Seated in the dining room of the Bazaar by José Andrés in the SLS Hotel in South Beach, I am having a cocktail appropriately named #SaharaToSLS, and all around me the buzz is about SLS Las Vegas, SBE’s newest resort, opening Labor Day weekend in the former Sahara footprint. Our server asks me what it is like to live in Las Vegas, and he tells me he’s hoping for a transfer to Andrés’ Bazaar Meat, slated for a restaurant slot at SLS Las Vegas. The manager says one of his colleagues just left that morning for his new job as SLS Las Vegas’ director of food and beverage.
The talent, however, isn’t solely headed west. For six months, a stream of influential Las Vegans have been making their way to Miami to open nightclubs and restaurants. Leading the pack are chef Carla Pellegrino and nightclub impresario Cy Waits. As celebrity kitchens and electronic dance music created a new kind of boom in the desert, it also has swept South Beach. Miami clubs are booking the same names as the Strip, and DJs are cashing in big from coast to coast, with Miami being called Vegas with a beach, and Las Vegas the Miami of the desert.
Waits, former managing partner of Drai’s and XS, recently opened Adoré Nightclub during Miami Music Week. With 40 tables, Adoré is Sin City stylish. “We are bringing Vegas to Miami,” Waits says. Adoré has flourishes such as tufted leather couches (fortified against stilettos with Kevlar); cellphone chargers at every booth, as well as locked cabinets to prevent theft; a customized video chandelier; and a floor-to-ceiling LED by the DJ booth. Lighting and sound accounted for more than $2 million of Adoré’s budget. Behind the scenes, there’s Champagne in the ladies room, as well as heated baby wipes. The emphasis is on boutique programming, with DJs including Morgan Page and Rebecca & Fiona. Waits is also focused on creating a strong industry night on Thursdays, a still wide-open opportunity in the city. “We’re not selling bottles,” Waits explains, “we’re selling an experience.”
Pellegrino, formerly of Rao’s in Caesars Palace and the Meatball Spot in Town Square as well as owner of Bratalian in Henderson, migrated to Miami in late 2013 to open Touché Rooftop Lounge & Restaurant atop E11even, a 25,000-square-foot hybrid space that is all at once a dayclub, nightclub, gentleman’s club and after-hours. Touché offers 360-degree views of the Miami skyline and indoor/outdoor seating via a retractable roof. “The concept is a unique fusion of a fine-dining experience paired with a rooftop lounge,” says the Top Chef alum. “Downtown Miami is an up-and-coming area right now. It’s also the very first time in my career that I am catering to several different audiences and working closely alongside DJs and their great music.” And while Touché crowns E11even, Pellegrino is quick to point out that her place has its own identity, purpose and musical programming apart from the party palace below. “I’m sure that there is crossover with our clientele and E11even since we are all in the same building, but 70 percent of our customers are only ours,” she says.
Downstairs, E11even is a round-the-clock entertainment experience conceived by Dennis DeGori. Partners also include Gino LoPinto, Ken DeGori, Derick Henry and Danny Solomon, all of whom have spent most of their careers in Las Vegas. “I came to Miami as I believed in its undeniable resurgence and saw a lot of parallels between Vegas of 2002 and today’s Miami,” DeGori says. “I knew exactly what direction I wanted to take.”
By day, E11even pulses with a cast of topless entertainers. At night, E11even Theatr11cs takes hold of the nightclub space, where the dancers are joined by performance artists, aerialists and contortionists (many of whom have worked in Las Vegas), all set against a backdrop of state-of-the-art sound and lighting technology. After hours, E11even Theatr11cs and the dancers spill into the cabaret. There’s a full menu from Touché, as well as 32 VIP rooms. Despite the toplessness, “E11even looks, feels and acts like a nightclub venue,” DeGori says. “We cater to both a male and female clientele.” Putting it into Las Vegas terms, DeGori says he classifies E11even as “a 24/7-Hakkasan-meets-the-Spearmint-Rhino-meets-Cirque du Soleil-meets-Drai’s Afterhours. With great food.”
Will we soon be seeing an Adoré, Touché or E11even exported to Las Vegas? At least one of these expats predicts yes, and sooner rather than later. “I already have two locations under review for expansion into the Las Vegas market,” DeGori says.