Las Vegas New Year’s Eve: To Drink

You may have noticed a significant omission in our last New Year’s Eve story—after all, how could we write a party round-up without including one of the biggest party cities of them all? But that’s only because what’s planned in Las Vegas for 2012 is so big, it required its own day. Herewith, our guide to the best of New Year’s Eve festivities in the hotels on the strip:

For a straight up club experience, the Spectacular Spectacular at The Palms sounds like it will be just that, with Paul Oakenfold playing at Rain, the John Legend afterparty (more on that later) at Moon, Miss Nevada USA hosting at Ghostbar, and a horde of Playboy bunnies taking over the Playboy Club. Naturally we’d suggest the VIP pass, for unlimited access to a selection of top-shelf liquor from 10pm to 1am at all the venues. At the Venetian and Palazzo, there’s a similarly comprehensive situation, with their five combined bars hosting Midnight Mix from 10pm to 2am, while DJ Sam Ronson spins on the terrace at Lavo, in the Palazzo, from 9pm to midnight, finishing up with a major fireworks display.

For a loungey experience, the heavenly bodies of Cirque du Soleil will be lighting up the room at Gold Lounge at the Aria Hotel, while the heavenly bodies of the Kardashian siblings will be spread around town, hosting (for better or worse) what are sure to be hot tickets: Kim at Tao at the Venetian, Kourtney and Scott at Chateau Gardens at Paris Las Vegas, and Rob at Tryst at the Wynn. And make room for some nostalgia: Pamela Anderson will host at Studio 54 at the MGM Grand, a big goodbye bash at the 14 –year-old venue, which will be closing early next year, while starlet Taryn Manning will be hosting at Tabu with DJ Kid Jay.

Stay tuned for our guide to Las Vegas’ most lavish eateries, up next…

Industry Insiders: Shawn Kolodny, Curator of VIP Experiences

Impeccable service is all in a day’s work for Shawn Kolodny. As Director of VIP Services at Lavo NY, his job is to ensure that the many VIPs who frequent the sleek midtown nightclub have the best experience possible, from the moment they arrive until the moment they’re ushered into a car and driven off into the night. Kolodny learned the business from an early age, starting out at 22 as a partner in the ZOO Bar. He and his partner opened several other successful bars over the years, including Venue, MOD, and Bourbon Street, but Kolodny decided his real interest lie in nightclubs. “I always wanted to own the hottest nightclub in the city, so I started opening some, including Cream, Go, and eventually the original Pink Elephant,” he says. The Pink Elephant, of course, became a global nightlife brand, with locations in New York and the Hamptons, pop up locations in Cannes, St Barths, and Sundance, and a franchise in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

The experience set him up perfectly to work with the Tao Group, which owns and operates Lavo NY as well as Tao NY and Tao Las Vegas, Lavo Las Vegas, and the upcoming Marquee Las Vegas. And while it’s a competitive business, Kolodny finds plenty of reward in making guests happy. “We transport people away from their regular lives for a few hours of fantasy, fun and excitement, by surrounding our guests with elegant decor, the best music, beautiful people, and incredible service,” he says. “People think we sell bottles of alcohol, but what we really do is rent space in an experience every night.”

Tao Group’s Rich Wolf

Rich Wolf is the fourth wheel of the Tao Group empire. The other three are the flamboyant, press-gathering trio made up of of Mark Packer, Jason Strauss, and Noah Tepperberg. You could walk across America, all the way to Vegas, treading on the press clippings of Rich’s three partners. While the group as a whole is grounded in operations, it’s Rich who seems to be waist-deep in the nitty gritty. He is the least likely to be sharing expensive liquids with celebutants at well-appointed tables late into the night. Tao Group is known for world-class operations, and Rich is the man behind the scenes, the glue, the rolling stone, the stitch in time that keeps this empire thriving and expanding. I managed to get a few minutes of his time in his Lower Manhattan office.

What is your title? I am a Principle of Tao Group.

Can you list the properties that you are involved in? Tao New York, Tao Las Vegas, Lavo New York, Lavo Las Vegas, Stanton Social, soon-to-be Beauty and Essex on Essex, Rue 57, and Avra, the Cosmopolitan night club at the Cosmopolitan in between Bellagio and City Center.

