Mention the words “chunky sweater” to any Bravo fan and images of a very young Jax Taylor ripping off his cream-colored, thickly-knit, button-up cardigan in the midst of a parking lot brawl during “Vanderpump Rules” inaugural season will inevitably come to mind. The reality star hasn’t been a part of the popular series for going on three years now, but the melee is still regarded as one of “VPR’s” most infamous moments. Though the Bravoverse may currently be reeling from Scandoval, the illicit affair recently unveiled between cast members Tom Sandoval and Raquel (aka Rachel) Leviss, the chunky sweater episode proves that the “Vanderpump” gang has been vigorously bringing it since day one!
Centered around two of former “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” star Lisa Vanderpump’s eateries, SUR Restaurant & Lounge and TomTom, the long-running reality series (which is currently streaming on Peacock) primarily takes place in Los Angeles. But the chunky sweater incident occurred about 300 miles away in the parking lot of Marrakech Restaurant, a Moroccan-themed eatery located in a nondescript Nevada strip mall (what is it with “Vanderpump Rules” and strip mall restaurants?) about 1.5 miles east of the Las Vegas Strip at 3900 Paradise Rd.
A veritable Sin City landmark, the restaurant was actually originally founded in Hawaii way back in 1977 by brothers Arsalan and Mohammed Najmabadi, who, per the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, “spent a half-year in preparing the setting, drawing from mainland sources as well as making buying trips to Morocco and Iran to furnish and decorate the building.” The duo employed master chef Mustapha Alioua, “an artist, a perfectionist, tireless and bubbling with pride in his profession” who previously cooked for the Moroccan royal family, to helm the place. The eatery was a hit and two years later, Alioua relocated to Las Vegas to open a Marrakech outpost of his own, initially setting up shop in a different strip mall at 4632 S. Maryland Pkwy. It was Nevada’s very first Moroccan restaurant.
Specializing in traditional Moroccan fare, as well as Mediterranean and Middle Eastern delicacies, with authentic six-course meals served underneath a vibrant tent adorned with colorful tapestries and glittering chandeliers, belly dancers sashaying throughout, Marrakech is more of an experience than a restaurant. As current owner, Tariq Ali, who took over the locale in 1995, explains, “The moment they walk in the door, we want to make people feel as though they’ve been transported to the Sahara Desert. That’s why we intentionally don’t have any windows in the place.”
To that end, patrons are also encouraged to dine in the traditional Moroccan style, utilizing their hands instead of silverware. Calling the eatery “a gastronomical palace,” Lamont Patterson of The Desert Sun details, “Guests are first prepared for this epicurean adventure to romantic Morocco by having their fingers sprinkled with rose water poured from a brass kettle and then presented with a large fluffy Turkish towel which remains with you throughout until you wipe the dripping honey from a delicate indigenous pastry . . . served with steaming fresh mint tea.”
Marrakech’s thoroughly bountiful feasts additionally include a shrimp scampi appetizer followed by a bowl of Moroccan wedding soup, a hummus and vegetable sampler, and beef, chicken, shrimp or veggie kebabs presented poking out of a pineapple, chased by a main course consisting of couscous, chicken and vegetables, capped with the aforementioned pastry dessert. Vegan and vegetarian options are also offered. Meals run $50 per person and span a period of two hours.
A true rarity in the mercurial restaurant world, where longevity is notoriously fleeting, Marrakech has enjoyed over four decades of success, becoming a local staple and tourist favorite. The site has even attracted its fair share of celebrities, with Nicolas Cage, Frank Sinatra, Steve Wynn, Wayne Newton and, of course, the “Vanderump Rules” stars all popping in for a bite.
In the episode titled “Vegas with a Vengeance,” Stassi Schroeder and her friends/SUR co-workers take a road trip to Las Vegas to celebrate her 24th birthday. Taylor, whom Schroeder had recently dumped after discovering he had gotten another girl pregnant, is persona non-grata at the affair, with Stassi’s new flame, SUR bartender Frank Herlihy, invited in his place.
While in town, the gang stays at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino (now Virgin Hotels Las Vegas) and hits up a Chippendales show before heading to Marrakech. Of their dining experience, Stassi says, “The restaurant that we were at was so much fun! The belly dancers were awesome, the food was great and we were finally having a good time. It was, like, this is what I wanted for my birthday.”
Their reverie does not last, though, thanks to Jax, who crashes the party, immediately wreaking havoc on everyone present.
Multiple drinks are thrown, expletives are yelled and the entire group is tossed from the restaurant, ending up in the parking lot outside, with Frank, Sandoval and Jax prepping for a fight, all somehow becoming shirtless in the process, the latter’s chunky knit sweater tossed to the pavement in front of Concentra Urgent Care, which neighbors Marrakech. When ubiquitous Bravo host Andy Cohen asked about the random clothing removals at the “VPR” reunion later that year, Sandoval nonsensically disclosed, “I took my shirt off because I accidentally took a Xanax that night.” Lisa had a far better explanation, stating, “Jax uses any excuse he can to take his shirt off.”
Sadly, the strip mall where Marrakech is located was thoroughly overhauled last year and looks quite a bit different today. The eatery itself is also undergoing a major revamp and is currently closed through the end of April, though there is a pop-up version open during the interim about five miles away in the Terrace Mediterranean space, located on the rooftop of Larry Flynt’s Hustler Club at 6007 S. Dean Martin Dr. As Ali told Vegas Publicity, “We are elated to call Terrace Mediterranean our temporary home while our original location undergoes necessary renovations and remodeling. We cannot wait to unveil our expansion to the public, but until then, come and experience the same quality of food, service and entertainment that our regulars have come to know and love.”
The reimagined Marrakech is set to include a large enclosed patio that opens via glass sliders into a brand-new tent fashioned with refreshed décor, as well as the addition of several hundred square feet of dining space. The beloved six-course menu concept will remain the same.
Although Marrakech and its parking lot are no longer as they appeared on “Vanderpump Rules,” fans can take comfort in knowing that Jax’s cardigan has been preserved for the ages. During a recent appearance on “Watch What Happens Live,” Taylor gifted the piece, now safely secured behind glass in a massive frame, to Cohen for display in the Bravo Clubhouse. While not nearly as famous as the ruby slippers from “The Wizard of Oz” or Marilyn Monroe’s billow-skirted dress from “The Seven Year Itch,” the chunky sweater is nevertheless an iconic pop culture artifact and a prevalent reminder of why “VPR” will go down in history as one of the greatest reality shows of all time.