Lavo is coming soon. It looms as a game changer. Located on 58th Street right off Park Avenue, it is, as far as I can tell, the first joint to be conceived in Las Vegas and then land in New York. The big world of nightlife keeps getting smaller and the diversity narrower. These club/restaurant combos that are all the rage cater to increasingly identifiable crowds with service and style to please anyone. Lavo figures to be a place where uptown money, Europeans, and Upper East Siders can enjoy downtown and Vegas levels of service right in their back door. Tao, right across the street and owned and operated by much of this same crew, has been one of the top-grossing joints in this country since its inception. There is money in those hills, heights, high-rises, and townhouses north of the traditional club/restaurant world, and this crew will be cashing in.
It was in this space that Au Bar, the seminal uptown boite, offered thriving bottle service when most of today’s club operators were sucking on a bottle of milk. Whether bottle service was “invented” by myself, David Sarner, Michael Ault, or Jeffrey Jah is an argument for the bored. There is no doubt that the Euros and the Asians did it long before it was perfected into an art form and a way of life. The Lavo space has operated under many names, including The Grand (which it wasn’t), and has always managed to get people from the club world to migrate up, or service them if they found themselves nearby. Lavo and Tao are oases of chic in a neighborhood where people live in hamster habitats, dormitories for slaves, or in the grandest of homes. The Upper East Side set that will flock to this new and fabulous offering traditionally eat and party at the mediocre restaurants, bars, and joints at hand, but travel to the heat of downtown when they want to really play.
The new team is a who’s who of NY and Vegas nightlife, and I think it would take an hour or so to sort out the number of spaces they operate between them. Off the top of my head there are the Tao Group properties in Vegas and in New York, Lavo Vegas, Stanton Social Club, Avenue, Marquee, Surf Lodge in Montauk, GoldBar, and more I can’t think of this early in the day. The advantages of operating multiple properties are many, but as the science of cloning has not kept pace with this group’s expansion, delegation of responsibilities is an issue. They like to grow their management from within and reward loyal employees with security and big paychecks. They operate a machine that appears to be fun and loose and state of the art. I was given a tour of the soon-to-open Lavo New York by Noah Tepperberg, Jayma Cardoso, Jason Strauss, and Rich Wolf, and it was a learning experience, a classroom most club operators would love to have sat in on. It was Nightclub 101 mixed with modern theory. They have the basics down pat: bar locations, flow, visuals, and they will bring a level of service that will be embraced by patrons who demand the best and are willing to pay for it. They make it look easy. Lavo can’t miss.
This is a natural. Bottle service in this part of the world has been going on for a long time. Jayma, You have done Surf Lodge, GoldBar, Cain, which are kind of downtown-meets-uptown places. Tell me what your strategies are? How are you going to get your crowd to this location. Jayma Cardoso: I always believe that if you put a good product out there—the right energy, the right team, which we obviously have, you build and they come. We’re not trying to reinvent uptown or bring in the downtown crowd. This location helps. There is no competition. There’s a market here that is waiting for us.
When you were at these other places, the uptowns and the Euros and the South Americans were mixing with the downtown crowd, because that’s what clubs do, but up here is it as necessary to have that mix, or is it better to have a purity and let this exist as an uptown, South American, Euro crowd? Is that more of the strategy? Is the downtown crowd less important here? Downtown doesn’t go uptown right? Jayma: Why not? Rich Wolf: I think downtown finds itself uptown often. Sometimes you’re uptown and you’ve gotten done with dinner, it’s 12:30 and the thought of schlepping a dozen people downtown and dealing with the door is like, Let’s just go home, as opposed to, We’re having dinner at Tao, let’s just go across the street to Lavo. I grew up on the Upper East Side and have been living with Tao for ten years now. There are clubs that are old, clubs that were here a long time ago. You have world class people staying at the Four Seasons hotel across the street, and they too want to go out. I think people from downtown will find themselves here more than you might think.
This is the Tao group, and I don’t want to get into who has what, how the partnerships are layed out, but the partners here have lots of properties. It keeps going. Noah Tepperberg: We have about 50 places, we don’t even know where construction is anymore.
But the places people know, how do you not step on each other’s toes? Marketing-wise, Noah, how do you use it as an asset to have all these places as opposed to having every place competing with each other? Noah: People don’t go to the same place every night. So if a friend of ours comes to Avenue one night, the next night they go somewhere else. Someone goes for dinner at Stanton Social one night, the next night they want to try something different, they go to Tao, and if they want something different they go to Lavo. If someone wants to go to GoldBar on a Tuesday, they go to GoldBar. The idea is to give our customers, our friends, our following, a menu of places to go. Wherever they go, they know they can get the same service, the same hospitality, the same recognition, the same rewards for being loyal. For us, this is just one more property inside of a great portfolio of great properties and again, people don’t go to the same place every night.
I bet Jason’s pretty happy I didn’t ask him that question. Jason Strauss: No, the one thing I would add is that we’re very specific about creating different experiences, different cuisines within our restaurants and different experiences within our nightlife venue. The experience at Avenue is a very different experience than what is happening downstairs with regards to music, dance floor, size, across the board. How do we not cannibalize each other? We are very specific in giving different experiences to the same audience.
It must be very useful sometimes, the fact that you can tie up a DJ pay him a little less but feed him a whole week. You actually did this with promoters at Marquee. You gave them contracts exclusive for two or three years and they’re loyal to you, you own them in a way. So with DJs, you can take a DJ and put him in one spot here and one spot there and feed him for a week. Noah: I think in Vegas we can do that, but the DJs that play at Lavo are completely different than the DJs that play at Avenue or at GoldBar, and if we use hosts, they’ll be different than the ones that work at Avenue. Everything can be centralized through the back of the house, but a lot of it is location specific. Not all of it is across the board, not all of it can be shared. I think the key though, is that we have different restaurants. We have Asian, Greek, French, downtown shared food, Italian, downtown hipster—we have a place that’s hip-hop and rock, we have a place that’s going to play European dance music, and it’s all a totally different product.
Another thing you can share is lawyers. Lawyers have certainly become a very important part of nightlife society. It’s very hard to run a nightclub without a lawyer. Rich: We do that across the board—Lawyers, accountants, all types of professions. We’ve established relationships years and years in the making. In twenty years, we can call them up and say we need a contract and they bang it out. We don’t even need to tell them anymore.