Live! Casino-Hotel Philadelphia bartender serves songs as well as drinks; Diana Ross headed to Hard Rock AC
The bartender at The Prime Rib restaurant inside Live! Casino-Hotel Philadelphia has a few things in common with the guy who entertains in the steakhouse’s lounge on Thursday evenings--including build, looks and entire DNA genome.
Since January, 2022, Daniel Kulisek has done quadruple duty at The Prime Rib’s popular lounge. In his full-time position he is a bartender, “libations engineer” (that is, he’s in charge of developing new cocktails), and inventory curator. But on Thursdays, he heads out from behind the bar to entertain patrons by singing while accompanying himself on piano and acoustic guitar (though not at the same time!).
A working musician for many years, the 42-year-old South Jersey lifer entered the hospitality industry as a beverage-program supervisor at an area hotel. But then the COVID-19 pandemic arrived.
“Everybody got laid off,” recalled Kulisek. “I sat on the bench for 10 months and [Live!] was opening. I live right across the bridge, and I was like, all right, I need to start working again. Because, when you're used to being out and about working in this industry, and you sit at home for 10 months, it’s tough.
“So I started as a bartender and then, a couple months in, once the COVID restrictions were lifted and things got somewhat normal, I would hop on the piano every once in a while.”
That, he continued, was strictly for fun, and not part of his official job description. But one night, Carmen Gonzales, the casino’s publicist, happened to catch one of his impromptu performances. She, in turn, told Joe Billheimer--senior vice-president of Pennsylvania operations for The Cordish Companies, which owns Live!--about Kulisek’s performing talents. “He heard me play,” and he said, ‘Why aren't we doing this?’”
Kulisek’s repertoire is expansive, covering multiple generations and genres—for which he credits the Internet and his iPod, both of which enable him to honor most requests he receives during the course of an evening. On a recent Thursday, his set list ran the gamut from classic, smooth Frank Sinatra to frantically-strummed Elvis Presley rockabilly to a version of Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’” on piano to which he added some jazzy touches not heard in the original.
On a personal level, Kulisek’s musical tastes go far deeper than chart-toppers by revered superstars. And he doesn’t necessarily keep them to himself: He admitted he encourages people—especially younger folks—to leave their musical comfort zones and explore new sounds. It’s a philosophy he came by relatively recently, courtesy of the late, legendary Philadelphia radio personality and dance-party host, Jerry Blavat.
Kulisek became friends with “The Geator with The Heater” after Blavat, who had a regular, Thursday-night gig at Live!, started showing up at the Prime Rib following his own weekly appearances. Blavat, he offered, “Got me to listen. He got me digging into these acts that I had no idea existed, these R&B and rock acts that nobody plays anymore.
“That's the one thing I try to tell people: Just get off your iTunes or whatever and go diving into stuff because you're gonna find a song that's gonna change your life.”
Kulisek got emotional when Blavat, who died in January at age 82 of complications from myasthenia gravis, an autoimmune disease of the skeletal system, entered the conversation. Although their friendship was relatively short-lived, it had a profound effect on Kulisek, and he was deeply saddened by the DJ’s death. He choked up as he talked about his deceased pal.
“He would come [to The Prime Rib] pretty much every Thursday after he was done his set,” Kulisek explained. “We'd sit at the bar and he'd tell me stories and things like that, and he became kind of a mentor, telling me what I need to do and to keep going.”
Kulisek regrets he never got to say goodbye to The Geator. “He was one of those guys who was horrible with text messages,” he said, blinking back tears. “Just terrible. He would never text you back. But if you called him, he always called you back within like a half-hour.
“And I was worried because I hadn't heard from him. So I called him [the day before he died] and he never called me back.”
But Blavat, a master entertainer in his own right, still inspires Kulisek to give as much as possible to his audience. But he does have his limits: If you’re planning to catch one of his Thursday-night gigs and would like to request a song, there is something you might want to keep in mind:
When asked to identify the one tune he’d prefer not to have to ever perform, he replied without hesitation: “I hate saying this because it's like the quintessential piano-bar song, but if I never have to play [Billy Joel’s] “Piano Man” again, I’d be a very happy person.”
A quartet of big-time artists have put Atlantic City on their “to-do” lists.
The biggest name of the four belongs to Diana Ross, who is checking into Hard Rock Hotel & Casino June 24. This is especially good news if you missed the pop legend’s wonderful performance last September at Ocean Casino-Resort. Although Ross turned 79 on March 26, her energy, enthusiasm and vocal ability at Ocean were those of someone considerably younger.
As such, this is a date that definitely needs to be circled on your calendar!
Over at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, they’ll be welcoming two top comics and a much-honored and beloved superstar.
The pair of funny ladies are Margaret Cho, who will make with the jokes April 14 and Chelsea Handler, who will do the same June 10.
And on June 23, four-time Grammy Award winner/Kennedy Center honoree Gladys Knight will be the headliner.
Change of venue
For some three decades, Betty McHugh was the Hostess with the Mostess in her role as maitre’d at Nero’s Italian Steakhouse at Caesars Atlantic City. Betty’s perpetual smile and vivacious personality earned her a loyal following among the room’s customers, and she is as much an AyCee casino institution as any person in the town’s gaming industry has ever been.
But when Caesars introduced two new eateries, the Asian-Peruvian powerhouse Nobu and Gordon Ramsay Hell’s Kitchen, Nero’s was odd-room-out, and McHugh lost her fiefdom when Nero’s closed forever last September.
But Caesars’ loss turned out to be Hard Rock’s gain: McHugh, who was Atlantic City’s first-ever female maitre’d, now serves as The Rock’s “property maitre’d.” That means instead of working at one restaurant, she’s meeting and greeting guests and performing various other duties at the high-end dining rooms--Council Oak Steaks & Seafood, Kuro and Sandpiper Coastal Bar & Grill owned and operated by Hard Rock. She can also be found at Plum, the casino’s private players’ retreat.
“I am the face of these restaurants, so when [patrons] come in, they see me,” McHugh told Scott Cronick of Shore Local Newsmagazine. “I want them to all feel like they are at home.”
Considering that has always been her modus operandi, it’s probably safe to say that is probably an everyday occurrence.
Live! Swift tix giveaway
If you struck out trying to cop tickets to Taylor Swift’s sold-out May 12-14 stand at Philly’s Lincoln Financial Field (or if you don’t want to pay a king’s ransom on the secondary market), Live! Philadelphia may be able to help:
Between April 1 and 22, the gambling den is accepting entries for the chance to win tickets to one of the three shows Swift will be doing at the Linc. In all, 18 people will be awarded free admission—16 single-ticket winners and two who’ll each win a pair.
Participation in the sweepstakes drawing can occur in the following ways:
Live! Rewards members can earn one free entry per day simply by swiping their membership cards at any promotional kiosk.
Earning 22 tier credits and playing a game at the kiosk.
Playing table games. Guests must place at least the minimum wager on the progressive wager and win one of the posted progressive hands.
On April 22 at 10:00 p.m., 10 winners pulled from kiosk entries and 10 winners pulled from table game entries will be chosen.