Friday, Sept. 11, 2015 | 2 a.m.
In the restaurant and nightclub business, hitting the 10-year mark is nearly a miracle. Most venues fade away after three years or are renamed, transformed or sold to adventurous operators.
Not so at Tao in the Venetian where the Tao Group partner team of Jason Strauss, Noah Tepperberg, Marc Packer, Rich Wolf and Lou Abin are not only celebrating, but they also have plans for getting even bigger and better in the Las Vegas hospitality scene.
This weekend, they open Lavo Casino Club above their Italian restaurant Lavo in Palazzo and this fall a Las Vegas version of their Lower East Side Manhattan hideaway nightspot Beauty & Essex in the former Comme Ca at the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas.
They are planning more attractions in the next decade — Tao Group is still growing. I’ve known the group since early New York days and was here for their opening in the Venetian.
Over the years with parties for Jermaine Dupri’s 30th birthday, Jay Z’s “Hangar Tour,” Paris Hilton and Mariah Carey’s Las Vegas nightlife debuts and dozens of other star-studded festivities, they’ve succeeded in becoming one of the top-grossing restaurant-nightclub operations in the world.
From the 2000 opening of Tao New York, Tao Group has grown to 20 venues from Manhattan to Las Vegas to Sydney, with Tao, Lavo and Marquee here on the Strip, and restaurants such as Stanton Social, Avenue, Rue 57, Bodega Negra, Avra Estiatorio and restaurant and dayclub at New York’s Dream Downtown hotel, plus Tao in Australia.
It’s a remarkable achievement for a unique team. I talked at length with managing partner Jason Strauss as he prepared for the glittering 10th anniversary party at Tao on Sept. 19.
So, Jason, the $64 million question has to do with longevity. In a day and age when nightclubs rarely last 2 to 3 years, here you are celebrating 10 years with Tao in Las Vegas. How and why have you made it last?
That’s a long answer. I think the foundation of Tao was already so strong coming out of New York, and the whole DNA of the operational culture came from a true hospitality restaurant mindset out of New York.
With that as the basis, service and hospitality, and everything we had achieved in New York, we brought to Las Vegas a really great foundation for success and a concept that was working very well in New York City. I think as we grew and as time went on, we stayed true to the culture of high-end hospitality.
As far as marketing, we fought throughout the years to stay relevant with programming in nightlife and staying current with the times and needs and wants of our guests.
By fighting for that almost monthly, I think we were able to keep relevant, so with a combination of keeping current with the trends of marketing and staying true to the hospitality culture that we had built in New York, we were able to have consistent success.
Tao was one of the early nightclubs in Las Vegas before they proliferated like rabbits. Do you think you set a trend that everybody else then tried to beat?
There were nightclubs in town before Tao, but I don’t think there was any one that successfully combined restaurant and nightclub. I think we were one of the first to pioneer that experience, and later on we were able to introduce the new beach club component, the Tao Beach experience.
I think we were trendsetting in combining both, then later on I really feel we were the first designated pool club venue that came to Las Vegas. There have been casino pools that have done parties, but not a designated daytime pool club venue like Tao Beach. I think that really set a trend for the daylife experience.
Tao was a big financial gamble 10 years ago, right? I think you were the first of what I’ll call mega-clubs where you risk an extraordinary amount of money to generate wow factor.
Yes. I think we were unique because we were doing it with private money with our investors from New York and the partners. Nowadays, most of the venues are built by outside, big conglomerate groups or the casino.
Ours was a unique situation and a very big risk to go into the second floor of a mall of a convention hotel to try and do a sexy restaurant and nightclub.
Tao has led to Lavo, Lavo has led to Marquee, Marquee has led to Beauty & Essex. Did you anticipate this kind of growth? Did you want this kind of grown when you began Tao, or was it a natural evolution?
Honestly, we had Tao, and the game plan for me personally was to be in Las Vegas for 3 months for the construction and hiring, let the place open, then come back to New York where our main business was at the time.
I think the timing was right, our execution was right, and Tao was an explosion of business when we first opened, and I stayed with Lou to see the business through.
To answer your question, we had no idea that Tao would do as well as it had, and we had no idea that we would be building a full-on hospitality company here in Las Vegas, but, through our success, more opportunities came to us, and, as we continued to execute, we got more opportunities. It’s been an amazing ride, and we’re blown away on how it’s all developed.
Can you keep Tao fresh and alive for another 10 years, and, if so, because I think you’ll answer yes, what is the nightclub scene going to look like in another decade?
We have a 20-year lease at Tao, so we plan on being there 20 years, and I think we’ll be using the same methodology of amazing hospitality service and keeping relevant with the trends of marketing to keep it going as we have for 10 years. So the answer to that is yes.
The answer to your question about where nightlife will go, it’s ever changing, and it’s moving so fast and especially in Las Vegas where the most successful and biggest nightclubs in the country are all on the street.
