Natalie Banuelos has a very unique perspective on Las Vegas, and not just because she works as a bartender and server at the Foundation Room, perched atop a golden tower at Mandalay Bay. Although she’s only been up there for two years and working at Mandalay Bay for five, in a way it’s been her home for a long, long time.
“I’ve been here since the late ’80s, when my father moved us here from San Diego,” she says. “He was in construction and built most of these casinos [on the Strip from that period], including Mandalay Bay. People come in and ask me what part of the city I’m from, and I have to laugh when I say, ‘The parking lot, actually,’ because for a while we lived in a huge trailer in the back of the Hacienda while he was building casinos.”
Ironically, Banuelos still lives nearby today. “I guess this is just my stomping grounds. I remember the Glass Pool Inn across the street and going into the Hacienda a lot to use the pay phone.” She started her hospitality career with Southwest Airlines before moving into bartending, and returned to San Diego for a while to work in a biker bar.
But the House of Blues concert hall, and now the Foundation Room, has become her favorite gig. “I just love it, and I love the members,” she says. “It’s just different up here. It’s almost like an upscale Cheers, because you know everybody, but you also get people from all over the country who are discovering the Foundation Room for the first time.”
When she’s not serving it up—or working her other full-time gig as a “big soccer mom”—you’ll find Banuelos on her Harley-Davidson riding out to Red Rock, Boulder City, Lake Mead or Mount Charleston. “We have a lot of great places to ride here,” she says. “We’re even trying to get a ride together with some of the other servers and some of our members.”