Nectaly Mendoza has always been a larger-than-life presence in every room in which he finds himself. With the September 9 arrival of Cleaver Butchered Meats, Seafood & Cocktails, however, Mendoza let the cheeky art and thoughtful design speak louder than his own oft-booming exaltation: “PERFECT!”
From the original, hand-lettered and gilt work of artist Craig Fraser on the windows and doors to the Society6 “Replaceface” portraits series that dot Cleaver ’s multiple dining spaces, Mendoza offers a visual collage that is compelling, comedic and undeniably the signature of the Herbs & Rye/Cleaver/Infantry team.
All images: Jose M. Salinas
Not everything amazing about Cleaver can be seen from the threshold, however. The average diner won’t get to see the immaculate kitchen designed by executive chef Mariano Ochoa, right down to the brilliant work lighting and white steakhouse platters ringed with Cleaver’s signature dark blue. They won’t take note of the two broilers that remain from the space’s days as a Ruth’s Chris beloved by the local industry crowd. Unless someone seriously screws up, they won’t be hauled into the managers’ offices where Mendoza and Giuseppe Gonzalez rendered four eclectic and energetic graffiti pieces. Likely no one will notice the seams that seal Cleaver off from the original even-larger footprint that originally included some excess, aging event space. And for now, few will set eyes upon the parts of Cleaver that are as-yet unused.
City officials cut the ceremonial ribbon at 4:45 p.m. today and then “We go live at five!” Mendoza said earlier this morning. As of noon, there were more than 700 confirmed reservations, with an expected Night 1 attendance of more than 800. If you are not among the first to grace those banquettes, here’s what you have to look forward to on your first visit to Cleaver:
Society6 had better add the Mendoza household to its holiday card list. From the trendy website, Mendoza chose for Cleaver’s walls a series of portraits based on the work of English artist George Dawe, who painted more than 300 Russian generals for the Military Gallery at the Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg in the mid 1820s. These portraits—four small, seven large and two extra-large—have been updated by Society6’s designers, however, and now feature the likenesses of Patrick Swayze, Robin Williams, Eddie Murphy, The Rock, Mr. T, Mickey Rourke and wrestler John Cena.
Now, before you choke on your martini olives wondering where are the ladies of stage and screen, Fraser (he of the ornate menu and window art) has rendering a continuation of the series that includes Martha Stewart, Betty White and Queen Latifa. The portraits hang over Cleaver’s custom expandable tables as well as the custom oversize horseshoe booths that feature firm memory foam and were designed so that parties of up to six can six comfortably together without banging knees beneath the table.
Chris Farley’s Corner
The late and also larger-than-life actor and comedian dominates the bar/lounge as the first of the XL portraits. Bartenders will make eye contact with Farley as they shake and stir at the porcelain bar top (it’s not marble!), and one lucky guest will get to request (or, perhaps be assigned to) a forthcoming barber chair and TV dinner tray set for one that will eventually be arranged below the famous celebrity’s likeness.
The Murray Room & The Dunes Chandelier
While a grayer Bill Murray graces the dining room, it is a younger extra-large portrait of the actor, circa Stripes (1981), who holds court in the Murray Room, which seats 25. Cleaver will open with seating for 146 and slowly roll out more of its existing rooms for a capacity of 216.
The Murray Room is also home to a vintage chandelier that once hung at The Dunes hotel and casino, a little nod to Old Vegas. If the wallpaper looks familiar to Herbs & Rye devotees, yes, it’s a similar damask pattern, although this time, Mendoza notes, it is not sueded: “There are still marks on the wall at Herbs from the last Barmania!”
Love the over-the-top swan faucets in the men’s and ladies rooms? Ebay. And they’re bathtub faucets, of which there were only, exactly four left. Nobody late-night eBay-shops like Nec. (He might have a box of actual cleavers in his office, as well.) And don’t be tempted to push the on/off button on the bathroom mirrors; you’ll just end up in the dark.
The “Cloak Check”
No, Mendoza is not trying to be cute with this endearing, quirky little detail. “It was supposed to say, ‘cloak room’ or ‘coat check,’” Mendoza admits. “I effed it up. That’s what happened.” Well, you know how things go sometimes.
The Wine Cellar
It won’t be easy to miss the beautiful glass-enclosed wine cellar designed by wine director Isaiah Haro, which holds just a portion of Cleaver’s 1,400-bottle, 285-label wine collection. Also be sure to pay homage to even more Craig Fraser handiwork and the contribution of Eric Urry (Glass Supply) who created all the stained glass work for the back bar and hostess stand, and who, Mendoza notes, essentially built out Herbs & Rye in its entirety.
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