Sam Nazarian, mercurial vendor of nightlife and hospitality cool, recently announced that there shall be an SLS in New York City. This is big news, not in the least, because it signals that NoMad (the area not the hotel) has officially arrived. The property, a 190-room Philippe Starck-designed former office building on 30th Street, is set to join its brethren in LA and SoBe next year. It’ll boast, probs, a José Andres restaurant as well as Nazarian’s usual nightlife venues.
Whenever the 10th of June rolls around I always think: I know this date so well, but how? Cue David Lynch-esque deja-vu music while I think about past lives until I realize, Oh, it’s Tenjune. Right. Eugene Remm & Mark Birnbaum‘s Svedka Vodka Adult Playground 2033 was last night, at Abe & Arthurs—not at Tenjune, because my head would’ve exploded as that very date happens to be both of their birthdays. I’m not sure how I managed to get invited to the club impresarios’ joint birthday jam, what with the likes of Kim Kardashian and DJ Cassidy on the personal guestlist, but it was enough to remind me that I have a lot more to accomplish in my life to deserve a birthday party the size of one called ‘Adult Playground,’ and a lot more to accomplish before my name makes it to the party recap list next to attendees like Whitney Port and Tyson Beckford, and even more to accomplish before Mark and Eugene actually invite me to their soiree. Themselves. Anyway, hopefully all of that happens before 2033, like the Svedka sponsors suggest, but for now, I am just happy I got to see (if not be seen) celebrations for such iconic industry as like Remm and Birnbaum.
Kim was one of those guests who the PR mavens didn’t get a chance to announce was coming, because she just casually popped in to say hello to Mark and Eugene, and to see Jason Derulo, Iyaz, and Chris Willis perform. A couple of other industry insiders were present as well: Sam Nazarian of SBE (and ex to Kristin Cavalari) and real estate heir Matt Moinian, along with Scott Sartiano and Richie Akiva were all present to wish the boys well. Guests enjoyed dinner the way only Abe & Arthur’s and Svedka could produce, with fare that included Svedka Mango Tiramisu with Chocolate Lady Fingers dessert. Happy birthday E&M! Thanks for sort of inviting me!
Photos: Wireimage and Startraksphoto.com
The man who takes care of the day-to-day at LA’s hottest nightclubs (Hyde, Area, Foxtail) under SBE’s Sam Nazarian claims he’s a dedicated family man well before he’s a nightlife guru. “I’m family guy, I have two little boys. I have one side — the cool factor, being ahead of the game and in the nightlife scene — but at the same time I have another side that people don’t normally get to see.” Nonetheless, he’s running some of the biggest celeb magnets in LA and is constantly surrounded by bottles and models. Can he really turn out to be a normal guy?
Tell me about your position with SBE. I work the nightlife division at SBE and deal with anything that has to do with our nightclubs. I try to get the same hype and energy into our restaurants. I’ve been with the company since almost the beginning and helped get us where we are right now.
What piqued your interest in LA nightlife? My profession now is completely different from what I went to school for — kinesiology and athletic training. I’ve always been interested in nightlife. I’m European, and I just worked different positions, in many different clubs on different continents. I also had a little restaurant open in Santa Barbara before I joined SBE in the 90s. When the joint venture came together for SBE, and it heard of the proposal, I jumped on board.
How did you first come to meet Sam Nazarian? I knew Sam from way back. He would hang out in some of the places I worked back in the day. I used to do physical training, so I knew him from the athletic club as well.
What was your first impression when you met him? Sam is a very generous, very smart guy, but he’s not flashy about it. That’s what attracted me from the beginning … I knew what his powers could be and a little bit of his background, but he’s not the guy who’s throwing into your face. That was my first impression of him. He’s a very nice guy.
What’s your favorite of all the SBE venues? One of my favorite spaces now is the Area location. I like big spaces; I like the energy; I like the layout.
What are some positive trends you’ve noticed recently in nightlife or hospitality? One that is positive and negative at the same time is the option that consumers have of more locations and more options. It gets more people involved in going out, and I think, in general, more people are going out. This could have a positive or negative effect depending on how good of a grip you have on the clientele and how you stay ahead of the game. We hope to tap into a bigger market and attract and engage. That’s been a big focus for us in the past five or six years. Before, you had only a few locations to choose from. For a long time, there was one spot going strong per night on the weekdays.
So you think people are going out in general more now? I think so … there’s more options, more nightclubs, and it attracts more people to be out there and in the city. A lot of people take the nightlife component into consideration before moving to a new city.
How does SBE maintain the cool factor in venues? We try to keep our heads on top, as we’ve got to know what’s happening today. This is a city, and if you lose a connection with what the people want — you’re pretty much done. We’re very active in what we do, we mobile run it. I’m still active 100% into the trends and the nightlife component. We’re basically selling something that you can’t see and you can’t touch — the vibe. To create that, you have to be part of it, otherwise people won’t come back.
What do you think people are looking for now? It went from big clubs to small locations, and now I think it’s coming back to the bigger spots. They want energy. This is true in the music world also. I think house music is making a huge impact on our society at the moment, and especially in nightlife. I’m Greek myself, and house music was all I grew up with. I’m happy to hear it here and know it’s coming to this side of the world.
