On a cold Monday night in November, Jason “JRoc” Craig and Ryan Labbe briskly stroll into an off-Strip restaurant as wind howls through the city. The weather, coincidentally enough, is rather fitting for the conversation they’re about to have, one that speaks of ushering in the winds of change in nightlife and lounges.
The longtime nightlife gurus have partnered with former Light Group managing partner and CEO Andy Masi to open Clique Bar & Lounge in the Cosmopolitan, a swanky lounge opening in late December that will boast craft cocktails, savory sharable plates and an eclectic non-nightclub vibe.
“It’s 100 percent necessary to open this right now, because everything has gone toward this big-DJ, high-minimum situation with nightclubs,” Craig says.
Labbe adds, “How many times a week does somebody call you and ask you where to go? And then next comes, ‘What’s the minimum?’ Just this week alone, four or five people asked me on different nights, ‘Where can I go tonight that’s not a nightclub, a cool lounge-y spot where I can go and have drinks?’ That’s why there’s a need for it. There’s a demand.”
To be clear, Craig, 34, and Labbe, 33, aren’t anti-nightlife. They’ve both spent significant time in that world. Craig, who attended UNLV and then served in the Marine Corps, worked at Center Bar, Rehab and Body English in Hard Rock Hotel in the early 2000s before jettisoning over to the Palms to open the Fantasy Tower in 2006. Craig eventually took over as director of nightlife and marketing for N9NE Group. He’s also done time with SBE, Light Group and Hakkasan Group.
Labbe, a Rhode Island native, arrived in Las Vegas in 2011 and began working with Masi, consulting for Light Group. Before long, he was creating, booking and marketing music events for its portfolio of venues.
In 2012, the duo formed the 81/82 Group, a company that created and established DJ residencies, several of them for Light Group. They also partnered with national brands 50 Bleu Vodka and ResQwater to assist with both initial launches and curation of the brands in Las Vegas and other cross-markets.
“We’ve now worked with pretty much every single nightlife company in [Las Vegas] in one facet or another,” Craig says, but adds that Masi “always had bigger visions for us and we always had our own bigger visions.”
With Clique, Masi, Craig and Labbe are tapping into all that experience and market knowledge to fill a void and create a “cool” bar on the Strip that eschews a gimmick.
“There’s no place to just chill, have some cocktails and enjoy the people you’re with without extreme overload, where you have to shout to have a conversation,” Labbe says.
In contrast to the nightlife mentality, Clique won’t really push bottle sales, an idea what would likely make club operators shudder. Instead, the intimate lounge will hang its hat on “tableside mixology.”
“You’ll be addressed by a waitress, and then you’ll have a menu,” Labbe says. “And then if it’s something you’re interested in, our sommelier of sorts will come over and make [your cocktail] right in front of you with all fresh ingredients.”
For Craig and Labbe, this is just the beginning of their work with Masi’s Clique Hospitality. In their multi-venue partnership, the trio plans to expand their portfolios by opening other projects in Las Vegas and elsewhere.
“It’s a bigger-picture deal than just this venue,” Craig says. “We’ve always been in contact with Andy, but when we went back with him, we said that if we’re going to partner with him, we want to partner on multiple projects; we want this to be a big deal.”