Before The Venetian, There was the Sands: Human Nature Performs on the Rat Pack’s Hallowed Ground

Posted by on Thursday, January 9th, 2014

In the final scene of perhaps the quintessential Vegas movie—the original Oceans 11—we see a dejected but ever-cool Rat Pack dressed to the nines and strolling down a sun-baked Las Vegas Boulevard. As the credits roll and Sammy Davis croons “Ee O Eleven,” a marquee slowly appears in the background of the shot, slyly revealing the names not of Danny Ocean and his gang of casino thieves, but of the real Rat Packers themselves: Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Peter Lawford, and Joey Bishop.

Rat Pack at the Sands, which is now The Venetian

The Rat Pack poses in front of the legendary Sands marquee.
Image source: Ogunquitblogger.wordpress.com

It’s the perfect ending to a film that helped define both the slick style of the time—1960—and the reputation of a still youthful Las Vegas. And it was filmed in the exact location where Human Nature now proudly performs its own stage show—keeping alive a truly unique Vegas institution.

“One of the special nights of our career was definitely opening night at The Venetian,” Michael Tierney says, referring to the resort hotel that’s been their headquarters for the past year. “We moved to that venue [in 2013] and it was pretty amazing. We had started at the Imperial Palace a few years ago and it wasn’t the most glamorous of places. The showroom was great. But to get to move to one of the best hotels on the strip– it just felt like we’d really gone somewhere. The size of the place, the history of the location… it felt pretty special.”

Of course, as a headline act at The Venetian Resort Hotel Casino, the boys aren’t just performing at one of the premier venues in Las Vegas. They’re playing on hallowed ground. This, after all, is the very same real estate once occupied by the legendary Sands Hotel—the one with that famous marquee from Oceans 11, and a place with a history of musical acts to match any venue in the United States. If you were a star in the middle 20th century, you found your way to the Copa Room at the Sands. And if you didn’t, someone gave you bad directions.

Sands Hotel

The Sands Hotel has been been home to some legendary names over the years.
Image source: Flickr.com

The original Sands Hotel was built in 1952 and was just the seventh resort on the growing Vegas strip. Within 40 years, it would be reduced to a relic from a lost age, demolished in 1996 and replaced in 1999 with the $1.5 billion Venetian (fun fact: the implosion of the Sands was actually utilized for the climactic plane crash scene in the movie Con Air). Still, when you’re standing in this location, it’s hard not to feel the ghosts from that golden age of the 1950s and 60s. The skinny ties, the wise talking, the smell of cigarettes, and the taste of whiskey.  

Before there was Andrew, Michael, Phil, and Toby, this is where people came to see Frank, Dean, Sammy, Peter, and Joey. Yup, the world famous Rat Pack was basically synonymous with the Sands. Not only did they film a large portion of Oceans 11 here, they also performed for audiences at the Copa Room in between shoots. Sinatra himself owned a stake in the hotel (which would eventually be purchased by the infamous Howard Hughes), and as the ‘60s carried on, the venue served as the epicenter for all things “hip” in a city establishing its international reputation.

The Sands was also an important leader in integrating the city’s casinos, inspired largely by star acts like Nat King Cole and Sammy Davis, who not only were welcomed as performers, but as influential VIP guests of the hotel and casino. Davis himself was integral in convincing the hotel to employ more African-Americans during the rise of the civil rights movement.

Other performers who graced the Copa stage reads like a who’s who of the 20th Century—Judy Garland, Louis Armstrong, Tony Bennett, Lena Horne, Jimmy Durante, Jerry Lee Lewis, Wayne Newton (naturally), and hundreds more.

The Venetian Hotel

The Venetian, a new Vegas classic.
Image source: Cntraveler.com

Even for those who visit the state-of-the-art Venetian today having never seen the Sands, it’s virtually impossible not to feel the legacy that venue and its acts left behind. And it’s certainly helpful that the Venetian has gone above and beyond to carry on that tradition as a leading entertainment destination on the Strip.

Meanwhile, for those lucky enough to play its show room, The Venetian’s historical roots remain as inspiring as the breathtaking venue itself. Human Nature might not see themselves as a modern day Rat Pack, exactly, but they certainly appreciate how special it is to play on the very site where so many legends once stood—to feel that connection much as they do with the Motown artists they pay tribute to each might. This is Vegas, after all, and what happens here stays here—even if it’s memories from a hotel long since torn down.

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