There's never a shortage of intrigue in Sin City, especially if you're tuned into its seedy underbelly. Gunnar's been sitting on this story for quite a while, waiting for the venue in question to collapse. But somehow, the CONGA ROOM continues to operate, despite the madness that's been going for a long while...in fact, even before the chic Cuban-themed club opened.
Turns out that the CONGA ROOM began life as a smaller place. Let's call it The Havana Club for legal reasons, okay? Before your pal Gunnar started writing for Vegas 411, I'd heard from an insider about peculiar goings-on at Havana Club. At that time, the chatter was focused on their chef, who was having a love affair with the bottle. Seems the dude used to stagger out from the kitchen, plop down next to unsuspecting diners, cop a feel under the table. then offer to continue the "party" in the restroom. I guess that was the "dessert of the day"?
The fact that nobody reported this behavior is proof that the owners are made of Teflon. The soused chef is part of a team of operators....a curious trio if there ever was one. Those in the know say that business and pleasure make for strange bedfellows...if you catch my drift. Anyway, the Club fostered a reputation for having so-so food but off-the-hook singers, so people continued to come. That gave the threesome an idea to expand to a second location, but not before starting a war with a prominent entertainer. This dude had backed out of his obligations with them to take a lucrative gig in Venice. The chef's angry tirade over his departure led to the Club's entertainment director walking out, too, leaving the team with nobody to guide their month-long Festivus celebration.
Around the same time, a prominent socialite had been hosting private gatherings at The Havana Club. Tired of hearing complaints from her friends about lackluster meals, the debutante tried to have a civil conversation about the menu. Chef Soused was deeply offended, stormed out of the meeting, then later called his best customer a vulgar name before banning her from the establishment. Still, the Club proceeded with expansion plans.
Some chefs are just naturally volatile.
A new entertainment director was hired as the CONGA ROOM began to take shape. He was about to have his hands full, though, as bad buzz had already circulated throughout the entertainment community. It seems that performers frequently weren't getting paid, and if they were, it was with a directive not to cash the check for at least two weeks. Funds for the expansion were clearly running low. One of the tricky trio even had his vintage Chevy Nova repossessed right from the restaurant's lot.
Lots of work had already gone into converting a former Long John Silver's into the swanky new venue, but construction was delayed as funds continued to dry up. In comes a mysterious man with ties to the drug world, who would later be found sitting on a bar stool night after night. The project's foreman was working around the clock, yet his payments weren't being delivered as promised. The Tricky Trio offered the dude a percentage of ownership in the business to placate him, along with a spot on the operations team. Hoping for the best, Bob the Builder agreed to their terms and continued work without pay...a decision he'd soon come to regret.
After some delays, The Conga Room made its grand debut with a semi-splashy function. Despite the fact that a liquor license was still pending, guests sipped champagne as local entertainers gave sneak peeks at upcoming shows. Amidst the hoopla, it was easy to overlook the fact that the stage bunting was held together with thumbtacks, and performers stood under plug-in shop lights clamped to the overhead sprinkler system. Swanky indeed.
Order Beef Wellington, receive a reheated empanada. Just another day at "The Conga Room".
A decision had been made to open the club in stages, with a bar and grill as Phase One. Despite promises of an expansive menu and an awesome Happy Hour, those offerings were scaled back dramatically. An insider told Gunnar that the Tricksters hadn't been paying their food suppliers, so their accounts were frozen. That required staffers to make frequent jaunts to the nearest supermarket...a huge industry no-no.
The CONGA ROOM grill was now open to the public, but nobody seemed to care. Turnout was absolutely anemic. Then a flood at the original location caused enough damage to force everything over to the new place. That generated a whole other set of problems, as the singers for the original venue were booked as ticketed headliners. Now they'd be performing as free entertainment for the few who wandered in.
Bob the Builder was busting his butt during business hours as operations manager while simultaneously attempting to get Phase Two completed. Exhausted by hours of overtime, fed up with all of the Tricky Trio's broken promises, and not wanting to be a part of a sinking ship, he took to social media to make his separation known to the world. Vegas is a small town, after all, where reputations are everything.
Walk out with head held high.
"I have decided to officially part ways with The Havana Club & The Conga Room. My mission was never to bankroll. It was to create a space where voices could be heard, appreciated, and well-compensated. I now pass the torch to the entertainers. Your mission is to keep it alive. Take good care and always follow your dreams. God gave you that gift. So, share it with the world."
