Exporting the Goods

Lavo is the toast of two towns—but it all began in Vegas

If you’re lucky, what happens here stays here. But what happens here is rarely happening for the first time.

We’ve been the nightlife capital of the world for decades, for example, but much of our fame arrived already famous: Ghostbar had success in Chicago before coming to Vegas; Tao restaurant and Marquee nightclub launched in New York before venturing west; and Eva Longoria’s Beso has a sister spot and nightclub in Hollywood.

Still, a new crop of Vegas exports seems to indicate a changing of the tides, and Lavo appears to be the one that’s having the most gravitational pull in a major outside market.

Tao Group brought Tao and most recently Marquee to town after dominating New York City with the scene-y spots, yet did the reverse with Lavo: The restaurant/lounge/boutique nightclub opened at the Palazzo in 2008, and expanded to New York two years later. “We built a place that we would have built in New York,” one of the partners behind the bicoastal venue, Rich Wolf, says, suggesting the so-called “authentic New York vibe” is hard to find elsewhere on the Strip.

“The ‘fake factor’ is very high in Vegas,” he says. “Everybody knows that you’re in the middle of a desert, and everything that’s built is not real. One of the things that makes New York restaurants as great as they are is you have these old buildings with this old brick and personality … [For Lavo Las Vegas] we went to great pains to find the brick that was the most authentic that really looked like brick that you’d find in an old building in New York.” Foreshadowing, perhaps, that the group would later open a Lavo in Manhattan?

When the time came, taking Lavo to the Big Apple was “a no-brainer,” Wolf says. Similar to Lavo Las Vegas, the East Coast operation involves a main-floor restaurant and a nightclub upstairs. Tao New York, the original, by comparison, is one-sixth the size of the Las Vegas location, and is restaurant-only, with no nightclub.

Beyond the brick, the branding and identical menus, Lavo LV differs greatly from its little sister in Manhattan.

“Vegas is a different market than New York,” Wolf says. “In Vegas, [someone visiting] once a month would be a regular. In New York, twice a week is the absolute minimum to be considered a regular.”

As you’d expect, marketing campaigns are completely different, as a result. “New York is all word-of-month, it’s all local, it’s all regular, repeat business. Vegas is the complete opposite,” Wolf says. “We could spend millions of dollars on marketing a year in Vegas, and not a nickel in New York. [And in New York], there are no nightclubs in our neighborhood. Zero. None.”

The music formats differ as well. Lavo New York is all about house music, having hosted DJs such as Chuckie, Tiësto and Erick Morillo. Meanwhile, Lavo LV remains focused on Top 40 mash-ups, with resident DJs such as DJ Five and Vice. Sure, Vice has occasionally popped in into the Lavo NY booth before—but when Chuckie and Morillo go west, they generally play Marquee or Tao instead of Lavo. Also, Wolf observes, “the design is really quite a departure.”

While the differences are many, Wolf says brand loyalty prevails. “They know what they’re going to get,” he shrugs. “They’re going to get the full Monty.”