Over the past week I have sat across a table and spoken at length with Double Down Saloon and Frankie’s Tiki Room owner P Moss and Clark County Commissioner Rory Reid.
One is a highly influential, yet often misunderstood, newsmaker in Las Vegas with his finger on the pulse of the community.
The other is Commissioner Reid.
These back-to-back conversations were interviews for my little radio show on KUNV 91.5-FM, “Our Metropolis.” The Moss interview aired last Tuesday, but lives in perpetuity on the KUNV Web site (link to it here). The Reid interview is set to air Feb. 17 at 6 p.m., but you can listen to it here if you just can’t wait.
I am so tempted to note, succumbing to a literary gimmick of compare/contrast, that these two guys are more alike then different. But then I think, “That’s crazy talk.” P Moss and Rory Reid are not “more alike than different.”
Rory Reid is the guy you’d want your daughter to date. P Moss is the guy you’d maybe want your daughter to take an art appreciation course from but that’s it.
Reid has the grooves of combing fresh in his hair and small, studious spectacle frames. Moss seems to groom his hair with a shake and a quick pass with both hands, and his oversize glasses and goatee have become something of a personal trademark, similar to Oscar Goodman’s showgirls. You might not recognize Moss’s face without the glasses, actually.
And Moss (P is his given first name) is proud of his liquid creations at Double Down, the infamous A** Juice and the Bacon Martini. Reid is proud to have served on the local council for the Boy Scouts of America.
But there are similarities between these two in that they share some core characteristics. They’re informal individuals who don’t necessarily travel well on the entangled streets of Vegas. At least, not in my brief experience. I met with Moss at Frankie’s (his new haunt on West Charleston Boulevard) days before we were to sit for the interview. A publicist set up the meeting, which was a little out of the ordinary for Moss, as he’s more amenable to dust dropping by and if he’s around and has time to talk, great. But during this meeting we talked about the format for the radio interview and where it would be held, and he casually asked me, “So, when do you want to pick me up?”
What? I don’t pick up interview subjects! Or, do I? “Because it’s you, Moss, I will pick you up,” I said. I was really flattered he’d asked me to do that, frankly. So a couple days later I scooped him up at Double Down, and I actually arrived for the pickup before he, the owner of the business, showed up. He did bring a Double Down calendar, featuring cover shot of a model stuffed inconveniently into the club’s snack machine. Every month features the ill-intentioned Double Down Skeleton, whom I believe is a patron inadvertently over-served from the Double Down’s early '90s era, when Moss would take just about anyone off the street because business was so lackluster. He even welcomed the drunks who had been kicked out of the Office bar across the street, itself a down-and-dirty haunt that will never be confused with the likes of Lavo. As Moss says, his business owes its early success to a uniquely Vegas cocktail of discarded drunks, the wait staff at the Hard Rock Café (years before the Hard Rock Casino opened), and free radio play from KUNV. This was back in the Rock Avenue days, and the Double Down was a favorite hangout for the on-air personalities in those days, people who were apt to fill the airways with tales of overnight debauchery at this new club. The Hard Rock Cafe folks spun the clock around, ironing their shirts with the steam from the coffee pots before returning to work.
I’m sure Reid would find none of this of particular interest. The day I spoke to him, he showed up 30 minutes late for our interview. He either got lost on his way to the studio or left his Lionel Sawyer & Collins office too late to make the taping time, or both. But apologized profusely (which is the best way to do that), and during the interview spoke about his philosophy of bringing unlike people together to solve complex problems (like, transportation, for instance). Reid is famous for whittling away an issue until two sides reach an agreement – he remembers moderating seating arrangements for his siblings before long trips. Nobody in the Reid family wanted to sit in the middle of the back seat, and father Harry left it to the oldest son (three younger brothers and an older sister is the lineup) to sort out the conflict. He enjoys negotiations, high-stakes interplay, and loathes the fund-raising process. "The chicken dinner circuit," he said with a hint of exhaustion in his voice, "is not my thing."
Moss and Reid do share an obvious affection for their city. Reid grew up in Vegas and his district, District G, covers the southern part of the Strip. Reid has never had any interest in getting involved in the inner-workings of casino management, given that the Strip sort of runs itself. You'd never see him on a casual R&R mission at the Luxor. Moss sees his two Vegas businesses (he also owns the Double Down in New York), even though they pick off some of the fringe elements of Vegas, as culturally enriching. When I asked him if he ever visited any of the big Strip resorts, Moss practically spat and said, “Hardly ever.” Any clubs that have closed that he misses? Not many. He arrived at the tiki theme at Frankie’s because he likes it, it fits the space (anyone who wandered into the dankly smoky old Frankie’s won’t recognize the new place) and tiki is a hugely popular design effect. He’s a businessman who refers to himself as a man of mystery, but I see him as more a walking dichotomy. He’s a guarded person, but is also the face of prominent businesses who has to be accessible to his customers. He’s publicly private, if that makes sense, and far more at ease at the bar or in the passenger’s seat. There is a moment on the show where I asked Moss about his late wife, Julie Brewer. It was not the first time I’d asked Moss about her – at Frankie’s we had spoken about her, and he’d said it was only appropriate that he and Julie (a co-founder of Whirlygig, which started First Friday, and a well-known and well-liked figure in the arts district), two of the coolest people in town, got together. But on the show he braced when I asked if there were moments he thought, I wish Julie were here. “Of course,” was his clipped answer.
Reid is also far more engaging off the record than on. It’s too bad he is not equipped with a drone knob, something you can turn down like the squelch dial on an old CB radio. It usually kicks in when he’s discussing policy, the minutiae of economic issues or health care, or how to fund education, energy and transportation. But when he talks of the wind power available in Las Vegas and that we’ve missed out on more than a billion of dollars over the past few years because this technology has not been advanced, he is enormously compelling. When he says there has never been an economic climate so challenging as the one we are facing now, he’s clearly speaking from the heart and from experience. "But Las Vegas is resilient," he says. "We figure out a way to survive, to get through this." It’ll be interesting to see if he and Goodman both run for governor, as both have mused, for the jarring contrasts in styles. “I’m not Oscar Goodman,” Reid says. “What works for him would never work for me.”
I hope Reid does run for state office, just to open the possibility of a campaign stop at the Double Down. Bacon Martinis would be on the house -- with one person accepted, of course.