Where do you go out? I definitely hang out in more of the SBE locations. One of my favorite locations is the Bazaar at SLS. It’s an amusement park there, you get great food and great drinks, and the ambiance of the people and all of the above. The design is phenomenal. I also love The Abbey That location is by far one of the most exciting, unique places with the ambiance that you could find in the city regardless of the clientele, but that’s definitely that’s a unique space. I love the energy.
You were a Navy SEAL in the Greek Army. Any comparisons between that experience and LA nightlife? From that experience, I learned the respect factor and I use it every day. That experience shaped the way I work, the way I function, the way my brain works. Discipline is key into what we do, especially now because we create the party instead of being part of the party.
Do you have any non-industry projects in the works? I’m looking into an electronic cigarette. They have no tobacco. It gets you the amount of nicotine that you wish you could . And you can smoke it anywhere because there’s nothing burning in the air. Those have been out by Vegas companies, but I’d like to take it to the next level and provide users with things other than nicotine. I’m working with one that would give you energy and vitamins.
What’s your dream spot for a project for any sort of venue? Something at the beach where the party goes on all day and the energy goes through, and the night comes down and sinks into more of the nightclub vibe.
Aside from SBE, who else does it right in nightlife? There’s a few people in other cities that I envy, but I can definitely count those people on one hand.
Anyone in particular? I don’t want to mention anybody.
What are you doing tonight? I’ll be out at Hyde. I’m out and about tonight.
Hotelier and restaurateur Sam Nazarian — the man behind the Philippe Starck-designed SLS brand (SLS Beverly Hills), celebrity hotspot Hyde, and future Vegas landmark, the revamped Sahara Hotel & Casino — gives BlackBook the inside scoop on his top picks around the country, academic lecturing, and the luxury of flying private.
When you’re not visiting your own bars, clubs, and restaurants, where can we find you? I love Houston’s. It’s a very contemporary American brand. It’s not the most trendy and not the most chic, but it’s one of the most successful brands, and I love going there because I know exactly what I’m going to get every time. I love Giorgio Baldi in Malibu. There is something that is so timeless in the personality of the staff, and the food is amazing. You get transported into this Italian world. It’s really a staple of our community. I like going to Tenjune in New York and Lavo in Las Vegas.
How would you describe yourself? As someone who doesn’t take themselves too seriously. And is hopefully very eager to keep learning.
How did you get your start? I got my start by being an investor in this industry. I first started my own telecom company when I was 19. I sold that when I was 22, and I became an investor in real estate and ultimately in hospitality.
Who do you admire? One is Tom Barrack with Colony Capital, and the other one is Jim Murren, who is the chairman and CEO of Mirage.
What is enlivening to you about the hospitality industry? I think it’s exciting when you can incorporate several different disciplines of giving people a place to stay, giving people something to eat, giving people an ability to escape, and capturing them for the three or four days while they’re staying with you.
What are some of the positive trends that you’ve noticed in the industry? The emergence of brands, brand accountability, brand differentiation, and customer loyalty. Those things are not only important to a Southwest customer, but also to a luxury customer. Really speaking to that, being proactive and learning your customer base and not just taking them for granted and really appreciating them — I think that’s a trend that’s growing more and more in this industry.
Any negative trends? I think we’re all living in a negative trend, which is over-building and building for the sake of building. I think every market has experienced it, whether be it the housing sector of hospitality or any real estate back sectors. We’ve experienced things that should never have been built, and this is something that has been saturating the market with product — but not good product, just average product that doesn’t speak to anyone specifically.
Any non-industry projects in the works? I’m doing a lot more speaking. I’m on the board of SCI-ARC University, which is a very prestigious architecture school. I lecture four times a week. I’m also lecturing at Harvard this year.
What’s going on in 2009? 2009 is about stabilizing and maintaining current assets in market share. We have two major projects that are still running full force in Las Vegas and in Miami Beach. Most importantly, fortifying our position in our current projects.
Is it all domestic, or have you already branched into international territory? We’re looking at international opportunities right now. We’ve looked at everywhere as far as Asia to the Middle East to Europe to Mexico to Canada to the Caribbean. I think that is what the opportunities will bring in 2009 and 2010. Until now, we’ve been focused on launching our brand, which we did in late 2008. We finished all that. Now we have a great flagship to be able to show the world what we can do and find partners that want what we have and launch in their markets.
Which of your properties is your favorite to visit? I really love XIV. A restaurant with Michal Mina on sunset. I think it’s one of the best restaurants we’ve ever built. And I still love Katsuya in Brentwood.
What are you doing tonight? Tonight we have a friends and family dinner for our newer menu at XIV. Our terrace menu. Then I get on a plane and fly to Vegas at around midnight.
What is your guiltiest pleasure? I guess having a private jet. Not only environmentally, but also because it’s obviously a very expensive endeavor. It’s one thing which I’ll never be the same without because I travel so much.
Philippe Starck fans, get ready, ’cause Sam Nazarian has your number. The SLS Hotel at Beverly Hills is opening this fall — it’s the first of a series of collaborations between the modern designer and nightlife guru. The hotel promises luxury, whimsy, and plenty of shopping. We bet it’ll be swarmed with the paparazzi as well.