Welcome to The Gatekeepers, a monthly feature in which Eater roams the city meeting the fine ladies and gentlemen that stand between you and some of your favorite tough-to-get tables.
Ed Tracy [Photo: Chelsea McManus]
After 25 years in the hospitality industry, you know Ed Tracy has seen it all. He spent six of those years as a chef himself. Tracy joined the Mina Group in October 2007 as general manager of Saltwater at the MGM Grand Detroit, which he opened, then went on to oversee that and Bourbon Steak there. He came to Vegas in July 2010 to oversee first just Nobhill Tavern, and now Seablue as well at the MGM Grand. He shares some of the stories behind the crazy nights at Nobhill Tavern.
So, what's the busiest time right now?
Busiest seating times at Nobhill Tavern are generally between 7:30 and 8:30 p.m. This of course changes on concert/event nights when it becomes between the hours of 5:30 and 6:30 p.m. and then as soon as the event finishes up.
It’s 7:30 p.m. on a Sat. night, what's the wait for a table?
In a perfect world? We have a 10- to 15-minute wait for a table. This allows the guests to have a cocktail at the bar first before sitting down for dinner. I personally think we have the sexiest bar at MGM Grand and a couple of the best bartenders. I love for our guests to experience what our bar team has to offer before sitting for dinner. Plus it keeps the bar and lounge full and adds to the atmosphere of the room.
Did your customers get this concept right away?
Guests love our concept and yes, I believe they do. We have one of the more diverse menus at MGM Grand, and there is something for everyone. It is perfect for the business traveler on a per diem as you can have an amazing experience for under $50. If you want to go the other direction we can do a tasting menu and really style a table out.
As one of the hottest restaurants in Las Vegas, you've surely been offered gifts or cash in exchange for reservations or a table. What have people tried?
Of course tables are not for sale; we always honor reservations first and foremost. That said, I’ve been offered everything from cash, concert tickets and cigars among other things.
Tell us about your VIPs.
I personally think that anyone that chooses to dine with us is a VIP; there are too many other great restaurants at MGM Grand, let alone Las Vegas, not to think this way. You always need to treat each guest with the utmost respect and remember that every night is their Saturday night. They may only be here for a few days on a budget and we want them to remember their meals at Nobhill Tavern and Seablue as highlights of their trip.
Tell us about your favorite customers.
Our favorite guest is the one sitting down with us right now. They are the ones that are going to tell their friends about their experience and come back the next time they visit Las Vegas.
How about celebrities?
They dine with us of course, but I won’t tell you who they are. That’s why they come back.
How do you deal with VIPs when there are no tables to give?
There is always an “Oh S#@$” table or two available; there are some guests you just do not say no to and seat them as quickly as possible. And of course we have a fantastic bar where you can grab a cocktail and wait a minute or two for us to put something together.
Tell me about the craziest times at Nobhill Tavern, maybe after a concert or a show lets out.
For me personally it was shortly after moving to Las Vegas when I experienced my first Lady Gaga concert night, to say “interesting crowd” puts it mildly. The Jimmy Buffet crowd is always fun as are UFC fight nights — guys shouldn’t wear that much clothing with sparkles.
So, what's the strangest request that you've accommodated at Nobhill Tavern?
Nothing really stands out as far as strange or outrageous, at least nothing I am willing to speak of.
Do you ever get any requests for vegetarian dishes here at Nobhill Tavern?
We get vegetarian, vegan and gluten free all the time. Again, with our menu we can handle just about any dietary preference with no problem.
What's the most popular dish right now?
Most popular? The Signature Lobster Pot Pie and the Nobhill Cable Car cocktail — everyone talks about them. What sells the most is another story.
So, when you're not at Nobhill Tavern, where are you eating these days?
Again, only having been here for just under two years leaves a lot of great restaurants to dine at, I try to sample something new on one of my days off. A fun thing to do is pick a hotel on the Strip and get a drink and a couple appetizers at as many restaurants as possible before needing the assistance of a wheelchair. The most I’ve gotten through is seven in one night at Bellagio. But as far as knowing you will get a great meal each and every time: Monta, Raku and Pho Kim Long.
What's the must-order dish at Nobhill Tavern?
In my personal opinion the Braised Pork Belly is by far the best dish on the menu, ton of flavor and texture.
Were there any reviews that led to significant bump in service, or a change to the type of clientele?
Not really, no.
At the end of the day, what's the one Gatekeeper tool you need to get the job done?
The team that has been assembled around me; we could not do what we do without chef Josh Crain and his amazing team in the kitchens. Without Alison, Ken, Jenny and Hillary on the dining room floors and two restaurants of incredibly dedicated Food and Beverage professionals. Running two restaurants is not easy but with the team that we have I know and trust that the guests who choose to dine with us at either Nobhill Tavern or Seablue will be in great hands.
· All Coverage of Nobhill Tavern [~ELV~]
· All Coverage of The Gatekeepers [~ELV~]
· Gatekeepers Across the Eater Universe, May ’12 [~EN~]