I heard that’s a 50-million-dollar night club. When is it opening? It’s up to 60. We’re opening New Years Eve.

Why will it sell? Because it’s new? Because the economy is better? Or because you have the best operation in the world? I really think that it’s a combination of all of the above. Everybody wants to go to the newest club, everybody wants to go to the biggest club. When people set the bar, that gives us the chance to raise the bar. And there are no other mega nightclubs scheduled to open in Vegas for what we think is going to be years. It’s probably the last major mega nightclub you’re going to see in Vegas for at least two-to-three years.

What strategies do you use to maximize your revenues in both New York and Las Vegas, and what are the differences in the markets? Well, it’s a little early to say what the difference is between Lavo New York and Las Vegas, and there’s a big difference between Tao New York and Tao Vegas in that there is no nightclub in New York, just in Vegas. The average spend per day, per traveler, per guest is higher in Vegas than anywhere else in the world. People lose track when they gamble with hundred dollar chips: it’s just a chip, they’re not thinking of it as a hundred dollar bill. People are much more willing to spend big money in Vegas. That said, the spend in New York is very respectable as well. I think the restaurant is basically the same. Actually, I would say people spend more in the restaurant in New York per person than they do in the restaurant in Vegas, but then they make up for it when they go up to the club.

Tell me how you became the operations guy? Mark Packer has 40 years in the industry, I have 30 years in the industry, our backgrounds are restaurants. You can have the hottest restaurant in New York City full of celebrities and models and tastemakers, but if you don’t deliver, they won’t come back. So when we sign leases, we look to sign 20 or longer-year leases, we don’t sign ten year leases. We’re not thinking about today; we’re always thinking about tomorrow. We simply believe that the bottom line is all about delivering an experience that is as consistent on day one as it is on day 20. The operations is the backbone of the business, and that’s how Mark and I both established ourselves and established our careers—we are operations guys. When we hooked up with Noah and Jason, they brought a whole new element to our partnership. Now, I often say we have the one-two punch where we have marketing and public relations and access to all of the tastemakers and celebrities and models that frequent our places. So when we deliver a new venue, we deliver a sexy, well-run, good food, great service operation that gets a lot of attention. In terms of decision-making, everything is done unanimously.

What happens when there is a deep disagreement? When there is no unanimity, it kind of depends on who feels the strongest. We all pick and choose our battles. When I feel strongly about something, I don’t let go, and the same thing with Mark, and the same thing with Noah and Jason. Everybody speaks up when it’s important to them, and we always reach a consensus. What’s best for the guest, because what’s best for the guest is what’s best for the company.

What is your background? I was a bartender in the Catskills at a disco in 1980. I was a bartender and waiter for about seven years. The Chalet Discotheque. Seven years bartending and waiting, four years of management, and then the first place I ever owned was Time Café and Fez, and that was 1991. Eric Goode, Serge Becker, Josh Picard. That was my first place I ever owned. Then from there my second venue was Angelo and Maxie’s Steakhouse, and the partnership (with Mark Packer) has been a very solid, successful, good-synergy partnership. We work really well together. We see eye-to-eye 97 percent of the time, and we work through the other three percent.

At what point did you say, I’m going to make nightlife my career, and at what point did you realize you were blowing up? Well, I saw a lot of people around me making a lot of money — owners, managers — and I thought that I could do just as well, if not better than them. I thought that I was passionate about the business. I like throwing a party every night, it’s a lot better than being a doctor, where people come to you when they feel like shit. People come to complain to doctors, people come to me to have fun.

Do you do it for the money? The money is secondary. I get off on hospitality. It gives me an opportunity to express myself creatively. I’m a creative person, and that gets expressed in what these places look like, what the people in them look like, what the music sounds like, what the menu is, and what we do. We deliver an experience that I think you don’t find in most places. It’s a whole package: it’s vibe-dining, it’s theater. To me, the lighting is as important as the food. Not almost as important as the food, but as important as the food, as is the music, as is the service, as is everything. Nothing to me has any lesser importance. Many years ago we were having a particularly successful night at Time Café, and we were making money hand over fist, and one of my managers asked me, “You must be thrilled with how much money we’re making tonight,” and I said, “You know, I’m thrilled that everybody is having a good time. That’s what I’m thrilled about.” I really meant that. People were just having so much fun, they were loving the venue. Parties going in, parties going out—it was controlled pandemonium.