And with that, Bob the Builder cut his losses and exited the fiasco with his head held high. Perhaps inspired by Bob's actions, the second entertainment director turned in an abrupt resignation. Then, a few entertainers came in to demand their paychecks. What they got instead were threats, verbal assaults, and orders to leave the premises. The Club's head server had stepped in to replace Bob as operations manager, and she too got the boot when demanding to be paid.
Soon, disgruntled customers were getting brazenly attacked either verbally, on social media, or even physically:
"I recently attended a very special event (at The Conga Room) and was shocked at how rudely and unprofessionally I was treated. I purchased two VIP tickets at $125 each, which included "prime seating". When one of the owners attempted to seat me and my guest, it was at the very last table in the back of the house. I said, "but I have VIP tickets." The best he could do was seat us at the banquette, also in the very last seats."
"He also told me that I was no longer welcome there. I can only surmise because he inadvertently admitted to overselling VIP tickets. Thirty dollar price difference between the two ticket options adds up, after all. He's acting like I expected something that I didn't pay for. I checked in with the event producer, and though I'm not authorized to speak for them, they also had a less than beneficial experience, and will never do business there again."
(The real story behind that "less than beneficial experience" is that The Conga Room was in charge of collecting and distributing funds to the host and a charity recipient, with the remainder going back to The Tricky Trio. Unsurprisingly, their $10K check to the producer bounced.)
What the disgruntled guest was not expecting was to be insulted online all over again by an official representative of The Conga Room. They posted this shady response:" This is a nasty self-centered woman who is a henchman to (name redacted). There’s always a Karen in the crowd, right? She knows she is forever banned from our venues. We don’t need her nastiness. She can spread it somewhere else."
"Karen" or not, this unhappy guest got off a lot easier than another, whose complaints found her on the receiving end of a thrown cocktail. It was launched into her face by no less than Chef Soused. Considering his addiction, it's a wonder that the inebriated cook would waste alcohol on someone's skin. Nevertheless, the booze-soaked customer supposedly filed assault charges, and she too blasted The Conga Room on social media.
You might be wondering how staffers were able to deal with this ongoing chaos. Well, very few of them ever stuck around for more than a few weeks or months. Tired of watching their pooled tips mysteriously disappear, they would confront the boss...only to be fired on the spot. Then Chef Soused was sent off to rehab, leaving his ever-shrinking crew to up the reins. But no good deed goes unpunished, as a hard-working pastry maker was thrown out for wanting his paycheck. His wife shared the experience on Facebook:
"My husband has been working for The Tricky Trio since August 2020. He’s been an integral part of the business, heading their pastry department and helping all of the departments be successful. In May of 2021, he was offered a salaried position. He worked 70 hours a week despite two car accidents (in a ton of pain) and still managed to go in to make sure the restaurant was good because they refused to hire help. Since he started, there have been very few times he’s received full paychecks on time. He’s been asked to wait to cash them, they’ve returned and been on hold since the banks don’t trust them now. He’s dealt with toxic employees. He’s dealt with internal issues."
"They had a discussion about their incompetent management and all of a sudden he was told he was being let go after they’ve recently told him he’d get a raise. He advised them he’s not being paid and neither is anyone else. People are concerned about their homes and their bills. They don’t pay their employees. They’re not paying tips from credit cards. People are getting late fees on their rent and bills and they had the audacity to say, “Then you shouldn’t work for a start-up business!”
If all of this sounds like the recipe for a toxic stew, you're correct. But an even worse concoction had been brewing right underneath the restaurant's very floor. Turns out that old Long John Silver's sits on an ancient pipe that takes raw sewage from the shopping center's many businesses out to the street's main drain. But after decades of use, the nasty waste is now backing up....right through the floor of the dining room. The owners have tried to reduce the mess by limiting restroom access and rolling a mobile bar to the spot where it bubbles up. The smell must surely be horrendous...or is it the food?
How this business has been able to continue in spite of all the ethical, legal, moral, and code violations is anyone's guess. But as ole Gunnar said above, these guys are made of Teflon. They may have started out with a goal to provide a forum for the entertainment community, but when greed and incompetence enter the picture, the last person standing will be the one hanging the "Closed For Business" sign. Do yourself a favor and stay away from The Conga Room.
Are you done being silent about slander, libel, or gossip? Any horror stories to share about workplace violations? Have you been treated unfairly or ripped off when doing an honest day's work? Gunnar McDixie wants to know and will keep your identity confidential. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.