Commonly referred to as “You mean that place next to Beauty Bar? No—never been,” Don’t Tell Mama is where Las Vegas’ entertainers go to be entertained. It’s an open-mic piano bar, it’s a legitimate New York import, and it’s free to get in. Just make sure you go on the right night …
When I walked into Don’t Tell Mama on a recent Friday, bartenders Bianca Alanis and Aundrea Whitt were on the raised platform stage performing “Buttons” by the Pussycat Dolls. As Whitt sang, “I’m telling you to loosen up my buttons, baby,” Alanis unfastened Whitt’s belt.
“One night I came here to visit a friend,” Whitt told me after her set, “and I sang a few songs, and the owner asked me if I wanted a job. Two weeks later I was bartending. No interview, no nothing.”
I’d assumed the Don’t Tell Mama hiring process went something like that, given 1) Whitt’s fantastic voice and 2) Whitt’s disbelief that “negroni” was a real drink name (she initially thought I wanted a Peroni and had the lettering confused).
Whitt retook the stage and sang “Billie Jean,” “Don’t Stop Believing” and “American Pie.” By the third verse of “Pie,” the seven men sitting in front of me were singing along and waving their beer bottles in the air.
“So how’d you guys end up here?” I asked one of the guys. I used the term “end up” because, compared to the 30 or so other Don’t Tell Mama patrons, these men looked, how shall I say, a little Republican.
“We’re from Seattle, and we used to go around the country doing ski trips. But now we’re too old for that, so we play golf and go to piano bars. Not sure how it worked out that way, but that’s our thing. Some lady at Mandalay Bay told us to come here, and I’m glad we listened because this place is great.”
Former Jubilee! showgirl/Don’t Tell Mama regular Katrina Loncaric went up next. She got the audience snapping on 2 and 4 and sang Peggy Lee’s “Fever.” The Seattleites offered Loncaric vocal affirmations (e.g., “Sing it, sister!”) and lyrical confirmations (e.g., Loncaric: “Captain Smith and Pocahontas had a very mad affair,” Seattle Guys: “Yes, they did!” Loncaric: “When her daddy tried to kill him, she said, ‘Daddy, oh don’t you dare.’” Seattle Guys: “That’s what she said!”).
“For a while,” Loncaric told me, “I stopped singing and became a concierge at Encore. But after singing here a few times, I realized that I still need to be performing—and starting this week, I’m singing backup in an Elvis show in Laughlin. Don’t Tell Mama definitely tided me over between gigs.”
And then it was my turn. I sat down behind the piano and performed an audience-participatory version of Moxy Früvous’ hit song (“hit song” in Canada, circa 1993) “King of Spain.” As I sang, Don’t Tell Mama’s black and white checkered floor filled up with water. Apparently my voice was so awful that it shattered a water main.
Whitt retook the stage yet again and brought the microphone to her mouth. But she didn’t sing—she asked everybody to leave: “For your safety, we’re going to have to take a loss and shut down tonight. We’ve never shut down Don’t Tell Mama before, but, as they say, there’s a first time for everything.”
The Seattleites weren’t pleased; they chanted, “HELL NO! WE WON’T GO!” until Whitt overpowered them with her a cappella version of R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine).”
“Come back and see us soon,” Whitt said to me.
“I’m sure I will,” I replied.
Brilliant move on the part of Don’t Tell Mama. First rule of show business: Always leave them wanting more.