Spanning the Nation: East Coast Clubs Make Their Mark in Vegas
On a cold, rainy night in 2002, I met up with Jason Strauss, a promoter, who had worked for me at New York City clubs Life and Spa and had great success at other venues, including Suite 16 and Eugene’s. At the time, his crowd included mostly friends and friends of friends gathered in his journey through schools, such as Manhattan’s Dalton School and Riverdale High School, where he was captain of his football team, as well as Boston University in Massachusetts.
Today, Strauss is a partner at TAO/Strategic Group, one of the biggest players in the land. The group operates Nightclub & Bar’s 2012 Las Vegas Mega-Club of the Year and No. 1 on the Top 100 list, Marquee Nightclub & Dayclub, which grossed $70-80 million in 2011; the Top 100’s No. 3 venue, Las Vegas’ TAO Nightclub, grossing $60-70 million in 2011; No. 10 LAVO Nightclub NYC at $25-35 million; and No. 12 LAVO LV at $25-35 million.
Jason Strauss and Noah Tepperberg, prior to the opening of Marquee Nightclub & Dayclub at The Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas.
Back in 2002, Strauss was excited to show me the new spot he was developing with long-time school chum and partner Noah Tepperberg. He wanted me to design the space into a nightclub. Gushing like a 5-year-old over a new bicycle, he wrestled with the padlock. The rain was beating me down as I sized up an old garage door and worn facade. The padlock finally gave, revealing that it was, in fact, protecting nothing inside. Pigeons and other vermin scattered from our invasion.
A half-dozen giant skylights held onto shards of glass, staving off none of the rain. If I called the floor anything short of a pond, I would be lying. A string of work lights swung hard in the driving rain; it was like a scene from a monster movie. There wasn't even an inch worth saving. Strauss gushed with a wide smile; "Isn't it great?!," he exclaimed. I thought he was nuts.
A year later Marquee NY opened, and it changed the game. Marquee took bottle service from just another revenue stream to being the whole shebang. I designed the club with Colleen Weinstein; along the way, we also picked up legendary architect Phillip Johnson. In his 90s and quite frail, he and his team developed the signature staircase, improving on my design exponentially. He also developed the pattern of mullions (support beams) of the club’s glass wall as well as Marquee’s marquee. He passed shortly after, but not before literally changing the face of nightlife.
Strauss still gushes that wide smile, now plying his trade in Las Vegas. New York-based nightlife has traveled west, where young men like Strauss, Tepperberg, Andrew Sasson and even Butter Group’s Scott Sartiano have made their mark and considerable loot.
It seems any legitimate New York brand must have a Vegas presence. Sartiano just opened 1OAK at The Mirage. He leaves behind partner Richie Akiva to run New York assets The Darby, Butter and 1OAK. In this relatively new world of cross-pollination of nightlife cultures, having someone to be onsite while not losing oomph and operational clarity is a problem.
Although Strauss moved his game to Las Vegas seven years ago, it can be argued that the Vegas way of “big, big, big” has returned, helping to redefine New York nightlfe. Fortunately, I was able to catch up with Strauss and ask him about moving his life to the West Coast:
Nightclub Confidential (NCC): How did you get started, and how did you end up being based in Las Vegas?
Jason Strauss: I started in the business when I was in high school by throwing high-school parties, and then went on to Boston University where I was promoting and bartending. I was working for a nightlife firm up in Boston. Every holiday and summer, we would go home and I would work for nightclubs. After college, I partnered with Noah Tepperberg and we started a nightlife marketing company, which eventually grew into ownership and other nightlife marketing businesses, like Strategic Group. For years we worked in nightlife.
We opened Marquee in New York City as our first real nightclub with full ownership and a couple years after, one of our partners, Marc Packer, who owned TAO in New York, offered to partner with us for a TAO in Las Vegas. We opened that up seven years ago. I was asked to come out here to help get the place open with regards to overseeing the construction and design, as well as get the staff and marketing together. The business was so explosive and well beyond our expectations that I ended up staying here in Las Vegas and have continued my residency for the past seven years.
NCC: Vegas imports lots of brands in restaurants, stores and, of course, clubs. How does a successful club translate its brand to Vegas? What adjustments are made for the different markets? How important was it for you to move to Las Vegas?
Strauss: A successful brand can translate to Vegas because it brings a kind of cache and following from another market. It’s really about connecting with the local market and figuring out what works in Vegas that will make the brand successful in the long run.
Vegas is a completely different market than New York City and L.A. It is extremely transient, and it deals in a “wow” factor that another city couldn’t provide because of the level of design that is only available here in Las Vegas due to the casinos subsidizing/financing these clubs. Out here in Vegas, it is about grandeur and offering a product that is larger than life with design, marketing, promotion and experience. (Then we really have to tie) into the local community to support what we are doing. Those are the successes of what happen in this market. It was extremely important for me to move to Las Vegas. Ownership presence is a must at all venues, and without it, it is very hard to create a culture that our partnership stands for.
NCC: Did you think you would stay in Vegas when you made the move, or did you perceive it to be a temporary thing?
Strauss: It was completely perceived as a temporary thing. My handshake deal with my partners was that I would be there for three months, but again the business was so explosive and well beyond our expectations that I stayed to see the business handled properly, and as things fell into place, we were lucky enough to have other opportunities presented to us, like TAO Beach, LAVO Restaurant & Nightclub and Marquee Nightclub & Dayclub.
NCC: You guys just opened a Marquee in Australia. Must all big brands have outlets in multiple places? Is servicing the big client as he trots the globe a major marketing tool?
Strauss: I think to have a brand and to have it in multiple markets, to stay true to the DNA of the brand is extremely important because it gives it reach and lets more and more people experience the brand. Does every brand have to have it? No, but we found a great partnership with the Star Casino in Australia with a president that we knew and a space that we fell in love with. That’s why we made the commitment.
NCC: What is your end game? Do you become a hotelier? A movie star? Or just a legend?
Strauss: My end game is to continue to build an amazing hospitality company with multiple brands that is long-lasting and first-class in the hospitality business. My goal is to have a variety of different brands, different experiences that can grow and people who can grow with me.