Special to the Sun/ Al Powers
Sunday, Oct. 4, 2009 | 11:41 p.m.
It has been four years since Tao first opened its doors at the Venetian, and the Asian-inspired restaurant/lounge/nightclub somehow seems to be hotter than ever.
While four years might seem like an eternity in the highly competitive, trendy today/lame tomorrow nightlife business, the 1,000-seat restauarnt/1,389-person nightclub appears to have so far beaten the odds.
To celebrate four years of rose petal-covered bathing, Buddhas, beautiful booty-shakers and bottle service, the venue threw itself a massive party on Saturday.
Adding to the celebration was the one-year anniversary of slightly smaller yet still super-successful sister spot next door at Palazzo, Lavo. The 1,579-person capacity bar/restaurant/lounge made its debut last year in the midst of the country’s financial crisis – yet it, too, has survived, despite the faltering economy.
Tao and Lavo co-owners, Noah Tepperberg and Jason Strauss, have been throwing parties since they were in their teens. The two notoriously met years ago, back in New York, when Tepperberg was denied entry to a party Strauss was throwing. Tepperberg talked his way into the party and he and Strauss have been friends ever since.
Though Tepperberg is largely based in New York (where he oversees similarly popular nightclubs Avenue and Marquee, along with an east coast location of Tao restaurant) he and Strauss both have collected their fair share of fond memories since they, along with partners Marc Packer and Rich Wolf, opened Tao four years ago.
Tepperberg said his favorite all-time moments (so far) include the night Jay-Z told him, “This is the perfect spot. You did it again,” while partying at Lavo this summer, and the 2007 MTV Video Music Awards after-party at Tao, where Jermaine Dupri, Usher, Nelly, Robin Thicke, Alicia Keys, Jamie Foxx and TI all performed.
Other memories that top his list include Lavo’s opening night, when Busta Rhymes took to the stage for an impromptu mini-set, and New Years Eve at the club last year, when Fergie of the Black Eyed Peas counted down the clock to usher in 2009.
In terms of A-list guests, he lists Bono (who partied in Tao’s so-called “Opium Room” in November 2005) as one of his all-time faves, but said the night some of his favorite DJs all came in for dinner together -- DJs AM, Jazzy Jeff, Mighty Mi, and Riz – was pretty cool, too.
Strauss, meanwhile, was wowed last October when Seth McFarlane took 20 minutes out of his birthday party at Tao to sketch a picture of all the “Family Guy” characters going to Tao, and said it’s always a thrill when Jamie Foxx stops by.
“Every time it is electric, bringing so much energy to the room,” he said, noting the singer has performed at Tao and Lavo least 10 times.
Still, it’s not just the praise and patronage of celebrities that gets Strauss going.
He said that, “When friends visit from New York and say that the meatball at Lavo is better than any in New York” is just as satisfying – if not more – as any A-lister telling him they love the dish.
While longtime friends and famous faces both flock to Las Vegas to join Strauss at Tao and Lavo, Michael Snedegar does his fair share of hosting the latter of the two.
Though his official job description is “entertainment marketing,” Snedegar calls himself “Vegas’ number one self-proclaimed celebrity babysitter” and counts many famous faces as friends. (He was among the 250 invited guests at Khloe Kardashian’s wedding last week, and is seen brunching with Holly Madison at Simon nearly every weekend.)
“I started in November of 2005 as Jason Strauss’ assistant,” he explained. Since then, however, he has navigated his way through a galaxy of stars, collecting more than his fair share of celeb-studded memories along the way.
The names drop off his tongue like drops into a bucket.
“Michael Jackson, he came in for dinner (in) 2006,” Snedegar said, nonchalantly. “The only time Madonna’s ever been to a nightclub in Las Vegas was at Tao …”
Strauss also mentioned Madge’s after-concert appearance as one of his most memorable nights at the club and, like Tepperberg, Snedegar also listed the night of the MTV VMA after-party as one of Tao’s most impressive, noting “They got, like, 15 people to perform.”
Yet it was Jay-Z who made for Snedegar’s night of all nights.
“Jay-Z in 2006, that was, like, the craziest thing I’ve ever seen in a nightclub, ever,” he said. “The amount of people and, like, how he got everybody jumping and … the anticipation because he didn’t go on until 2:45 (a.m.) … Everybody was coming from other clubs from all over town, like, trying to get in.”
“It was a rumor and (everyone was wondering), was he going to perform, was he not?” he recalled.
The flamboyant nightlife fixture admits he has seen his fair share of wild parties, both weird and over the top.
