Jason "JRoc" Craig and Ryan Labbe are industry giants in the Las Vegas nightlife scene. The knowledgeable and influential duo have launched some of the most anticipated venues in Vegas using expertise gleaned from several years of working for the most respected of hospitality groups.
Their latest venture is part of the Palms' $690-million-dollar renovation covering all corners of the resort property. JROC and Labbe have focused their time on revamping Apex Social Club and Camden Cocktail Lounge. Neither are known for slowing down, so Greene St Kitchen is soon to follow.
So, what do you do when you're handed the keys to an iconic brand and property like the Palms with its rich history and high visibility? While that seems like a big question with an equally sizable answer, JROC and Labbe's challenge isn't that different from the one faced by any operator who's opening any size venue. It all comes down to focusing on the customer experience and creating a vibe that draws people in and amplifies the conversation and their reactions.
We sat down with the Dynamic Duo of Las Vegas for a sneak preview of what they'll cover during their Nightclub & Bar Show session this year.
The Palms has undergone a massive transformation. What do you make of all the changes and what are you two most excited about?
Jason “JROC” Craig: The renovation at the PALMS Casino Resort is definitely fun to watch as both Ryan and I have a fond love for the property not only professionally, but personally as well. I worked there for a number of years before we created our concepts, and at one point, Ryan was a partygoer back in the glory days.
We are most excited to open our newest venue at the PALMS, Greene St. Kitchen, but overall, the entirety of the property is the most exciting part. Once the PALMS is firing on all cylinders, I believe the glory days will be back once again.
While designing new concepts, what consumer trends and behaviors are important for operators to think about, and how have you two implemented those into your newest venues?
JROC: The nightlife landscape, as well as the Vegas trends, tend to change every four years or so, and you have to prepare for this. By that I mean the music landscape has changed to bigger, more expensive venues, new hotels properties, etc. The marketing also changes depending on what’s hot and what clubgoers want to hear musically.
For example, at one point, EDM and dance music had a huge influx of the big-name DJs, and as a result, big rooms in Vegas were born. Talent bookings became the standard here and if you didn’t pay to play you were having a tough time or had to change your strategy.
JROC: I hope people will take away the importance of a creative strategy and having a competitive edge. Also, I hope they take away an understanding of the strong work ethic it takes to get to this point.
Ryan, you’re known for your guerrilla-style approach to marketing, like creating flash mobs in the middle of Las Vegas. What should other nightclub and bar promoters think about or look to for inspiration?
Ryan Labbe: It’s about thinking outside of the box and doing things that the other person isn’t doing. You have to get creative in your approach to set yourself apart.
Jason, as a counter and complement to Ryan’s style, your marketing expertise comes from past work with the N9NE Group and overseeing VIP services. What lessons did you take away from your prior roles, and which would you pass along to the next generation of hospitality professionals?
JROC: Play to your strengths and surround yourself with people better than you in all different aspects of the business. As with any team, you’re only as strong as your weakest link, and if not corrected, areas of your business will suffer.
The spaces Apex Social Club and at Camden Cocktail Lounge have different feels. How did you come up with the concept for both venues, and what unique vibes are you trying to create?
JROC: When approaching both venues, we wanted each to have their own unique vibe as we wanted to give the guest different nightlife options. Similar to our concept at the Cosmopolitan, CliQUE Bar and Lounge, Camden Cocktail Lounge is a high-end cocktail lounge offering food and a different programing style that caters to sports and other events.
For APEX Social Club, we wanted to capture a different customer, and considering it is a nightclub space with an amazing patio overlooking the strip, we wanted that venue to provide multiple offerings. Even though our other upcoming concept at the PALMS, Greene St. Kitchen, is a restaurant, the look and feel of this space will be completely different from the other two.
Some of our operators are from smaller markets with much smaller budgets than those to which you have access. What advice can you give them for creating over-the-top experiences with limited resources?
JROC: One of the key things is getting creative with events and involving your customers and others in the industry. We’ve all been to a great house party or Halloween party in the past, and having a good time is all about the experience you create. The attention to detail in these events is also key, and with social media these days, there are so many unique ways of marketing pre- and post-event for very little cost.
During their session, “Grand Concepts & Design Creation,” Jason and Ryan will share how bar, nightclub and restaurant operators can implement and develop the right conceptual elements to give guests the ultimate experience. They'll be joined by David Manica, the architect behind NFL stadiums and the award-winning cocktail bar Monarch, our 2019 Cocktail Bar of the Year. You won't want to miss this—register now!