The industry is so competitive and changing so quickly to be competitive. So to predict where it’s going to be in another 10 years is impossible, but for us to be in the know and have our ear to the ground on how things are changing is a challenge that we have to live with to stay in the game and stay successful.
Beauty & Essex restaurant and lounge is for the very hip, in people of New York. Is this going to be the first of many other ventures that you expand into in the next decade to operate in Las Vegas?
I think we’re an opportunistic company. We don’t grow just to grow. We grow with strategic growth in mind, and, if opportunities present themselves, we’re excited to continue growing in Las Vegas.
We have a great infrastructure, we have a great management team, and we want to continue to grow, so, as we develop new brands or get opportunities for new venues, we’re going to be looking at all of them and intend to grow strategically.
Why do you think Las Vegas has beaten Ibiza at its own game?
I think the infrastructure of our hotels and the gaming component of casinos put the venues at a great advantage here in Las Vegas. The hotels are able to spend more money on size, decor, lighting and sound technology, more on talent in the form of performances and DJs.
Not only do people come here and spend a higher price point than they do anywhere else in the country when they’re enjoying nightlife, but also the hotels get the residual benefit of people gambling on the casino floor and being in hotel rooms. In Ibiza, you’re dealing with 200- to 300-room hotels without casinos.
Is it mandatory now for a hotel to be a success in Las Vegas that it has to have a nightclub?
I don’t think it’s mandatory, but it has to have a component to drive consistent weekly traffic with interesting programming. So if that’s in the form of a concert venue or arena that can have multiple uses — sports, event work, concerts — I think every casino needs to have a component that drives weekly traffic with new and unique content every week to be competitive.
Go back for a minute 10 years to the beginning of Tao in Las Vegas and look at it today. It has not changed physically very much, if at all, so what has changed?
We had a great base with our design and layout, so what we’ve done through the years is just a lot of upgrades. If you go into the lounge of the restaurant, you’ll notice that there is a significant upgrade in the way we’ve done the cosmetics. The banquets are different, the lighting is different, all the furniture has changed, the layout of the furniture has changed in the lounge.
In the nightclub through the years, we’ve done significant changes. We’ve changed the layout a few times, we’ve added different configurations to the main stage with the DJ booth, we’ve invested in LED and updated sound and lighting as technology presented itself.
We’ve done upgrades that aren’t dramatic like a brand new room or rip off the roof, but we’ve done significant cosmetic changes throughout the years to keep us fresh, polished and relevant.
Do you think that you will have to do more in the second decade?
We’ll see where the trends go. We have great space with the upstairs and the downstairs. We have over 42,000 square feet of restaurant, nightclub and pool club, so if trends dictate that we need to upgrade, we’ll be looking at that. We’ll be really plugged into when that needs to happen, but the good news is that we have a really good space.
Since you mentioned the word trend, what are the trends that face you this year? Next year? What’s happening with the nightclub scene — is it getting more intimate, larger, more challenging? Have we become too DJ-star driven?
The last 2 years, there has been an explosion of much bigger clubs than we’ve seen since the days of Tao and much more attention to performance-based programming, be it DJs or concerts or live performances.
I think that’s really just an upgraded experience because the market is so competitive and the venues need to continually upgrade their experience. That’s been the trend the last 2 years, and the future probably holds more of that in getting more targeted with demographics on performance-based experiences.
Robin Leach of “Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous” fame has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past 15 years giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
Follow Robin Leach on Twitter at Twitter.com/Robin_Leach.
Follow Las Vegas Sun Entertainment + Luxury Senior Editor Don Chareunsy on Twitter at Twitter.com/VDLXEditorDon.
In the spirit of Venice, The Venetian is a little piece of romantic Italy right here in Las Vegas. The Venetian is an "all-suite" hotel, with rooms accented with plush linens and Italian marble. The 4,027 suites are divided into two towers: The 36-story Venetian Tower that offers guests a taste of luxurious Las Vegas and the Venezia suites, which guarantee 12 floors of high-end elegance. The top five floors are the hotel's highest level of luxury with its private access, concierge lounge, upgraded features and even a dedicated staff.
The flagship of Venetian nightlife is TAO, an ultra-hip nightclub located inside of TAO Asian Bistro. V Bar is The Venetian's super smooth ultra lounge, made by the owners of New York City's club Lotus and Los Angeles' super swank Sunset Room.
The Venetian features 19 restaurants including Thomas Keller's award-winning French restaurant Bouchon, Mario Batali's B&B Ristorante, Aquaknox for fresh seafood and the 42,000 square foot TAO Asian Bistro. There's also the food court inside the Canal Shoppes for those looking for a quick bite.
Guests can float along The Grand Canal Shops in an authentic Italian gondola ride and pass stores like Burberry and Kenneth Cole along the way. And if you haven't caught a real celeb, on the street in Vegas, you can head over to Madame Tussauds to check out a wax version.