Article on Andre in the American Way Magazine
A SURE BET
by MARK SEAL
When he's not competing, tennis ace Andre Agassi heads home to Las Vegas, which he says is much more normal than people think.
Andre Agassi is a Vegas boy, born and raised. But he’s not from the bright lights, roll ’em side of town. He’s from the Vegas of neighborhoods, churches, and schools, the Vegas that the 33-year-old tennis vet says taught him that anything is possible. The son of a mother who worked at an unemployment office and a dad who helped run the Jubilee show, Agassi got his first taste of pro tennis as a ball boy for tournaments at Caesars Palace, and began his rise to what has become almost two decades in the upper rankings of his sport. Although he once blazed across the court in long hair and day-glo clothing, Agassi is now as down- to-earth as the next guy, living in Vegas with his wife, retired tennis pro Steffi Graf, and their two children. Although he still travels to tournaments much of the year, Agassi has left a legacy to his hometown: the Andre Agassi Charitable Foundation, which has raised more than $35 million for children’s charities, and the Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy, which educates some 250 students. Here’s a weekend in the city where Andre Agassi learned to win.
Where do you go first after returning home from a tournament or appearance?
“A good restaurant, because Vegas has come so far in their cuisine and dining options. I love Nobhill at the MGM Grand. It’s a phenomenal restaurant. For steak, I love Delmonico at the Venetian. Go for the filet, charred medium. With the family, go up in Summerlin to a place called Sedona. Actually, I’m a partner in it, and it feels like home to go to the place that you helped create.”
You’re also part owner now in the Golden Nugget.
“Yeah, I’m involved with some friends that I grew up with, which is exciting. I’m second generation here, and the people I’m involved with are third generation Vegas. The Nugget is a lot of fun because it’s such old Vegas. You’re talking about a place that has been there for a lot of years and has a great feel.”
Do you have any other favorite hotels/casinos?
“It’s hard to get nicer than the Bellagio. But that said, every hotel offers its thing. Caesars Palace now has Celine Dion camped there. You’ve got Mandalay Bay, which has an incredible bar and lounge at the top of the hotel called The Foundation. There’s a deck there overlooking the whole city. The Hard Rock Hotel has The Joint, with incredible music acts that come through. This city is about targeting what it is you are looking for, because you’re going to find it. It’s not about one place having it all and you never leave; there’s just too much to experience.”
What else should every visitor know about Las Vegas?
“Vegas has been the fastest-growing city in America for more than 30 years. It’s a city of great vision. It’s a city where the community believes that if you actually believe in something enough, you can create it and make it happen. It gets a tough rap because it’s perceived as an adult Disneyland. But the community of people who actually live here is strong. It is a community that bonds together and looks out for each other. It’s an incredibly inspirational city.”
Most people think of the Strip when they think of Vegas, but there’s also a lot of activity downtown, right?
“Downtown is a place where you can park your car and walk around and experience that old feeling of just stepping two feet off the street into a casino that basically has no doors. And the lights are incredible. There are more lights downtown than you will see in New York at Christmas.”
Where do you go then to get away from all the glitz?
“There’s a lot to be offered in the outskirts — the Red Rock Canyon, going hiking and biking. If you’re on the Strip, you’re probably about 35 minutes away from Red Rock. You just take Charleston as far west as you can possibly go. There are trails all back through there with waterfalls and beautiful red rock and great hiking.”
Tell us a great local spot that people don’t know about.
“Out where we live, there’s this place called Desert Shores, where there are these little lakes. There is a real cute French eatery called Marché Bacchus there on the lake where you can sit outside. You would never know you were in Vegas. Jaden, our two-year-old, entertains himself by feeding the ducks while we’re eating.”
With all the money in Vegas, there’s got to be some good shopping.
“Yeah, we have all the great shops: the Aladdin shops and the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace, which are incredible. Go with the family. You go from having dinner to taking your kids to FAO Schwarz to looking around at different high-end retailers. You can’t imagine how many thousands of pairs of jeans there are to choose from until you go to the Forum Shops. It’s a lot of fun. But I don’t know if you should trust me with shopping.”
Okay, what about something you know a little more about, like sports. What are your favorite golf courses?
“Shadow Creek is pretty amazing. It’s the course Steve Wynn built through the Mirage Resorts. He put about $43 million into it and made it look like you were on some holes in Hawaii and some in Colorado. You just can’t believe the terrain and the way he built this course. The thing that blows you away about it is that it’s in the middle of the desert. There has been such a big boom in courses here. There’s Bali Hai, a great course right on the Strip. But I am a creature of habit, and usually play at the courses closest to where I live, Shadow Creek and Red Rock.”