You spend money to make money. At what point do you say this is good long term, or this is short term, or it’s costing too much to do it? We never think short term, never. Our decisions are never based on short term. If we throw a party and we spend $200,000 on that party, what type of business will it generate in the future for us? What type of press will it generate? So it’s never about how much money we’re making today, it’s always about how much money we’re going to make tomorrow. Now you’re a mega operator. Where can this take you? Where do you want to go? Where would Rich Wolf want to be ten years from now? I think my answer is that I want to do it as long as I love doing it. When its not fun for me anymore is when I’m done. I’m still having fun.

How do you relax? I love spending time with my wife and my son.

What do you see when you look at hospitality ? I think the industry is steeped in mediocrity, and I thought that it was a good business to pursue excellence in because there was less competition. I’m still not sure if I’m happy with that answer. That’s OK, it’s a real good answer. What are some of the big changes you have seen, and what big changes do you see for the future? I asked you and the group a few weeks ago about a hotel. Is that a logical next step? The journey takes us to funny places, and you can’t always plan for it. When people have interesting ideas, I listen, and I think that some of the brands we have, particularly Tao, are ready-made for a hotel experience. It’s the hospitality industry. I mean, its not our base business, it would be a brand-new endeavor for us. But, what is a hotel? We have the restaurants, we have the clubs, we have the pool in Tao beach, we just need a room and a lobby.

I’m not a big chain guy. We, as a group, are way too creative to keep copying ourselves over and over again, but I think there are many incarnations, particularly of Tao, and now Lavo even, with the opening of New York, of “Wow Lavo could be this in London.” Without sounding like too much of a self-centered New Yorker, I think that our clientele has been around the world and they know the difference between style and luxury and what is built for the masses. Vegas is a place that has a different customer every three days. And New York is a place that if you’re good, you could have the same customer three days a week. When you have that, you have to deliver the best possible experience. There are just way too many choices in New York. I have always said that it’s easy to get people to come to your place once, the first time. Getting them to come back is the hard part. In New York, there is no tougher customer. I would argue that New York City is the food capitol of the world. It’s far more diverse. As such, you have to be the best. Only the best survive, and surviving for three years is not a business, surviving for the length of your lease is a business.

Nobody thinks that way… Well, maybe they should.

Do you believe that specialization will become more and more the norm as people want to hang out with like-minded individuals, or will there be a time when people want to mingle with other types of people again? I see more of the former. Again, it depends on the market. New York is specialization all day long, and Vegas is mass market.

Why are there no gay clubs in Vegas? It’s a good question. We are considering a gay night in Vegas at the new club, and we’ll see how it goes. You never know until you try it.

Anything to add? The only thing I would add is that I am very passionate about adventure travel. Helicopter skiing, rafting down the grand canyon. I’ve been on a safari in Africa, bungee jumping off the second highest bridge in the world, in Zambia, right over the Zambezi river, and I love skydiving. I have a passion to see every corner of the globe and do everything ever invented for fun.

(Photo Via)

Midnight’s Children: New York Nightlife Icons

Every field of endeavor has its icons, and nightlife is no different. To be an icon in this world, one has to be successful and stay relevant. After all, you’re only as good as your last party. For every genuine icon, there are swarms of scenesters who occupy the pantheon in their own minds — putting the “I” and “con” in the word. But it takes a certain amount of swagger to succeed in this business, so they should be forgiven. Besides, they are always the easiest people to shop for around Christmas: any mirror will do. Listed below are my six New York City club icons — solo artists and teams — and the up-and-comers with the potential to replace them, if only their predecessors would move to India (or somewhere even more remote, like Brooklyn).

ICONS: Club owners Noah Tepperberg and Jason Strauss, who scored big with Suite 16, Marquee, TAO New York and Las Vegas, LAVO and the new super-hot gastro-lounge Avenue. WHO’S NEXT: Eugene Remm and Mark Birnbaum currently operate a number of A-list properties including Tenjune, Abe & Arthur’s and Simyone, and have put together a strong marketing company in Emm. If they’re missing an ingredient, it’s downtown cool.

