Las Vegas has never dealt with anything quite like the coronavirus pandemic but the city has seen its share of challenges and crises. Lorraine Hunt-Bono has been here for many of those trying times.
“I’ve learned a lot about surviving all the doom and gloom we’ve encountered. My parents told stories from 1945 when World War II ended and everyone in their family said, ‘That’s it. Get out of Vegas. Nothing can grow there. It’s over.’ And we kept growing,” she said. “Then again with Atlantic City in 1978, with the proliferation of gaming, it was, ‘That’s it. Vegas is done.’ And we put our heads together in the community and said we’re going overseas and going to bring the world in to Las Vegas.”
Rattle through the various economic tragedies that have hampered the growth of Las Vegas, inflation to September 11 to the Recession to One October, and Hunt-Bono will remind you how her city came back bigger and better every time. And this pandemic will be no different.
“There really is a lot of light at the end of this tunnel, you just have to look around and realize,” she said. “It will pass and our infrastructure here in Las Vegas and Nevada is positioned for continued success. We’re going to rebound and quickly. It’s inevitable.
“We’ve been through things like this for years and those relatives will tell us to get out of town but my mother and father would laugh it off. My daddy used to say, ‘Las Vegas isn’t going anywhere but up. The sky’s the limit.’”
This family is nothing short of Las Vegas royalty. Her parents Maria and Albert Perry moved from Niagara Falls to Las Vegas in 1943 and opened an Italian restaurant here six years later. They teamed with Angie and Lou Ruvo to open a pizzeria on Fremont Street in 1955 and then the historic Venetian restaurant on Sahara Avenue in 1963. Lorraine, known then as Lauri Perry, became a singer and entertainer performing in showrooms all over the city before joining her family in the restaurant business with the opening of the original Bootlegger in 1972 at the corner of Tropicana and Eastern.
Hunt-Bono was elected to the Clark County Commission in 1994, served as the first woman chair of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority and won the office of Lieutenant Governor of Nevada in 1998.
In 2001, the Bootlegger moved to its current, larger location south of the Strip on Las Vegas Boulevard while maintaining its reputation for classic Italian cuisine, warm service and exciting live entertainment. Dozens of legendary performers and Vegas favorites have graced its stage through the years including Mary Wilson from the Supremes, Tony Curtis, Pia Zadora, Mary Kaye, George Bugatti, Sonny Charles, Lena Prima, Frankie Avalon, Kristin Chenowith, Frankie Scinta, Tony Orlando, Clint Holmes and many more.
Like many local businesses, the Bootlegger was forced to close for a couple of months in the spring but continued to serve customers with takeout food services. It has been back in business this summer including dine-in with gaming but the normally robust live music offerings have been pared down to a solo pianist or harpist.
“This has been a very difficult time for every small family business,” Hunt-Bono said. “We have the advantage of longevity, but the key today is surviving the crisis. Being an old-time family restaurant, we’ve been saving for rainy days and received help from government entities and being able to reopen, so we’re hanging in there and doing OK. But my heart goes out to everyone that can’t do that. We’re trying to help wherever we can.”
Since the Bootlegger is a Vegas institution, other restaurant and entertainment operators have been looking to Hunt-Bono and her husband, entertainer and host Dennis Bono, for guidance and support.
“It’s a tough time for everyone and we talk to younger people who think this is the end of the world, but you just have to hang in there. Six months from now, this will be a different story,” she said. “The shooting in 2017 was also horrendous for tourism and the entertainment industry, and here we are in 2020 with this pandemic and it’s horrible again and it’s worldwide. But we will come back because we always do. Entertainment is still the key.
“We’re going to pull out of this because we can. That Nevada pioneer spirit is alive and well. Having lived through these scenarios, I know this is not the end, just a dip in the road, and our economy was on a dynamic upswing before COVID.”
Indeed, if you drive north from the Bootlegger on Las Vegas Boulevard, you can’t miss the reopened Strip resorts, the brand-new Allegiant Stadium set to host the first Las Vegas Raiders football game in one week and the soon-to-open Resorts World and Las Vegas Convention Center expansion.
“Last year was gangbusters for Vegas for businesses small and large, and 2020 in January and February were fantastic for the whole town. Then the rug was pulled out from under us,” Hunt-Bono said. “But I know in my heart and we know in the community this is only temporary. This will pass.”