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In the mid-'70s, Ribaste had owned a cocktail lounge called Judge Roy Bean's at Fourth Street and Wyandotte in the River Quay (now the River Market). An explosion leveled it, along with the entire block -- which was owned by mob snitch Fred Bonadonna -- in March 1977. Ribaste collected insurance money. Three months later, his other downtown club near Ninth Street burned to the ground. Police never determined who was responsible for the bombing or the suspected arson.
Another member of the Ribaste family, Peter Ribaste, moved to Las Vegas in 1989 after doing six months in prison for mail fraud; he had failed to disclose $90,000 in Las Vegas gambling debts on loan applications to buy a Kansas City car dealership. In 1998 the Las Vegas Gaming Commission, citing mob ties, banned Peter from local casinos. In 2003, according to news reports, Peter transferred his ownership interest in Totally Nude Temptations, the strip club adjoining the Cigar Box, to his wife, who transferred the ownership to another family member, John Ribaste.
John Pisciotta has owned the Cigar Box since it opened in 1997. He bought the land beneath the club from Louis Ribaste in 2001. The Pitch could not locate Ribaste to request an interview.
Regardless of whether the Cigar Box deserves its reputation, plenty of the partiers there buy into the club's underworld allure. When asked about it, people who could dispel any such notions suddenly turn goodfella, invoking a code of silence.
Bring up the club's rumored mob connections and Latta becomes visibly agitated, like an actor threatening a young punk about asking too many questions. Pisciotta shuns the press. Pisciotta's attorney, Richard Bryant, strongly discourages mafia-related questions. No one brings trouble here, says the club's only enforcer, the gray-haired, hulking bouncer who works the humidor.
"What people do, that's their own thing," Latta says of the Cigar Box's reputation. "It's like anything else. You fuck with the wrong people, you get hurt. I never asked anybody what they do. Everybody always liked me, and I always liked everybody."
The mythology surrounding the club hasn't hurt Latta's stage persona -- barroom lore even has it that his years performing at the Cigar Box are to pay off debts to the mob. "No, that's so far from the truth," Latta says. "If that's what they think, it's crazy."
His love and loyalty lie with Pisciotta.
Latta says he's well-paid and makes good money in tips. Pisciotta has helped him finance two cars, he says. On most nights, his 2002 electric-blue Corvette is parked out front. The vanity plate reads ALLATA.
"Who you go with, who you party with, I have an image to keep up with myself," Latta says.
A television reporter has seen his act and wants to do a story on him for a February-sweeps tie-in with American Idol. Latta created a new outfit for the taping, staying up all night after a Friday gig to sew silver sequins like stars across a red jacket. He stayed up past dawn, and then past noon, until just after 1 p.m. Saturday, when he decided he didn't like the design and tore apart the tiny universe.
Saturday night, 30 minutes before showtime, Latta sits on a stool in a third-floor loft at 20th Street and Grand. WDAF Fox 4 reporter Tom Gauer faces him. A cameraman revolves around the two men.
Through the camera lens, Latta appears as someone at ease beneath vaulted ceilings and polished hardwood floors, flanked by windows that offer expansive views of the city.