The eclectic collection of bars, restaurants and shops on L.A.’s hipster street Abbot Kinney serves as the inspiration for Chef Shawn McClain’s third Las Vegas opening, Libertine Social in Mandalay Bay.
After two successful ventures at Aria — including the fine-dining Sage, which opened in 2009, and pizzeria Five50, which debuted in 2013 — McClain arrives at Mandalay Bay with a free-spirited culinary adventure, where the star is a fictitious character named Kyle from whom the story of Libertine Social unfolds. What would Kyle eat and drink? How does he play? What’s in his record collection? Who are his friends?
McClain and mixologist Tony Abou-Ganim (the duo met on “Iron Chef”; they won), along with interior designer Alessandro Munge, sculpt the ultimate night out in Kyle's domain. Eating, drinking and revelry unfold throughout the diverse space made up of five experiences: the Voyeur lounge, the chef’s table, the outdoor patio, the main dining room and the Arcade Bar.
Here's how to dive into Libertine Social.
First order of business: Stop for a selfie. Street artist Alex Diaz transformed the existing exterior of the restaurant with a stunning large-scale mural of a jackalope — the mythical figure is the mascot of Libertine Social.
Kick off the night at the Arcade Bar with its own craft cocktail menu, illustrated by artist Fab Ciraolo. "It [has] Tony’s signature cocktails and a barman who's spending a few extra minutes on every drink," McClain said. The menu is divided into Cocktails, Daises and Fixes, Cobblers and Cups, Juleps and Smashes, and Punches.
"We really looked at Mandalay Bay as a property and tried to complement their portfolio, but also have some great points of difference," McClain said. "Beverage became a rising part of that. It was important to bring in a craftsman [like] Tony. We really wanted it to play to a diverse crowd in both food and drink. We wanted a place where people could define their own experience."
After warming up with some cocktails, choose where you want to eat. Dinner is served in all locations, so the choice is really based on mood.
After making all the tough calls, the easiest part of the night might be the ordering. The only guidelines are to have as much fun eating as McClain had creating. Start with parmesan churros and ahi tuna cones, and then transition into grilled and chilled prawns with horseradish emulsion and heirloom tomato — a play on Las Vegas' legendary shrimp cocktail. While an entire meal can be made of the small plates, the whole fried Petaluma chicken is some of the best in Vegas and the branzino earns rave reviews from even the most discerning diners.
"We felt that, in the market, there was a bar/lounge option and a dinner option. We felt [the] in-between encompassed a really big field for us to play in," McClain said. "If it's a group of six from a convention and they want to come in and have a cocktail and great bites ... or, if it's a couple of people who want to experience [the] culinary [side] of what we do, I feel the menu expresses a wide range."
So the question begs to be asked: What does Kyle have to say about all this?
"My wife asks if [he] is a real person," McClain said. "If I was [Kyle], what would I like? The Libertine spirit is a little bit left of center, so we want people to let loose and explore. Whether it’s the art or progressive music, it will take you in some unexpected directions sometimes. The food is always based in reality, based on great products. [But let's] explore fun ways to be creative with food. We don’t want it to be too complicated, but it has to be visually fun and stimulating."
— Jae Alexander, LA Times Custom Publishing