ICON: Nur Khan, whose sophisticated rock chops and social skills (his friends include everyone from Beck to Alexander McQueen) are tough to duplicate. When Rose Bar is at its best, it’s the best in town. WHO’S NEXT: Bowery Electric’s music junkie Jesse Malin, with some help from Rose Bar’s DJ Nick Marc, might do the trick. Throw in Mark Baker for the high-end crowd.

ICON: No matter how many times his sister wears one of those “Save the Beatrice” T-shirts, Paul Sevigny’s iconic inn looks like it has shuttered for good. WHO’S NEXT: Carlos Quirarte and Matt Kliegman of The Jane Ballroom and The Smile come pretty close, but they need a Chloë. Here’s looking at waifish downtown rocker Lissy Trullie.

ICON: For years, Bungalow 8’s affable Amy Sacco has been the reigning queen of New York nightlife. WHO’S NEXT: If Sacco stays in London to be closer to her Blightly Bungalow outpost, which seems possible, could model-turned-club promoter Emma Cleary step up, with a little seasoning and help from Serpentine’s Patrick Duffy?

ICONS: Club czars Scott Sartiano and Richie Akiva of Butter and 1Oak fame. WHO’S NEXT: The pair’s partners in 1Oak — Jeffrey Jah and Ronnie Madra — are ready and able to slide right in. With a clipboard courtesy of door guru Binn and the hustle of promoter Adam Alpert, plus the high-end hip hop reach of DJ Cassidy or his manager Yoni Goldberg, they might just have enough edge.

ICONS: Party promoters Susanne Bartsch and Kenny Kenny. WHO’S NEXT: If these two took a powder break, heirs apparent Ladyfag and Desi Santiago would need to go for the gold. Clubdom is a numbers game and a merger with Mr. Black’s iconic Stuart Black would be necessary.

Industry Insiders: DJ Reach, Beat Boy

Semu Namakajo, a.k.a. DJ Reach, is Manhattan’s very own household name when it comes to the world of nightclubs. Bringing his gift for musical mish-mashing to haunts across NYC, Vegas, the Hamptons, and Miami, Reach is best known for being one of the nicest dudes in the biz — just ask any club owner in town. In a city where the sincere have dwindled down to a mere few, this New York native brings nothing but the realness in his music as well as his life. That’s because the music undoubtedly is his life.

How’d you get your start DJing? I was one of those people who saw the craft and got the fever for that cool activity when you see somebody at the nucleus of the party, who is able to dictate the direction of the vibe for the night. So, whether you were coming in from having a hard day at work or celebrating the greatest day of your life, you’re at the mercy of the DJ. I thought that was so powerful. It just drew me in.

The first place you DJed? It was at a junior high school dance at the Cathedral School on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, and I literally had a couple of records and cassette tapes. I went back and forth from a boom box and one turntable that was my brother’s.

What about your first paying gig? I don’t really remember my first paying gig. I feel like I should. It should be like when you go to one of those bodegas and they have the dollars on the wall. I should have my first paycheck on my wall.

What’s your weekly line-up? Tuesday’s at Brother Jimmy for an after-work party followed by late night at Southside. It’s a down-low hipster spot. Wednesdays I do Avenue, which is a sceney spot and all the celebs are there. That’s my image night. Thursdays I can’t even reveal. On my Twitter, I call it the “secret spot.” So, you have to follow me on Twitter to find out about it. It might move around a bit. Fridays I jump on a plane and I go to Las Vegas to spin at Tao, which is like doing a concert every week because 2,000 people come together under one roof, and the DJ booth is right in the center of the dance floor. If I’m not in Vegas on Friday, then I’m at the Hotel on Rivington. On Saturday’s, I’m anywhere from Vegas to the Hamptons at Dune. You can catch me all over. Miami at Fontainebleau, maybe I’m in London … who knows?

