Vignettes of Vice

Bar owner P Moss writes Vegas from top to bottom-dweller

P Moss’ dream girl is a busted-up Bettie Page lookalike with killer tits and fuck-me boots. She’s also green, not to mention inanimate.

“It’s a drawing though, right?” I clarify when he tells me he wants to screw her.

“I’m not a pervert,” he says. “I don’t actually want to bang a poster.” As if the idea is completely absurd. A few minutes later he’s whipping out his Blackberry to show me a snapshot of the Frankenstein-like pinup, which also happens to include a fairly graphic visual of his “real” girl-of-the-moment. This is Moss’ version of a threesome.

If you are part of the infinitesimal percentage of Las Vegans who don’t know of P Moss, the lanky nightlife legend is the proprietor of Double Down Saloon and Frankie’s Tiki Room. He’s known for his “Ass Juice” and bacon martinis and his tendency to drop the F-bomb with some frequency. You’ll recognize him by his oversize black glasses, Vandyke beard, and Converse high-tops. He’s the real deal in a town that’s gone corporate, a cool cat who makes you feel hip by proximity.

Ostensibly, I’m meeting Moss to talk about his book—Blue Vegas (Stephens Press, 2010), a collection of stories about the city’s bottom-dwellers—that hits shelves March 2. But I’m also on a not-so-secret mission to see what I can dig up about the man behind the myth.

My quest is less than clandestine because I flat out ask Moss about his status as “Mr. Cool.” “You said it, not me,” he responds. “It is true that I’m mysterious because I don’t open up much. I’m private. The fact that it’s good for business is just an added benefit.”

Here’s what we know: Moss was born sometime in the 1950s, somewhere in the Midwest. His father was a Twinkie salesman, his mother a secretary. His first trip to Vegas was in the ’70s:

“I was 24. This town was very cool, very different. Casinos were like living rooms. I was young, I was cocky, I was a gambler. I bet on sports, but instead of the big mechanical sports books, there were, up and down the Strip, probably a dozen little storefronts with maybe 10 chairs. Damon Runyon characters—that’s who was in these places, all fucking day and all night.”

In 1992, after stints in New York and L.A., Moss came back to Vegas to open Double Down. The saloon is now the dive bar in town, but it took five years before Moss stopped worrying about paying the bills every month. That’s when he started writing. At first, the idea was to work on a novel, but at around Act Two, he realized he didn’t know how to finish it. Thus, a story collection was born.

Two naked girls. That’s Blue Vegas’ opening line and it made me wary. Read further and you’ll find that the first two stories are not really about girl-on-girl action or full-nude strip clubs. Still, I was skeptical. Annoyed, even. Writing about sex seemed a cop-out, even if it was context for a more profound subplot, the desperation of a death-row inmate or a father’s shame. But by the next one, I was hooked.

Moss’ stories are about real people and real emotions. And because they’re set in Vegas, they tend to involve a motley crew of strippers, gamblers and mobsters—or, in the case of “Unconditionally,” an aged millionaire, his chicken Bluebell, and a wife who has sex with women out of loyalty. Says Moss, “It’s really, under the surface, not any different from the reality that most people face in their daily lives. [Their reality] just doesn’t have chickens in it.”

The book gets its name from a common element of sadness. Still, I would venture there’s a certain hopefulness that creeps in—and it’s not just nostalgia for the good old days.

Take, for example, “The Curse of Frank Sinatra.” It’s a story of a snuff film and two siblings overcome with greed. But it’s ultimately a love story about retired Vegas crooner, Teddy Maxx.

“Who wouldn’t want to be loved like that?” Moss asks of the ending, in which Teddy throws the film onto the fire, puts his arm around his wife of 48 years, and throws a ball to his grandson. “People might not think it’s not a love story, but it’s an incredible love story.”

When asked whether Blue Vegas is the best fictional account of Vegas, Moss demurs. “That’d be great if you said it,” he admits. “But I would never say that. When you write a book, obviously you think it’s great or you wouldn’t share it. Let people think what they think of it. I’m proud of it. I think it will stand on its own anywhere and with anyone.”

A beat.

“And yeah, fuck it, it is the best Las Vegas fiction ever.”

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