“It’s C-L-E-A-V-E-R, LOL,” he types back. Apparently my autocorrect wants the name of Herbs & Rye owner Nectaly Mendoza’s next Las Vegas bar and restaurant project to be called “Clever.” But while the concept is clever, the name is indeed Cleaver Butchered Meats, Seafood & Cocktails.
Following six months of negotiations, Mendoza has formalized the lease on the former Toscano Italian Steakhouse space (also previously a Ruth’s Chris and Kelly’s steakhouse before that), and expects to have the keys in hand on November 1. That’s when the gutting of the sprawling footprint will begin. “This was a big negotiation back and forth,” Mendoza says. An agent for the space had reached out to him as soon as a deal on a far smaller space for an entirely different concept (now shelved) fell through.
Central to the concept, Cleaver will serve the expertly in-house butchered steaks and chops for which Herbs & Rye’s certified Angus program has become known, as well as the faithfully re-created classic, mid-mod classic and modern-classic cocktails that earned the bar Las Vegas’ first Spirited Award at Tales of the Cocktail 2016 for America’s Best High-Volume Cocktail Bar. With the nearly 300-seat Cleaver, Mendoza and his team will take some pressure off Herbs & Rye (which did an eye-popping 712 tickets on Valentine’s Day this year!) by offering loyal customers and destination diners a new option in a different neighborhood.
So, why Cleaver? “The cleaver is one of the oldest tools in the kitchen,” Mendoza explains. “The cleaver is the one that always cuts through. It’s the deciding factor of whether something can be butchered or not.” For chefs who work with meat, in other words, it’s the bottom line.
A walk through the space in late April revealed just how good shape it is in. Despite being built in 1989 and in near constant use since the 1990s, there have been high-quality, high-value updates including exquisite wooden built-ins, wine vaults and other inherited treasures that Mendoza is keen to retain. Guests will turn off Paradise Road into the parking lot shared with Urban Turban, Tacos & Beer and other restaurants. From there, they will walk through a covered breezeway to Cleaver’s front entrance, set back a ways from the lot—a detail that immediately attracted Mendoza to this real estate.
Inside, the 87-seat main dining room (right now a festival of maroon, darkly stained oak and frosted glass) naturally boasts an old-school steakhouse vibe that Mendoza aims to preserve while updating the space with new floors, freshly painted ceilings and large chandeliers for a more relevant art-deco aesthetic.
The labyrinthine space continues into a small private dining room that will be allowed to revel in its existing gaudy green-ness. A second large dining room can be curtained off until it is needed, and there are still more rooms that Mendoza can play with down the road. The star attraction is, of course, the bar, which is massive, wide and luxurious, with 25 bar stools and which, like Herbs & Rye, abuts a lounge ringed with horseshoe booths seating 6-8 people each. But it’s not just about having more physical space in which to play.
“Cleaver is also an expansion of my team; it’s not just me anymore,” says Mendoza, who is the sole investor in a new company called Infantry Inc. that is made up of himself and other Herbs & Rye team members who will have new roles across the company, making room for new employees to step into the rigors of training at both locations. “It’s my way of saying, ‘This is how we operate a business, not just a restaurant.’” In all, Mendoza expects that the new venue will add at least 34 new jobs to the local economy.
While the former Toscano space was not the first Mendoza considered (there was a near miss Downtown, and he considered other U.S. cities as well as other countries), he says it was the only one he wanted from the moment he set foot inside. “I walked in and it smelled like Herbs did when we first got it. Then [Day 1 Herbs & Rye barman Gerardo Delatorre] smelled it, too, and says, ‘How is this even possible? That smell! We’re signing just based on that smell.”
And sign Mendoza did. He anticipates a 2018 opening for Cleaver, in late winter or early spring.