Who do you look up to in the business? Because I have a marketing company as well called Big Picture Marketing Group or BPM, plus I’ve been a promoter and a DJ, on the business side I look up to Noah Tepperberg and Jason Strauss. They’ve been like mentors to me, as well as big brothers. I’ve worked for them for seven or eight years now since the very beginning of Marquee to the number-one grossing restaurant and nightclub in the country, which is Tao Las Vegas. On the DJ side it would be DJ Stretch Armstrong. I used to stay up way too late taping his late-night show, and then I ended up interning for him.

You also DJed on a late-night show for Carson Daly. What was that like? TV is totally different from any nightclub experience because so much is scripted and planned out, and there are retakes, and even though you’re in front of a live studio audience, there’s still a general path that your producers want you to follow. Carson is such an amazing and generous guy. He really loves music, and he gave me some creative license to play what I wanted to play as long as I stayed attuned to the general vibe and atmosphere he had going on. If it was Gwyneth Paltrow and she was talking about growing up on the Upper East Side in a townhouse and how she used to listen to the Beatles, I might play some Beatles songs and go into commercial with that.

What’s your favorite kind of music to play? I’m known for my musical palette, my repertoire, and it’s just a variety. I don’t want to use the term “mash-up” because I think it’s played out. I play the music that is representative to the soundtrack of the lives of the people who are in my generation. I play legends like Michael Jackson and Kurt Cobain and Jay-Z. But it also includes anyone from The Cranberries to M.IA.

Does your line of work get you lots of ladies? It has its advantages. It’s a testament to the fact that you are in a category of performers, and if you do what you do well, you could be a rock star. You could be somebody’s hero, whether it is for just one night or for actual love.

Does it get annoying when people make requests? It opens you up to a challenge. If someone wants to hear Ritchie Valens, I have to figure out how to blend that in with Nas. I have to be like, “Okay, let’s try it.” Sometimes it’s annoying as hell.

Where do you go out? I’m such a foodie. You’ll catch me at La Esquina, Blue Ribbon Sushi. I also like hole-in-the-wall places for having beer and wings like Brother Jimmy’s.

What sort of negative trends do you see in the business? A lot of trends people tend to say are negative, I see as positive. They say, “All the DJs now use lap tops and Serato, and it takes away from the creativity and the craft of using vinyl.” I have 10,000 records in my house to this day. I’ve gone to the deepest, darkest crevices of record shops around the world. I value all of them. People think it’s limiting to have all the same music all download-able. You have to challenge yourself as an artist and as a creative thinker. You have to decide how you’re going to put it together and how you’re going to let your identity show despite the fact that everyone has access to the music.

What’s your dream project? It’s a project I’m working on right now. I’m approaching my 30th birthday, and every year I throw a huge party. All of my friends as well as celebs show up. We’ve had a thousand people come in the past. This year I’m taking 30 artists that I respect and have influenced me in some way and asking them to pick 30 songs, one per artist that has impacted them in the past 30 years. It will be a compilation of 30 artists who have influenced me and the songs that have influenced them during my lifespan.

Industry Insiders: Chris Santos, Stanton Street Star

Chris Santos of the Stanton Social on his love of dives, Apothéke owner Heather Tierney, and why thinking too much detracts from dining.

Where do you go out? Well, I’m kind of a dive bar kinda guy both in drinking and for eating. I mean, I obviously enjoy a good Jean Georges or Per Se as much as the next guy, but I like sort of the hole in the wall-y kind of places. One I really love a lot is in Brooklyn. It’s called Franny’s. It’s on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn. A really simple rustic Italian, you know, wood-coal pizza and great appetizers and a beautiful garden in the back. On the outskirts of Park Slope basically, near the Manhattan Bridge. I’m a big fan of Back Forty, which is a small little bistro on 12th Street and Avenue B that does just a really outrageous burger and great roast chicken, and you know, simple crispy nuggets and simple, simple rustic comfort food. I’m a sucker for Strip House on 12th and University. It’s like my favorite steakhouse in the city. There’s a lot of crushed red velvet, bordello-y kind of vibe. And they’ve got great wine, and their steaks are, bam! They do a great job with their steak sauce. I go there monthly.

