The Tao of Tao

For one month in early 2005, Tao Las Vegas partner Rich Wolf scoured the world for Tao’s iconic design features. On trains, planes and automobiles—as well as ferries and tuk tuks—Wolf’s travels took him to Japan, China and Thailand. There was no budget, no master plan, just the desire to discover what Wolf calls those “must-have” elements that would come to define Tao for the next decade.

Photo by Krystal Ramirez

Photo by Krystal Ramirez

It took an entire Thai village two months to carve and paint the 200 statues that form the monk wall opposite the nightclub elevators. There are 192 currently displayed, with the rest in storage.

Photo by Krystal Ramirez

Photo by Krystal Ramirez

The main bar’s red Venetian glass chandeliers were discovered at a hospitality design show. Tao was the first U.S. customer to place an order with the glass company, purchasing seven chandeliers made on the Venetian island of Murano, including an oversize version that cost $100,000.

Photo by Krystal Ramirez

Photo by Krystal Ramirez

Tao designer Thomas Schoos and his firm curated the restaurant’s collection of vintage Chinese opium pipes , some of which are up to 100 years old.

Photo by Krystal Ramirez

Photo by Krystal Ramirez

The famed 20-foot-tall Buddha in the main dining room is a custom composite found only at Tao Las Vegas and New York: The face is that of a sixth-century Chinese-style Buddha, the body reflects a Thai aesthetic, and there are elements of Japanese culture throughout—all countries which are represented on the menu.

Photo by Krystal Ramirez

Photo by Krystal Ramirez

Without knowing what he’d make of them, Wolf purchased pieces of an abacus. At Tao New York City, these were used as a small room divider, which evolved into the large-scale abacus wall in the Opium Room.

Photo by Krystal Ramirez

Photo by Krystal Ramirez

Street vendor John Bao inscribed “Tao” on a small piece of paper for Wolf, and that was all the tryout needed for Bao, a calligraphy major from the University of Beijing, to get the gig to create the dining room’s calligraphy panels . Bao was flown to Las Vegas, where he spent a month using a giant brush to paint interpretations of some of history’s most famous calligraphic works.

Photo by Krystal Ramirez

Photo by Krystal Ramirez

The candle wall in the main dining room is so massive that an employee must be harnessed into rock-climbing gear to scale the wall to light the 43 candles and hundreds of others throughout the venue.

Photo by Krystal Ramirez

Photo by Krystal Ramirez

While the ladies room doors on the mezzanine level of the club no longer change from clear to frosted (they are now permanently opaque), there is still a thrill to be had in the restaurant’s restrooms, where a peek-a-boo space above the sinks gives a glimpse into the other’s world.

Photo by Anthony Mair

Photo by Anthony Mair

Tao Las Vegas’ Bathtub Girls were inspired by a memorable Balinese massage in a candlelit room beside a flower-petal-filled tub. The idea evolved from flowers to beautiful women with strategically placed petals.

Photo by Krystal Ramirez

Photo by Krystal Ramirez

As a Semester at Sea college student in the fall of 1980, Wolf became acquainted with the work of the ship’s photographer, Paul Liebhardt. Wolf whittled thousands of Liebhardt’s photos down to 20 large-format portraits for Tao New York. He selected eight of those images and enlarged them to 5-feet-by-8-feet for the Tao Las Vegas dining room.

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