One Man’s Cave

Michael Morton’s La Cave, built on a foundation of wine appreciation at all levels

It is difficult to believe restaurateur/nightlife impresario Michael Morton when he sits across from you, humbly proclaiming his relative newcomer status in regard to wine. Seated casually in Wynn’s Terrace Pointe Café, the N9NE Group co-founder did just that before taking Vegas Seven on a tour of his latest project, La Cave Wine & Food Hideaway. Morton admits he grew up with the stuff, pouring wine 25 years ago for his father, Chicago restaurateur and founder of the Morton’s Steakhouse chain, Arnie Morton. “And I knew nothing about it.” Coming from such a confirmed foodie, this points to a deeper understanding. Wine, he says, is “the only living beverage.” Indeed, to appreciate wine is to be ever a student.

Even before its Dec. 3 public opening, La Cave is already a landmark, the first 100 percent tenant food and beverage outlet at Wynn/Encore. Master of the House, Steve Wynn owns a piece of nearly everything else on-property, but from the sounds of things, the boss was pleased to let Morton do his thing.

At the heart of that thing, of course, is a selection of 250 wines by the bottle and 30 Enomatic wines by the glass that features “the finest boutique producers along with blue-chip prestige wines from around the world,” says Wynn/Encore executive wine director Danielle Price, who created the list that will be overseen daily by sommelier Rober Wright, formerly of Red Rock’s Terra Rossa.

7 Things Michael Morton Cannot Live Without

  • Kaizen CrossFit. Bobby Stella may seem like such a sweet guy, but once he gets you in the gym, he can bring you to tears. It kicks my butt and for some sick reason I just have to keep going back for more.
  • E-Glide Electric Dewey Weber skateboard. There is nothing better than cruising around the neighborhood on my deck. The only problem is that my oldest son can ride it now too so I have to learn to share.
  • Mollydooker Velvet Glove. There is something very dangerous about the 2007. I say drink at your own risk and designate someone else to be in charge.
  • La Cave’s chef Billy DeMarco’s bacon-wrapped Dates. Oooh … these things are like little bombs. Crispy, sweet, salty with blue cheese fondue that drips down your chin.
  • Coyotes. There is a pack of coyotes that lives right behind my house. They whip each other into a howling, yipping frenzy just before they go home for the day. They are my signal that it is time to go to CrossFit—or to just go outside and watch the sunrise.
  • My second son’s new hybrid golf club. Pounding on whitey is like therapy for me, but the true pleasure is watching my son drive the ball and look up at me and grin.
  • The Dead. ’Cause we’ve all got a lot to be Grateful for.

Despite the Wynn talent behind it—including executive chef Billy DeMarco, who trained under Charlie Palmer, and general manager Jennifer LaSala of Switch and the Country Club—and the Wynn context around it, this is a solo project, an island (or rather, a cave), but one that complements the larger property.

“I’ve never done anything like this,” Morton says. “The Wynn has a lot of luxurious restaurants. And they have the busiest nightspots.” What it lacked was a crossroads.

Formerly part of Terrace Pointe Café, La Cave’s four vaulted bays amount to 4,000 square feet of hideaway, including the kitchen, from which the cozy lunch, dinner and weekend late-night spot will serve up shareable plates. “It’s such a great way to dine,” Morton says, “and it feels like this is the right environment for it.” The 25-item list will feature wine-loving dishes such as salt-roasted beets with whipped goat cheese and pistachios, Raclette cheese with potatoes and cornichons, Angus beef sliders, artisan charcuterie and farmhouse cheeses—all for less than $20.

Second to the wine list is the handcrafted beer selection. The original six-tap system doubled to 12 after Morton sampled more than 80 beers. “There’s this whole world of beer out there that I really just got schooled on!”

At the bar, guests will also be able to partake in a small cocktail menu and all manner of flights.

Designed with Karen Herold of Chicago-based 555 International, who previously worked with Morton on Rain, Ghostbar and N9NE Steakhouse at the Palms, La Cave takes a cue from sophisticated wine destinations such as Napa, Calif. The finished space features three environments. Upon arriving via a circular doorway and under a gold metal “eyebrow,” guests enter the most intimate of the three rooms: a cozy cave with a “sexy, urban, rockin’ feeling,” in cream, dark beige and brown, and featuring opposing bars for getting closer to the wine or the kitchen. Beyond an iron gate and through side passageways is the dining room with rustic cabernet burlap wall coverings and another bar.

The largest room is the garden lounge, an indoor/outdoor patio with a wraparound glass wall that can open or close, and overlooks the Wynn gardens and main pool. Here, Pacific coastal tastes prevail: light, glass, air. Throughout, floors are wood blocks, stained concrete or handmade Mexican tile, and furniture is pleasantly and intentionally mismatched.

With a name like Hideaway, the potential was certainly there for a too-literal interpretation leading to a dark, Disney-esque cave with Chianti bottle-candles and faux ivy. “It’s got to make sense here,” Morton says. “It’s gotta happen more organically for me. … We make sure that we have this connection between us and the design; this is our spirit.”

It’s a cave all right. But it’s a Wynn cave.

Just don’t call this cave a wine bar. “It’s a terrible term,” Morton half-whispers. “It’s just not sexy. In Italy they have enotecas. In Spain they have bodegas. In Greece they have tavernas.” These he allows a sexy foreignness, then: “Here we have ‘wine bar.’ It’s terribly unexciting.” It is through music, the venue’s design and the spirit of experimentation and exploration that La Cave will create excitement.

“Wine bars are often inaccessible to the average person … they’re kind of stuffy, they’re very intimidating. … We really want to welcome the novice,” he says. “I’m learning a lot about wine every day, still. That’s the fun thing about wine—you can keep learning.” Whimsy and function play roles, too. Instead of a typical private dining room, guests may set up at La Cave’s social center, a 12-seat share table, essentially a large kitchen island “for the customer who wants to own the experience,” Morton explains. “I don’t care how nice the house is, what the weather is outside, the party always goes to the kitchen island.”

Morton then exuberantly points out some of the more unique aspects of his new baby: Latin wine quotations in iron and deep-red LED, hammock chairs, and an 11-foot-long mirror that can act as a menu board and which hides a plasma TV. He confirms, “I will be hanging out here.”

The wine exploration continues as each room at La Cave is furnished with an iPad for digital decanting and for surfing wine websites. “So if you want to go to France or Chile or Champagne to just explore and learn about wine,” Morton says, “it’s another way for us to have fun with wine.”

One needn’t merely take the label’s word that your Shiraz smells of chocolate and violets.

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