I bet your wife likes all the spas. Which ones are the best?
“There is a great one at the Bellagio, and Canyon Ranch has a spa at the Venetian.”
Speaking of your wife, is there a place the two of you go for a special evening?
“My wife and I are pretty similar. We think a great evening out together is to get some good sushi, so we go to Nobu. We enjoy sitting at the sushi bar because it’s only the two of us. We just sort of take our time and pick through a lot of different flavors and tastes.”
Any other restaurants to recommend?
“Seablue at the MGM is amazing. It’s a fish restaurant. Emeril’s is fantastic. Prime at the Bellagio is pretty amazing. There’s also an old French restaurant downtown called Andre’s. It’s in an old house and has been around for decades. We used to go there when I was young, and I still go back. It’s really clean and nice.”
Where can you get a great meal for $25 or less?
“Twenty-five dollars would be an expensive meal at most of the casinos. There are some nice restaurants now; we have so many five-star restaurants it’s crazy. But as far as being able to fill your stomach as cheaply as possible, there’s probably no city in the world that offers more. I have heard speakers at colleges talk about when the kids travel in and out to compete, whether it’s a tennis team or what have you, that Vegas is the only place in the country that they can eat on the per diem. You can go to all of these $3.99 buffets, where their only goal is to get you in the door.”
Which shows do you like?
“You’ve gotta see O. It’s incredible. O is a Cirque du Soleil show, but it’s done in water. You find it so amazing that you are sitting in the middle of a showroom with a stage basically made out of water. The showroom is in a casino, and the casino is in the middle of the desert. It just blows you away that you’re watching this. Another show I love is Danny Gans. He does impersonations of hundreds of legendary performers and singers. The show is really nostalgic; it almost brings to life these characters that you always used to think about so fondly — the Frank Sinatras, the James Deans, and scenes from movies.”
Where can you go to hear some great music?
“Vegas gets more music acts coming through than any other city in the world. We have concerts nonstop. So the options for music are endless. The MGM Grand Garden is a concert hall here. They use it for a lot of things. Mandalay Bay has the tenors there; it’s a big, 14,000- to 15,000-square-foot indoor hall. The Joint at the Hard Rock always has musical acts there. But I’m a family guy. I don’t quite go out and hit it like I used to.”
What do you remember about growing up in Vegas?
“When I was a boy, my dad used to work from 4:00 in the afternoon until like 2:00 in the morning, and my mom worked from 8:00 in the morning until 4:00 in the afternoon. So we were with my dad all day and my mom all night. A lot of times when I was with my mom, whether we were going to go get dinner or go shopping, we needed some money from Dad, who was working. So we would pull into the old MGM Grand Hotel, and at like eight years old, I would go running through the casino to the Jubilee showroom, where they had all the naked dancing ladies, the follies kind of chorus line type stuff. I knew all the captains and maitre d’s and used to just wait for my dad to come through his little turn there in the office. He would give us some money and I’d go running back out, go to the grocery store, and go home. As a little boy, it felt strangely normal.”
Could you ever live in a normal town?
“The thing is, excluding the slot machines at grocery stores, there’s nothing about living here that would seem any more or less odd than living anywhere else. We have an industry here: the gaming and tourism industry. We have a few casinos that have popped up in different areas of town, but we also have more churches per capita than most of the cities in America. That’s not wedding chapels; that’s real churches. We have 27 high schools here. It’s a very narrow perspective to think that a person who was born and raised here had an abnormal upbringing. It’s like thinking if you live in New Orleans, that you’ve gotta get drunk every night.”
So, how did growing up in Vegas affect you?
“Caesars used to have the Alan King Tennis Tournament, and I was a ball boy there. The top 32 in the world played there. I played tennis hard almost as soon as I could walk. I was competing at seven years old, playing tournament after tournament. But being a ball boy really got me in tune to what the players might or might not be thinking or feeling, and being up close, watching the concentration and seeing the sweat, hearing the movement and the grunting. Caesars would give $50,000 to the winner. They would pay you in silver dollars that they brought out in a wheelbarrow. Obviously, that was for show and you would get a check. I remember watching the greats win, and they would bring the wheelbarrow out. It was sort of symbolic: This is a dream world, a dream life. But it only happens if you have the backbone and strength to dream it. Las Vegas made me feel like I can dream.”
Andre Agassi forever