“Joaquin Phoenix, that was crazy,” he said, referring to the actor-turned-singer’s bizarre, bearded appearance at Lavo in January.
Snedegar also remembers a particularly extreme night back in 2006, when Jennifer Lopez wanted to surprise her husband, Mark Anthony.
“It was Mark’s birthday and Jennifer threw the party,” he recalled.
While J. Lo didn’t insist on all-white furnishings in the dining room, new toilet seats in the restrooms, or for all tables to be topped with white lilies, as she’s allegedly been known to do while on tour, Snedegar said, “It was intense.”
Still, the eccentric personalities and non-stop surprises are part of Tao and Lavo’s appeal.
“You never know what’s going to happen and you never know who’s going to walk through that door at any moment,” Snedegar said. “And you never know how crazy and how cool parties are going to go.”
Speaking of crazy/cool events, Tao and Lavo joined this weekend to throw themselves a pair of celebrity-studded, slightly belated birthday parties.
As usual, both nights featured a smattering of celebrities, big and small.
Things got underway on Friday as actor Eddie Cibrian’s soon-to-be ex-wife, Brandi Cibrian, and Jennifer Gimenez of VH1’s “Sober House” kicked thing off at Tao Beach, then joined a slough of stars for dinner at Lavo, including actress Amanda Bynes, “House” actress Jennifer Morrison and “Prison Break” actor boyfriend Amaury Nolasco; actress Krysten Ritter and her music video director boyfriend Scott Culver; actor Stephen Dorff; Academy Award-winner Adrien Brody; actor Emile Hirsch; Victoria’s Secret model Selita Ebanks; “E! News” co-host Jason Kennedy; Patrick Sebes from “90210”; Zachary Abel from “The Secret Life of the American Teenager”; and Johanna Brady from “Family’s Greek.”
The party later moved upstairs to the club, where on-again couple Vanessa Minnillo and Nick Lachey were spotted, along with head Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger, fresh from the stage at the Mirage, where she performed alongside Slash, Courtney Love, and other well-known rockers as part of the resort’s 20th birthday celebration; embattled “Peepshow” co-star Aubrey O’Day; and NFL free agent Melvin Fowler.
Saturday afternoon saw Aaron Paul from “Breaking Bad”; Amanda Righetti of “The Mentalist”; Susan Sarandon’s daughter/“Californication” co-star Eva Amurri; Cibrian; Gimenez; Hirsch; Ritter; and hot couples Morrison and Nolasco and Ritter and Culver take over at Tao Beach.
Later that night, the VIPs returned to Tao where they toasted the venue’s four-year anniversary over dinner.
Though the stars were scattered across various tables throughout the dining room and were sometimes hard to see, the evening served up a hearty portion of celebs, alongside signature items including lobster wontons, chicken satays, and Chilean sea bass.
Rapper/producer/fashion designed/Ciroq vodka czar P. Diddy/Puff Daddy/Sean Combs was there, along with fellow rappers Tyrese and Ray J. Meanwhile, “Greek” star Spencer Grammar and the picture-perfect Ebanks were at Tepperberg’s table; Bynes enjoyed a relative low profile at a corner table with her friend and former costar, Max Crumm; and Nolasco and Morrison shared dinner with the actresses’ recently 21-year-old brother.
Also in the Tao dining room last night: Clifton Collins, Brody, Hirsch, Paul, and Cibrian -- and Brent Bolthouse popped by, too.
Righetti, meanwhile, had dinner at Lavo on Saturday, as did Jennifer Love Hewitt and Jason Kennedy. However, after dinner it was straight to Tao nightclub, where the fourth anniversary party was in full swing.
Diddy served as emcee for the evening, giving multiple shout-outs to DJ Vice (“Yo DJ, Yo DJ, play…”) and fighter Floyd Mayweather Jr. The iconic rapper also gave a brief performance, and led the crowd in singing “Happy Birthday” to “Tao and Lava” (Lavo, Lava, whatever) just after 1 a.m.
Later, partiers were treated to a second guest performance, this time by DJ David Guetta’s vocalist, Chris Willis. The singer performed a handful of songs, including his and Guetta’s hit single, “The Love is Gone.”
Tiger Woods was there to take it all, too, and was seen soaking up the scene in a VIP skybox. Rounding out the long list of last night’s celebs was Guns ‘N Roses/Velvet Revolver drummer Matt Sorum, who joined the party just after 2 a.m. -– better late than never.
Melissa Arseniuk writes about Las Vegas entertainment and celebrity events. She can be reached at 702-948-7823 or by e-mail at [email protected].