Seven Of N9NE at the Palms

April 9, 2007
Michael Morton, co-owner, N9NE Group, left, and George Maloof, owner, the Palms Casino Resort. Shown here is the N9NE Steakhouse.

In the ultimate city of one-upmanship, who are the original upmen?

Michael Kornick argues that Las Vegas hotels were not on the cutting edge of food and beverage nightlife until the Palms Casino Resort opened in 2001 and, with it, a buzz surrounding its ghostbar, Rain Nightclub, and N9NE Steakhouse. A successful food and beverage blueprint was created, and many other hotels in Las Vegas followed suit.

“Our first venue flipped the city on its head,” says Kornick, consulting chef and partner, N9NE Group. “All the big hotels have added destination nightclubs now. Before, there were basically just Studio 54, House of Blues, and Rum Jungle.”

“I’m a pretty humble guy, but I can say that when we opened Rain, it led to a huge marketplace for massive nightclubs,” says Michael Morton, co-owner, N9NE Group. “We did a lot of groundbreaking things, and I think we’re still the model because we have a different game plan.”

At the core of that game plan is a unique partnership between Morton’s N9NE Group, which operates the venues, and George Maloof, owner of the Palms Casino Resort. It’s one that goes beyond the common hotel and third-party food and beverage scenario of landlord and tenant.

“It’s a 50/50 partnership. If we have a bad month, everybody has a bad month. From the hotel’s perspective, we’re much more than a landlord. We want to see it succeed and take part in that success through the bottom line profits,” Maloof says.

“We add value to the Palms because they’re our 50 percent partner. If the guest has a $350 room rate, then they go to one of our restaurants for dinner, we’ve got them for another $100 a head before they go to sleep,” Kornick says.

The N9NE Group currently runs seven food and beverage outlets at the Palms, but their partnership with Maloof started at a single freestanding N9NE Group venue in the late ‘90s.

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HOTEL F&B recently met with Christian Margesson, wine director for the N9NE Group, to talk about how wine fits into a cocktail atmosphere at the Palms and about using the excitement of Las Vegas to upsell the guest.

N9NE Group has two restaurants in the Palms: N9NE Steakhouse and Nove Italiano. What are the wine lists like?

N9NE Steakhouse has basically an international list with more than 900 selections. It includes multiple vintages of Bordeaux, going back to 1945, including 1953 Lafite and 1961 Margaux. Nove Italiano has about 500 selections. We represent the 20 regions of Italy, with the wealth of the list being from Tuscany and Piedmont.

Because guests are focused on having a good time in Las Vegas, do you find it easier to get them to spend more money and try the older vintages?

Yes. They’ll say, for example, “I’ve never had a ’97 Shafer or a vintage Bordeaux.” It’s exciting to see people try big wines. They want to dine in luxury in ways they wouldn’t in their hometowns.

Is it difficult to sell wine in the cocktail atmospheres of Moon, ghostbar, and Playboy?

No. Wine sales have increased across the board in every one of our venues here. The younger generation has taken up the wine glass as well as the cocktail, so we have bottle menus in the nightclubs. We do high-end Cabernets, first-growth Bordeaux, and a small selection of Champagne that consists of Krug and about seven different vintages of Cristal in rosé and brut. We also have two three-liter bottles of Cristal, which is quite rare. They make very few of them. It’s a nighttime atmosphere, so we sell a lot of Champagne. It’s a big part of the nightclub business.

How often do you have tastings for your staff?

We taste blind two or three times a week. We place three glasses in front of each server—it could be two whites, a red, two reds, a white—and they go through the full process blind. They enjoy learning because it helps them increase their sales.

Education is big for us. We use the hedonistic scale, which is basically letting our staff judge the wine based on how much they enjoy it. You can read as many reports and scores as you want, but if you don’t like it, you won’t sell it.

You also oversee N9NE’s cocktail program. How do you separate yourself from the competition?

Anyone can throw rum, Coke, and lime into a glass. We base our cocktails on seasonal fresh fruits and multi-dimensional flavors. We just came out with a cocktail called N9NEade, which is our version of lemonade with Ketel One vodka, caramelized ginger and lemons, soda water, muddled mint, and Grand Marnier. It’s kind of a throwback to the real days of mixology. It’s an art form, and that’s where we really try to stay fresh.—MC


Before moving into the Las Vegas market, Morton (son of Arnie Morton, famous for Morton’s Steakhouses and the original Playboy Clubs) and his N9NE Group business partner Scott DeGraff opened a successful Chicago nightspot called Drink in 1992. Morton and DeGraff opened another Drink in Las Vegas in 1995, and one of its regular customers was George Maloof.

“We were basically the only nightclub in town, and all the hotels wanted nightclubs when they saw there was a real market there [at Drink],” Morton says.

“When I was planning for the Palms, I wanted to open a nightclub, and I thought of Michael and Scott first,” says Maloof. “That’s how it started.”

Morton was about to open a freestanding N9NE Steakhouse with ghostbar above it on Chicago’s trendy West Randolph Street. Maloof decided that was the concept he wanted to replicate at the Palms—only modified to take advantage of his property’s strengths.


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