“Do you mind moving the eggs benedict? I’d like to dance on the table now,” is a perfectly acceptable thing to say while brunching at LAVO on any given Saturday afternoon. With a simple nod, the waiter will whisk away your finished meal, drop off another bottle of bubbly and even hold your hand in assistance as you climb atop the upscale Italian restaurant’s table. From your new vantage point, you’re now at eye level with half of the packed room, as other well-heeled patrons also are perched on their chairs, tables and banquettes. It’s commonplace to raise your champagne flute in a long-distance toast to neighboring folks, as if to say, “Look at us; look where we are. We rule.”
Your mind-set would be entirely understandable because you don’t just go to the weekly brunch bash at Noah Tepperberg's and Jason Strauss' formidable midtown Manhattan eatery: You survive it. The madcap scene is enough to make the sternest of revelers drop his typical stoic façade and bop his head to the beats pouring into the room. There are multiple bottles of rose, free-flowing shots — which often are passed from table to table — scores of leggy lasses cavorting on any surface wide enough for a stiletto to rest upon, flashing strobe lights and millionaires, billionaires and celebrities alike hoisting crackling sparklers, magnums, jeroboams and Methuselah bottles of Dom Perignon high above their heads. Witnessing the festivities forces a goofy grin onto your face that won’t leave until you exit the venue.
Which is just the way Jayma Cardoso wants it. As a partner in LAVO — along with Noah Tepperberg, Jason Strauss, Rich Wolf, Marc Packer, Rocco Ancarola and Lou Abin — Cardoso oversees the weekend’s mid-afternoon spectacle. And she’s brought her Brazilian roots to the room.
“I want you to feel like you’re at Carnival,” she explains in her charming accent. “You should think anything can happen at any time.” Because it can. And does. “For example, when a client spends more than $5,000 in a single order, we offer them their choice of bottle presentation."
Available for guests is an array of bottle-presentation choices. There’s a Superman presentation, during which waitresses and security guards carry a tights-wearing waiter to tables as though he’s flying in. Or the dancing bears, during which two fuzzy-costumed bears paw their way through the crowd. Clients can even ask to have one of the male hosts don a bra and garter and lithely gyrate on their table. Don't forget the golden goddess: “A girl is literally painted head-to-toe in gold paint before being hoisted above all of the guests' heads and delivered via a champagne chariot to the guest's table,” Cardoso says. The list continues on, but each presentation is so over the top, the whole room stops and stares, mouths agape.
“We really try to create guest experiences, and part of making guests feel special is presentation,” Cardoso says. “We actively seek and develop unique ways to make bigger moments even more special.”
Which means they have an entire storage closet filled with props and little details to give guests that extra "wow factor."
“I remember one Saturday, to commemorate the Chinese New Year, we had this beautiful Chinese girl all dressed up for the brunch and our partner, Paul Goldstein, ran across the street to [sister venue] TAO and came back with a box of fortune cookies. We put the girl into an oversized champagne bucket filled to the brim with fortune cookies, as we carried her into the brunch while she threw out fortune cookies to the crowd,” Cardoso says. “The unexpected is always fun.”
The gross on a typical Saturday afternoon at LAVO is astronomical; it climbs into the six-figure range extremely quickly. Fiscal reasons aside, throwing such an opulent brunch bash — one that could be the closest in energy and feel to Studio 54’s days of excess — is an obvious fit for any nightlife group with such a strong following, as LAVO enjoys.
“New York is the king of brunch, it's the quintessential meal to the city. You can eat and drink without feeling guilty,” Cardoso shares. “It allows us another opportunity to interact with our regular guests in a different window of time, when most venues have nothing going on.”
There are a few other daylife parties in town, such as The Day and Night party at the Oak Room, or Bagatelle’s debauched brunch bash. While Cardoso has nothing but complimentary things to say about the competition, she does note the differences between their products and LAVO’s.
“We don't allow champagne spraying. I can't stand champagne ending up on the floor or other people's clothing. Champagne is meant to be shared and enjoyed, not to douse your friends or — more likely — people you don't even know. I think each brunch has its own take on the experience and their own unique attributes or character,” she says.
While she notes that “you have to break a few eggs to bake a cake and throw a party,” clean up isn’t that bad, especially when the staff isn’t mopping up puddles of champagne, and the party — which ends at 6 p.m. — gives the restaurant about an hour to clean and turn over for the dinner rush, which is a decidedly more subdued affair. Because the venue has a club downstairs, which is open Saturday nights, it’s interesting to note how many of the regulars party all day and come back for more during the evening.
“Usually, it's unlikely that guests attend brunch and go out that night,” Cardoso says. “But every now and then we have guests who show up later that night wearing the same clothes they had on during brunch. I tease them, saying ‘I know where you were earlier today.’”
The best part about a day brunch?
“It makes you feel like you went out for a big night, even though you're home by 7 p.m., which means waking up Sunday is a lot less painful,” she says.