On a recent Thursday afternoon inside the now-closed Madison Avenue Bar & Grill, drag performer Jimmy Emerson is wearing casual clothes and a black baseball cap with his first name in bright pink letters as he maneuvers through the construction area.
The diva who performed 20 years with “An Evening at La Cage,” at the Riviera ran his own production company, and now tours as a host and headliner. A the moment, he is discussing the placement of a window sign with his new business partners, Neal Dorfman and Jim Lash.
The three of them have taken over the longtime Philadelphia Eagles sports bar and neighborhood haunt on Twain Avenue and University Center Drive. They are turning it into a 24-hour gay New York-themed cabaret space, complete with video poker, drag shows and a kitchen that never closes.
“We’re putting in a full-fledged old-fashioned cabaret,” Emerson says. “We’ll have late-night appetizers and breakfast around the clock.
“Shift workers getting off of the Strip can come play video poker and have a couple of drinks.”
The owners say they are optimistic that they’ll be open by April. The establishment at 855 E. Twain Ave. is already looking more like its new identity as Jimmy’s @ Madison’s. Gone are the billiard tables and the Philadelphia green that marked the former sports bar before Emerson, Dorman and Lash signed a 20-year lease on the establishment.
Playing off a New York skyline featured on an original mirror behind the bar, the owners installed stylized art deco wallpaper and decorative stamped-tin ceilings. The once green walls are painted a dark rose. Soon, 14 TV screens will project shows and even broadcast the cabaret events staged at one end of the bar.
They’re reaching out to touring and local acts, drag shows, singers and impersonators — mostly smaller acts, cruise ship performers and one- or two-person shows with mega talent, but not the large showrooms, Emerson says:
“Amy Armstrong comes to mind. Tommi Rose from Palm Springs. A lot of drag queens, friends I’ve worked 20 years with at ‘La Cage’ at Riviera.”
Collectively, their backgrounds are steeped in the right ingredients—show business, marketing, bartending, business and/or food service, allowing for their own in-house hands-on skill and expertise.
Dorfman is a vendor at NASCAR and for the city of Henderson Parks, among other venues. Lash, a former dancer, is in marketing. Emerson, a bartender, is an established diva, captivating fans in a teased up wig and glittering gown. And, they’re thinking creatively, considering drag show brunches and dinner shows with special headliners.
A non-smoking private room is available for private parties, birthdays and meetings. Dorfman, originally from Florida, says he’s fulfilling a longtime dream of owning a gay bar, something he moved to Las Vegas in 2016 to do.
“The one thing we want to do is, we want to unite the bars,” he says, adding that they are looking to purchase a bus for a club crawl, taking groups from gay bar to gay bar safely.
“We want to bring everyone together — guys, girls. Everyone is welcome here. Everyone is safe.”
And, if all goes as planned, everyone will be transported to another time and another place, complete with autographed photos and Broadway playbills hanging on the ways, Emerson says, “so you really feel like you’re in the heart of New York.”
Lash, who moved to Las Vegas in 1985 after college to become a dancer and entertainer before taking a career in marketing, says that with his background and his love of people, he thought it was a perfect time to open a new all-inclusive bar, grill and entertainment spot.
“I have two amazing partners and I believe that the three of us can accomplish something amazing in Las Vegas where people can be themselves,” he says “I hope everybody will enjoy themselves because we put a lot of passion and love into this project. I can’t wait to meet everyone.”