The Vapors was founded in the summer of 1959 by Dane Harris and Vincent “Owney” Madden. The unlikely pair, Harris, a WWII pilot, and Madden, a New York gangster, created Hot Springs Arkansas’ newest and most beautiful theater restaurant. Legends like Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Mickey Rooney, Liberace, Rosemary Clooney, and scores of other Hollywood stars graced our stage in the 1960s and 70s. Along came disco and live performances gave way to recorded music and the coffee shop became a bar called the Cockeyed Cowboy before the whole became a church in the 1990s.
True to Hot Springs’ gangster persona, Vapors has its fair share of colorful characters and happenings. On January 4th, 1963, a bomb ripped through what is now the dining room exposing an underground casino. 11 people were injured in the blast but all survived, fortunately. While no charges were ever brought, speculations swirled as to who was responsible. Was it a rival gang or an insurance job? We’ll probably never know but the newspaper was there to take pictures of the exposed casino and published them the following day on the front page.
Johnny Carson was a regular and often booked acts that performed here for the Tonight Show. Check out the slideshow of past performers and the video below for a complete history of the Vapors.