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Secret to Las Vegas restaurant's pasta sauce: its 100-year-old chef

Las Vegas locals love an Italian restaurant called Bootlegger Bistro. The secret to its great sauces? It’s executive chef Maria Perry, who, at 100 years old, still works two or three days a week to make sure everything is perfect.

“I still go in there and check the sauces,” she said of the marinara sauce served at Bootlegger. Perry still oversees the quality of the seasoning packets used in the sauces.

    Bootlegger Bistro
    Spaghetti and meatballs is one of the classic dishes served at Bootlegger Bistro. Jay Jones

    “That’s how we are able to maintain the consistency,” she explained.

    Perry has been in the kitchen at the restaurant, three miles south of Mandalay Bay at 7700 S. Las Vegas Blvd., since the place opened in 1972. Before that, she and her husband, Albert, ran a small pizzeria.

    Perry, who will turn 101 in March, no longer works 12 to 15 hours a day. She learned the recipes as a young girl while her grandmother ran a boarding house in Niagara Falls, Canada. “My grandma was a good cook,” she said.

    Bootlegger Bistro
    Dishes with Maria Perry's classic marinara sauce, including the lasagna, are top sellers. Jay Jones

    Bootlegger’s menu is expansive, but the traditional spaghetti and meatballs ($18), made with a mixture of ground beef and pork, and ricotta-oozing lasagna ($21) are consistently the biggest sellers.

    The restaurant and lounge are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Nightly entertainment is a mainstay, including Monday’s popular Open Mic night hosted by local singer Kelly Clinton. And, no, it is not amateur night.

    “Whoever’s working on the Strip will come in and perform,” said Lorraine Hunt-Bono, Maria’s daughter and the restaurant’s co-owner. “This isn’t karaoke.”

    Reservations are strongly encouraged for Monday night entertainment, which begins at 9 p.m. and continues into the wee hours, just like the after-show shows of long ago.

    Bootlegger Bistro
    Lorraine Hunt-Bono, co-owner of the Bootlegger, stands beside one of the banquettes in which celebrities such as Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra once dined. Jay Jones

    Plaques and photos above the banquettes attest to the long list of celebrities who have dined or entertained at the Bootlegger over the decades: Tony Curtis, Jack Jones, Steve Lawrence and wife Eydie Gormé, Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra, to name a few.

    Hunt-Bono can also name a handful of mobsters who regularly enjoyed the Italian food when gangsters ruled Vegas.

    Howard Hughes was Hunt-Bono’s boss when she entertained at the long gone Landmark hotel and casino. The money she saved was used to buy the land for the Bootlegger’s original location.

    Info: Bootlegger Bistro, (702) 736-4939

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