Mastering Reverse Expansion: LAVO Comes to NYCSeptember 16, 2010 By: Sean Evans
While it’s a fairly common occurrence for a flourishing nightlife venue to eye expansion out to Las Vegas, it’s virtually unheard of to take a Vegas concept and bring it to New York City. However, that’s precisely what Noah Tepperberg, Jason Strauss, Rich Wolf, Marc Packer and their partners have done with LAVO, which they originally opened in the Palazzo in Sin City in 2008. The New York version of the Italian themed eatery and nightclub is set to welcome the haute set during New York Fashion Week this week with a list of elite parties longer than your arm.
Situated in the heart of Midtown on E. 58th Street (in the old Au Bar space), and right across from its sister venue, TAO NY, the décor doesn’t remotely resemble its big brother out West. “We wanted to make this completely different on purpose,” says Tepperberg. “It’s important to be fresh, and to have our guests who’ve spent time at LAVO in Vegas come here and to see the same thing, design-wise, wasn’t an option.” And so exposed brick, backlit faux windows, large mirrors and marble abound, evoking a rustic yet elegant dining experience. But it’s still the same menu offered at LAVO Vegas, which is overseen by Chef Manuel Treviño.
The restaurant and bar, located on the street level, is a solid modern take on contemporary Italian fare, with dishes such as fried polenta sticks, braised short ribs over risotto, and a ginormous 1 lb. Wagyu meatball that could easily be shared among four people. The attention to the cuisine is something the Tao Group team wants to highlight. “We’d rather be known as a restaurant with a club underneath than as a club with a restaurant above it,” said Tepperberg.
Yet given the group’s prowess as nightlife proprietors, it’s safe to assume the subterranean club portion of the property will receive more than its fair share of attention. Designed by iCrave, revelers can either enter the club through a separate door on the street or through a side door in the bar area upstairs. Irv Johnson and Richard Wheeler, who previously manned the velvet ropes at Pink Elephant and Cain, respectively, will run the door. Once you’re downstairs in the nightclub — primarily open Thursday, Friday and Saturday to start — the room and its ceiling are large enough to make you forget you’re underground.
But the ceiling height did present one noticeable problem during construction. “When we were building our DJ stage, which is elevated above the dance floor, we knew that we wanted Rony Seikaly to be a regular DJ,” Strauss said of the former NBA star who’s now an international turntable phenom. “But Rony’s 6 feet 9 inches [tall] and he would have to duck when he’s spinning because there wasn’t enough height for him.” The solution? “We built a trapdoor in the DJ stage floor, just for him,” Strauss says with a smile. “It drops down 3 feet so he’ll be comfortable.”
With a main bar, a side service bar tucked into a back corner, raised tables overlooking a sunken dance floor and enormous circular chandeliers hovering above some of the 25 tables, the room is slick. The music format and DJ programming will be house or electronica at least one night per week, with open format rounding out the nights. Partner Jayma Cardosa will manage the venue and Jamie Hatchett, director of VIP services, will be responsible for filling the space nightly.
As for the rationale behind the expansion, “we felt we have established a strong following and a large enough client roster to be successful here,” Strauss says. “And we felt Midtown was a great opportunity because of all the major high-end retail and hotels nearby.” Additionally, Strauss says, the kitchen was designed to be larger than normal with the plan of launching a catering arm for special events. The open-air café/bar in the front of the restaurant also means a new time slot for the Tao Group to conquer. “We’ll be open during happy hour,” Tepperberg says. “I hope to see these tables on the street packed by 7 p.m.”