Hospitality Design - July 2011 - 62
interview: richard wolf
been known in our venues to stand on the chairs and the banquettes, so we try and make sure the material can withstand a puncture from a stiletto. The designer looks at the aesthetic, and we have about seven other criteria that we put it through before we agree to it, because it’s a pain in the ass and expensive to constantly replace things. We give them the inspiration and they come up with the ideas. We accept and reject a bunch, but we bring a lot of ideas to the table. I am constantly looking through design magazines; I’ll rip something out. We’re not ones to copy, but we get inspiration from others. ‘What if we did this, but did our own little twist on it?’ It’s this constant back and forth of ideas. AvroKO came to us, and they said by way of example, upon researching jewelry we ﬁnd that there is a lot of jewelry made in the form or shape of a bird, and there are also a lot of birds used for display of jewelry. So hence you see these murals with stitching of huge peacocks and peacock feathers in the dining room. HD: What are some of the other design highlights? RW: We are a company of what I call ‘wows and moments.’ Not everything has to be a wow, and not everything has to be a moment, but there’s got to be enough wows and moments as you walk through a design of ours that just gets people’s attention. We like to think about getting people’s attention on all fronts. Not just with the food, design, and the service, but the whole picture— music, volume levels, temperature, lighting—every single detail. We want it to be a full-on experience, really one where you almost don’t ever have to leave the building. That’s kind of our thing. At LAVO when you’re done, go to the nightclub. At TAO, you’ve got a nightclub to go to in Las Vegas, and in New York, you’ve got LAVO [across the street]. At Stanton Social you have the lounge to go to, and at Beauty & Essex, you’ve got two bars, a lounge, and you can go shopping in a pawnshop. The idea is that you don’t have to go anywhere else to be entertained. In one building, you can eat, hang, drink, party, you can even dance. And we’re all for it. HD: What are the wows and moments at Beauty & Essex? RW: One is the pawnshop. That needed to be a wow. ‘Is there a restaurant around here called Beauty & Essex?’ ‘Yeah, it’s right here through the door.” That look of confusion. I’m not sure if that’s a wow or a moment, but it’s somewhere between the two. And we didn’t set the pawnshop up until a few days before our ﬁrst mock service. For the second one, I knew that right beyond the bodega, or what turned out to be the pawnshop, was this hub, this entryway where if you wanted to go to the bathrooms it was this way, if you wanted to go to the main dining room it was that way, if you wanted to go to the upstairs bar it’s this way, so that the trafﬁc would disperse and everyone wouldn’t have to all signed off on that one.
Left: Beauty & Essex’s pawnshop entrance.
funnel through the same portal to get to where they wanted to go. I wanted the juxtaposition of kind of a gritty, Lower East Side pawnshop juxtaposed against this magniﬁcent entryway, with this grand, sweeping staircase, and this unbelievable chandelier. AvroKO did dozens of drawings until we When people walk in the pawnshop, that’s wow one. And when they walk through the door and see the staircase and the chandelier, that’s wow No. 2. You own them at that point. If the food is passable you’re okay, and if it’s good, you’re really in. And the third one was the skylight in the dining room. It was not there. HD: It wasn’t? What was the space before? RW: It was a 100-year-old furniture store. It was just hanging in there with spit and glue, and we literally just gutted the place down to the four walls of brick. We were determined to do a skylight, and we went through many iterations of that as well. HD: You must be excited it is done. RW: We’re still designing. It happens with every project where we are still adding layers on to the design. My afﬂiction is that I walk into a space, and people gush, and I just am aggravated at all the things that are not ﬁnished, or done incorrectly, or just didn’t work out right. I can’t help myself. It’s just the way I am because I want it to be perfect before I turn my attention elsewhere. HD: Speaking of elsewhere, recently the TAO Group partnered with Hampshire and Wyndham on the Dream Downtown in New York, which opened last month. RW: We’re doing all the food and beverage [except Romera’s], so there’s a lounge/small club in what we’re calling the Electric Room (it’s right next to the hotel’s electric room) [opening this fall]. We have a restaurant in the lobby [called Marble Lane], a lounge also in the lobby, and we have the pool, which is a glass-bottom pool right over the lounge in the lobby. We’re doing room service, all the special events, and there’s also a rooftop—an indoor/outdoor bar, lounge, restaurant [called PH-D]. HD: As if this all isn’t enough, what’s next for you? You seem to be on a roll. RW: We are actively looking to expand the TAO brand again, in London and Chicago. And we are still looking for an opportunity for a TAO Hotel. They keep coming up but just the right one hasn’t presented itself yet, because it has to be right. It has to be overthe-top magniﬁcent.