There’s a story at the heart of every drink mixed by Eric Hobbie’s hands.
“I was trained by chefs, so where a lot of bartenders build a cocktail and look for a story, I do the exact opposite,” he explains. “I take a story and I [think], ‘How can I incorporate this, bringing these senses, whether it be noise, sight, touch, smell,’ and then build the cocktail from there.”
If you’ve had a drink in this town in the last 10 or 12 years, you’ve probably crossed paths with Hobbie, even if you didn’t know it.
Jet. The Playboy Club. Moon. Giada. The Dorsey. The man’s résumé reads like the traveler’s guide to great Las Vegas venues of the 21st century. Yet this time last year, he was ready to hang up the bartending gloves for good.
“I decided to open up a food truck,” Hobbie explains while muddling herbs behind a bar at Palms Casino Resort. “I love bartending, it’s my passion, but I saw a shot. And, you know what? Sometimes you just gotta jump.”
The truck, dubbed “A Family Secret,” was under construction in Miami when Hobbie received a call from nightlife vets Ryan Labbe and Jason “J-Roc” Craig. The duo, who had been tapped to create two new social spaces at Palms for Clique Hospitality, wanted Hobbie to come up with a presentation.
And like that, just when he thought he was out, they pulled him back in.
“I’ve never had the opportunity to design a program myself and be part of something bigger,” Hobbie says. “I think we have the same vision. For me, building a cocktail is really easy: It’s about the theatrics of it—how it was developed, not necessarily what’s in the glass.”
“The Standard for Avant-Garde”
Recruited by Clique Hospitality as lead intoxicologist (he eschews the title “mixologist”), Hobbie has spent the last several months experimenting with different flavors for the Palms’ new Camden Cocktail Lounge and APEX Social Club, both set to debut in May.
He reveals nothing specific—“Hell no” is actually his response when asked—and only hints that the atmosphere of the venues plays a big part in their respective cocktail programs.
Camden is “laid-back” whereas APEX is “wild,” he teases. Beyond that, Hobbie adds that he wants to set the standard for “avant-garde” cocktail design.
“We’re going to be doing things that are not easily executable in a lot of places,” he says. “Using liquid nitrogen, nitro-muddling, using dry ice, herb-infused ice, taking things out of their ordinary state and changing them right in front of people’s eyes.”
“Whenever we muddle fresh herbs using liquid nitrogen, it freezes the chlorophyll state; you freeze those molecules,” he explains. “When you actually incorporate it with your booze, shake it, strain it, when you drink it, it’s like you’re chewing on mint. It’s like you’re chewing on basil. You can’t put the drink down.
“I was telling the guys, ‘We better have a farm on hand because we’re gonna be going through a lot of fresh herbs.’”
Camden will even employ an edible-ink printer that will print someone’s face on rice paper or on a piece of ice.
“I’m a firm believer that you eat and drink with your eyes first, so everything that gets put in front of you is gonna be visually stimulating,” he says. “Right off the bat, cameras are gonna be out.”
The “New Kid on the Block”
“Vegas is all about the new: Whatever’s new is what everyone wants to jump on,” Hobbie says. “So even though Palms isn’t newly built, it’s got the new makeup, the new lipstick.”
Despite the Palms turning 17, this year Hobbie envisions it as the “new kid on the block,” with Camden and APEX just two pieces of its $485 million upgrade from owner Station Casinos.
The opportunity to be part of that comeback, he explains, was too great to resist.
“The Fertittas are straight OGs in this town. I love stuff like that; I get inspired,” Hobbie says. “I might not own 15 casinos one day, but if I have five food trucks or if I’m a partner in a company, I’m always looking for that next step.”
So he’s not stepping away from the food truck business just yet?
“Life’s all about timing. I can’t do both, so I’m bringing in a business partner,” Hobbie says. “I have a good business plan, and I think that’ll do very well on its own.”