud Mary,” as belted by a soulful lady with a voice that could bring down these faux rafters into the crowd’s Boll Weevil, Jelly Roll and Lucille cocktails and fried green tomatoes.
“Vegas needs this on the Strip,” Mike declared after a solid hour of the All-Stars. The Blue Note has long since become Krave, and Calyx and Square Apple are way too off-Strip for tourists. Soulzburry already appears to have dropped the soul food and stepping I was so looking forward to in favor of tech-house afterhours. And while the House of Blues offers the occasional authentic blues or jazz show in the Courtyard or even downstairs, the concert venue brings in all manner of acts.
Still, anyone looking for soul on the Strip is going to have trouble. Especially if they are 40 years old, have no designs on bottles or models and didn’t bring their American Express Black Card with them. B.B. King’s amply fills this gaping hole in the nightlife scene as the place for the “grown and sexy.”
Though there were no B.B. King or Lucille sightings that night—and when they do happen, they will likely be rare—plenty of acts will rotate through, like LA’s Bobby Joyner & The Sundowners. I think the King would approve—both of ’em.