Crackin' Oysters with Rob Weakley and David Bernahl
by andy wang
They may be two of the nation’s culinary darlings, but David Bernahl and Rob Weakley aren’t too fancy to stand in line for the Oyster Bar at Palace Station.
Rob Weakley and David Bernahl join the masses to find out why they’re flocking to the Oyster Bar.
David Bernahl and Rob Weakley, the food and beverage wizards behind Cosmopolitan’s new social club, Rose. Rabbit. Lie., don’t wait in line. The Coastal Luxury Management cofounders—who created the wildly successful Pebble Beach and Los Angeles Food & Wine festivals and restaurants such as Monterey’s 1833 and downtown LA’s new Faith & Flower—have crossed paths with every star chef imaginable. There’s not a restaurant where the sharply dressed duo can’t walk into the kitchen and say hello.
Except for Palace Station’s Oyster Bar, the no-frills Vegas seafood spot, open 24/7, where there’s rarely a break in the line for one of the 18 seats at the bar. This is Las Vegas’s great social equalizer, where a single chef methodically shucks oysters and clams and cooks steaming kettles overflowing with seafood for everyone from lunching Strip moguls to restaurant workers at shift’s end to club kids attempting 3 am hangover prevention. There is no way to speed your way to the front of the line. But devotees agree that the brandy-and-cream-spiked pan roast is worth the wait.
The kettles are steaming with seafood delicacies.
What’s it like being at a place that has 18 seats and doesn’t care who you are?
David Bernahl: It’s a remarkably good experience. We get spoiled, obviously, and we’ve gotten a chance to know the chefs in most kitchens. This is a place where I don’t know the chef or the kitchen.
Rob Weakley: Sometimes you don’t want to be fussed over. You just want to come in where you’re not known. You don’t have to sit down and have a conversation with anyone.
Raw oysters, raw clams, and shrimp cocktail arrive.
RW: I lived in New Orleans for two and a half years. That’s a clam and a half there.
Fresh clams on the half shell.
We’re here in the afternoon, but people stand in line all day long. There are people in line here in the middle of the night, asleep.
RW: I love the concept. Just the idea that it’s a one-man show, six pots, you get it when you get it.
The server takes their order and asks how spicy they want it, from one to 10.
It’s spicy here, and they have all these bottles of hot sauces you can add, too.
RW: Okay, let’s order it at a five.
Bernahl and Weakley watch chef Ricardo make off-the-menu “lava sauce,” which melts everyone’s taste buds.
DB: It’s diced habañeros, Frank’s RedHot, Cholula, and jalapeño Tabasco sauce. And then, Ricardo, what did you put in when you were over there? Ricardo: Peppers, everything spice, brandy, and white wine.
The waitress brings a combo pan roast, Alaskan chowder, and étouffée.
DB: It’s good; it’s solid. This would be fun at 4 in the morning.
You’ve been to a lot of nightclubs. Did you always want to do nightlife?
They both laugh.
RW: He’s always wanted to. You’ve seen his dance moves.
DB: We’re going to have to do a group worm. We’ll go down the stage in different directions.
With only 18 seats, the wait can be substantial, but it’s worth every second.
And now you have your own supper club in Vegas.
DB: There are so many ways to enjoy [Rose. Rabbit. Lie.], and what’s great is seeing how many have stayed from, say, 7 pm to 3 in the morning. You won’t experience the same thing twice.
RW: It’s important for us to become part of the community. We’re getting involved with the charities—Communities in Schools, Three Square. The philanthropy in Vegas is unbelievable.
DB: We’ve really kind of fallen in love with this city after getting to know it in a more meaningful way. It’s not just about the fun entertainment on the Strip. It’s what’s going on with Downtown, the Smith Center, the culture, the philanthropic community here.
Weakley and Bernahl tackle the Oyster Bar’s whale-size Sierra Nevada drafts.
So at first you came to Vegas as a place to party, and then you discovered this is a real city.
DB: We like to be part of that kind of movement. I think it’s the same thing with downtown Los Angeles. We took a risk four years ago when we decided to start Los Angeles Food & Wine downtown. But as we brought people downtown, they had a chance to see what was happening, and it’s so exciting. I feel that’s the same thing that’s going on in Vegas, both with what’s happening off the Strip and even on the Strip. It’s creating more in Las Vegas, by Las Vegas, for Las Vegas. Like here, it’s products that feel like they’re not a transported brand from some other city. It’s made here, for here, and unique to here.
The server brings 50-ounce drafts and vodka oyster shooters.
Vodka oyster shooters.
You guys are known as the masters of final final—having the last cocktail that finally ends the night.
DB: We’ve definitely had some final finals.
RW: And now we’ve kind of decided that we’re not quite sure there’s ever such a thing as a final final.
DB: Yeah, there’s always one more.
photography by bryan hainer