What do you do at Stanton Social? My title is executive chef and owner. My day-to-day life is hectic right now … in addition to this we are trying to get another restaurant together. I am working on the Stanton Social Cookbook. I am consulting for a restaurant group that’s going national. They’re rolling out 50 restaurants nationwide, and I am rewriting all their menus for them. I was in Las Vegas all summer helping my partner open the restaurant in club Lavo. I have two partners: Peter Kane, who in addition to this he owns Happy Ending bar, and he was the guy who opened Double Happiness, which closed just recently. And my other partner is Richard Wolf, who owns Tao, Tao Las Vegas, Lavo, Rue 57.

You rave about the vibe and loyalty in your kitchen at Stanton Social. Where have you worked that had a stressful vibe? I opened Rue 57, which is a French rotisserie on 57th Street. I was the sous chef, and Sam Hazem was the chef. He was the head chef at Tao for a really long time, and now he’s working to partner with Todd English. But that was just constant stress and drama, and you know it was a really teeny tiny kitchen, putting out enormous numbers.

It seems like if you’re doing more like the low-key, under the radar places; how come your restaurant’s high profile? I’m just lucky I guess. It’s really just upscale versions of street food and comfort foods. We’re not doing anything esoteric here. We’re not really challenging diners. I mean, I like to be challenged, but mostly I don’t. I want to go somewhere and be taken care of, and I want to be able to look at the menu and just kind of understand everything.

Name two people that you particularly admire in the industry. Would it be corny to say my partners? I really admire Josh Capon, who’s the chef at Lure Fishbar. He’s kind of an under-the-radar guy. And that’s kind of an under-the-radar place. He’s a fantastic cook. He was born to be the guy coming out of the kitchen in the white coat, just charming a table. I have a lot of admiration for Heather Tierney. She used to be a food writer at Time Out. She now owns a cocktail bar — Apothéke. She owns Burger Shoppe down on Wall Street, which is like a burger restaurant. She has her own dining concierge service where you’re basically a member, and she gets you reservations in hard to get places. She’s really young — she’s in her twenties, and she’s really passionate about food — and we’ll go out to dinner and just talk about, “Have you been here, have you been there?” We’ll talk about the industry. She’s just super motivated.

Name one positive trend or aspect you see in the restaurant industry. Affordable dining. I see a lot of restaurants opening (in Brooklyn especially) a lot of neighborhood restaurants that are serving really quality food. There’s this place called Buttermilk Channel in Carroll Gardens that just opened. That’s really amazing. Frankies. When I went to Europe — which was like ten years ago — I came back with the feeling that the big restaurants, the name restaurants, the three-star restaurants, Michelin-rated restaurants … I felt they were no better than anything that you could find in New York City. In other words, the top New York City restaurants were better than the top restaurants that I could find in Europe. But I also thought that where they had it on us, all over the place, was the little, tiny neighborhood restaurants and pubs. The food there was so awesome, and you didn’t have that in New York. That is a positive trend. You go down any little street in the Village now and walk into a 40- or 50-seat little Italian trattoria where the food is solid.

What’s changed as far as the restaurant industry goes in New York in the past year? How it’s affecting me directly? You know, we’ve had very ambitious plans to run a restaurant that’s twice the size of this. And we have this space, and we have a lease, and a year ago when were ready to pull the trigger, it would have been a couple of phone calls and a couple of dinners to raise all the money that we needed because you know our track record, not just at Stanton Social, but with my other partners as well. Basically everything any of us have ever done is successful, and everyone’s gotten their money back, and everybody’s making money. You know the investors here are doing very well, and we got the space back in record time. The difference is people now are hesitant to part with the money they have in the bank, with everything that’s been going on. Even though we have a great location, and we have a great track record, and when we open the next place it’s going to do very well. There are people that are so shell-shocked about what’s happened on Wall Street that they just aren’t necessarily willing to keep investing, so that’s something I think that’s really changed. I think you’re going to see the growth of the industry and openings and whatnot coming to a halt.

Do you think people are going to stop going out to dinner? People are going to stop going out to dinner Tuesdays and Wednesdays. I think you’ll still get your Thursday, Friday, Saturday night diners. You’ll still get your Sunday bruncher. And Monday night you’ll get your after-work crowd.