Bill Marchesi

The longtime Sonny’s Saloon bartender on his tavern’s legacy, the one request he won’t fulfill and the strangest ‘customer’ he’s ever served


Photo by Lucky Wenzel

By day, Bill Marchesi is a craps dealer on the Strip—has been pretty much since the day he moved here from Long Island, N.Y., in 1980. But two nights a week (always Tuesday and Wednesday), you’ll find him tending bar underneath the Spring Mountain Road overpass at the legendary Sonny’s Saloon. Although he’s been in town for more than three decades—save for a two-year stint in the late 1980s when he went to work at his brother’s restaurants in Maine—Marchesi’s New York accent remains as thick as a native’s. And that accent comes through loud and clear as he attempts to get his visitor to change the course of the conversation.

“The joint,” he insists, “is the story. Leave me to a minimum.”

Marchesi, 58, is adamant that “the joint” his old friend—the late Vegas character Sonny Morris—opened on Spring Mountain in 1976 deserves all the attention. Alas, every great story needs a great storyteller, which is why we’ve come to get the scoop from the man who went from regular Sonny’s patron to employee on the night the saloon relocated across the street 15 years ago.

What kind of guy was Sonny Morris, and what were things like at his place back in the day?

Sonny was an old-time Vegas guy. He would go out carousing and stuff, because that’s what he did. He knew a wide spectrum of people. And I think that’s why I used to hang out here with my buddy. It was a nice people place. You had casino workers, you had street workers, you had dancers, you had politicians, a judge here and there used to come by and say hello. It was very interesting. It’s not like that anymore—Sonny passed away five or six years ago. But it still has a strong character and longevity.

A customer walks into your bar and tells you he’ll have whatever you’re pouring. So what are you pouring?

I’ll get him a Budweiser—classic American. Have a beer. If you drink alcohol, tell me you drink alcohol. Great, you’re a big boy. Otherwise, have a Budweiser.

What’s the biggest misconception people have of bartenders?

That all of them are so friendly. It’s all a mirage! [Laughs.] Present company excluded, of course—we’re not self-evaluating.

What’s your go-to bartender joke?

Oh, I don’t tell jokes. No jokes. I don’t think I’ve told a joke in 15 years. But that is a [frequent] customer request: “Tell me a joke.” Get the fuck out of here—what am I, a comedian? I guess a lot of bartenders tell jokes. That could be one of the misconceptions of bartenders, that they tell jokes.

What’s your most memorable night behind the bar?

Oh, I can’t answer that one. We’ll leave that one blank—I’ve been married 35 years! Let’s just say I enjoy people. They come in, have a drink, behave like they’re grown-ups. It’s nice. That’s part of what keeps this place mellow.

OK, then what’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever seen?

A monkey on the bar. It happened a few years ago. This brother comes in with this stripper-looking chick—I mean, it was obvious. But the monkey was in this little travel bag. So I’m over here talking to these guys, I look over and I see something move on the bar. I’m thinking, “What the fuck is that?! That guy’s got a cat on the bar!” Well, I’m not fond of cats; I’m a dog guy. So I go over, and I said, “What the fuck is that?” And he says, “It’s a monkey.” And I go, “Really?” It was a monkey on a chain—had to have been a 10-foot chain—and he was just hanging out with him. This guy must’ve been into importing rare animals or something. But I believe he was [legit], because he was telling me this story that he had one a few years earlier and a vet in town accidentally killed it. So I believed this guy, that he was on the square, not that he just stole a monkey from somewhere. I mean, who steals a monkey and starts walking around with it?

The monkey was good. He was gentle, like he seemed house-trained. I asked the guy, “The monkey’s not going to shit on the floor, is he? Because you’re going to have clean it up! I’m not going to clean up monkey shit!” But the monkey stuck around, he had a little drink—I gave him a little water. … Once I knew it wasn’t a cat, I wasn’t mad at the guy. … I found it very interesting, like, “This guy’s traveling around with a monkey—and a hooker!” That’s an interesting combination.

What’s the biggest tip you’ve received?

Oh, that’s … $100. Let’s just leave it at that. How much would you tip a guy like me, you know what I mean?