What was your inspiration for Libertine Social?
When this all started, I immediately asked to meet the whole team. I look forward to the initial meeting; I just wanted to listen! I was absorbing all of these desires that Shawn McClain and his team had, and I wanted to project them into the space. Shawn and his team are so passionate about what they do. We had to be able to put something forward that wasn’t mundane. Sure, we could have done the barn door and the exposed concrete. However, it wasn’t deserving of [something pat], and neither was [McClain]. He did something much more powerful.
You created a fictional character named Kyle to be the persona behind the design; Libertine Social is said to be like Kyle’s living room. Tell us about the man of the hour.
We created these wonderful narratives. I spent some time with Shawn [in L.A.’s Abbot Kinney area, where] we were inspired by the casual vibe. We made up a story about this guy, Kyle, who was bored living in a house or a condo, and decided to pick up a piece of property and convert it into his home. He wanted to make sure all of his friends hung out there—and anyone else, quite frankly. He had very specific friends: a barista, a chef … all these amazing personalities. We wanted to give Kyle a real story, a real narrative, and to have people understand who he is. We hired an in-house art consultant who helped us create an entire life story for Kyle—the walls are adorned with his life. It’s his favorite music, his travels, his girlfriends and ex-girlfriends, his family. He’s a free spirit. I believe Shawn even feels a bit of Kyle. He’s gotten so connected that he wanted to make sure we had the right albums, and the right display of Kyle’s collection. It’s a very inclusive venue. I’m stoked about it.
Is that how you’re approaching projects now, by creating a persona?
People want to be part of a story, something authentic that they can connect to. A space can make conversation exciting and create a memory. It can bring people back time and time again. Nothing will make me happier than when people go to Libertine Social, sit in different places in the restaurant and not know they’ve been in the same space.
How does designing a space in Las Vegas differ from designing spaces in other cities?
We cater our restaurant designs to those who live here in the city. With this particular space, I wanted the opportunity to tap into the local market. I’ve gotten to know the people of Las Vegas. I love talking to taxi drivers to figure out what their life has been, and what they’re looking for [in Vegas]. It sounds crazy, but it gives me understanding. I chat with people, get to know them and why they’re here. I’m a bit of a people studier. I’m so mesmerized by people’s reactions to a space. It blows my mind to see the expressions, and how the environment motivates them to eat, drink and party a certain way. I really look forward to putting spaces together. This is our third project at Mandalay Bay; we did Kumi and Citizens, so we understand the demographics of those coming through. We understand the locals who are coming here are different from the ones who are going to Bellagio, Treasure Island or even Wynn. They are completely different people, and we want to create a space that reflects that.
Does design influence revenue?
One hundred percent—design is a collaboration from all sides. If you have a great design, but really crappy food, you’ve got a problem. You can have amazing food and a really crappy design, and that’s a problem. I feel that you can have a collaboration of all the parts that make it successful, and design has an impact.
What is your favorite thing about Libertine Social?
Without a doubt, the Alex Diaz mural [that has been painted on the previous facade]. You have no choice—you have to see it. It would have been an injustice to take down that wall. It’s iconic. It was smart for us to preserve it. The Arcade Bar in the back is something very special as well.
What are you doing next in Las Vegas? Do you have any new projects coming up?
I’m not in bed with many casinos in Las Vegas. I’ve got a sweet spot with MGM Resorts; they’ve been beyond kind to me, and I’m loyal. We’re talking about some other projects that are on the QT. I am lucky to have gotten some of the best locations in Las Vegas. I’m hoping the spaces that I’m doing are increasing revenue. I do ask these questions, because I am curious: “Is the story we sold MGM and our clients working? Are people getting it?” So far—knock on wood—they are.