Rao’s, and Las Vegas, loses some of its joy with the passing of Bubbles

Bubbles at Rao’s signature wine tasting at Whole Foods Market.
Photo: Erik Kabik/Retna/www.erikkabikphoto.com

Several years ago, a friend told me about a man he’d met working the door at Crazy Horse Too. He wasn’t really a bouncer, this man, nor was he a top-level club executive.

He was more like a greeter-at-large, this roundish hunka fun, and it was a role he played with relish.

“This guy has tickets to everything and knows everybody,” my friend said. “He’s like the lost character in The Sopranos.”

Soon the storied gentleman from Crazy Horse Too moved on to become the host at Rao’s at Caesars Palace, where for lunch he was known to eat the restaurant’s fabulous marinara sauce with a big spoon as if it were soup. The man’s name was Robert Ubriaco, but he was commonly known as “Bubbles,” the avuncular, ever-congenial longtime friend of the Pellegrino family dating to the days of the original Rao’s in Harlem.

It was sad to learn Thursday afternoon that Bubbles had died at Desert Springs Hospital. Though he seemed to many of his friends as ageless, he was actually 65.

Bubbles was a true character who loved Vegas. I once spotted him with Frank Pellegrino at a KISS show at The Pearl Concert Theater. Another time, I couldn’t miss him seated near the front of the stage at a Matt Goss performance at Cleopatra’s Barge at Caesars Palace.

Bubbles managed to remain active and keep his social calendar in order without actually owning a calendar, his personal accounting system consisting of nothing more than a stack of cards and notes pinched together by a big paperclip or rubber band. He didn’t drive. I never knew him to carry a cell phone.

Bubbles was from a different time and place, and certainly Rao’s won’t be the same without him. A statement was issued Thursday afternoon on behalf of Rao’s by restaurant PR rep Kenneth Langdon:

"We love him. We will miss him. We can never replace him. He brought us more joy than anyone can imagine. We are sure that all who knew him feel the same way. He will be the greatest host heaven has ever seen. Bubbles, all of us at Rao’s wish you peace and joy."

Bubbles once told me a story that originated during his days at Crazy Horse Too. Bubbles met George Clooney at “The Horse” about a decade ago, and Clooney soon became pretty friendly with the fun-loving doorman.

After Bubbles moved on to Caesars, he loped into a men’s room and heard a guy in the next stall announce, “The water’s cold! And deep, too!”

Bubbles called over the partition, “That you, George?”

It was.

The last time I saw Bubbles was in November, during a dinner at Rao’s before a Rod Stewart show at The Colosseum at Caesars. He was sporting his usual Rao’s attire, a dark suit and white shirt. But Bubbles, he wasn’t moving too well. Instead of escorting guests to their tables, he was seated and leaning against a cane. He seemed sad to me, so I said, “Hey, how’s Bobby Bumps?”

“Not too many people know that name,” he said, his face alighting with a smile.

That was the nickname Robert Ubriaco had first, many years before the other one. But Bobby Bumps didn’t stick. To all of us all, he’ll always be Bubbles.

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