“I hug,” is how Sake Rok’s creative director and OG emcee, Jonnis (whose full name is Jonathan Tannis), introduces himself—and then he hugs you. Jonnis earned the OG title because he helped craft the original vision for the entertainment at Sake Rok. And now, from producing the restaurant’s miniature shows to taking the floor as an emcee, he is responsible for infusing Sake Rok with a larger-than-life atmosphere every night.
If you imagine a sushi bar mixed with a raucous house party punctuated by interludes a la the Fly Girls from In Living Color, then turn all that up to 11, you’ve got Sake Rok. Located in the outdoor dining and entertainment area between the Monte Carlo and New York-New York, a.k.a. The Park, the restaurant features small plates and entrées along with sushi and sake.
During the day, Sake Rok passes as a Japanese spot with an industrial vibe, but as the lights go down, the bass gets louder courtesy of a live DJ, and guests are joined by a cast of characters—some of them also servers—who dance, lip-synch and encourage visitors to play along. Diners have been known to bust into the wobble and cheer for their fave heartthrobs in boy-band battles. It may sound like a lot to take in, but you have Jonnis to lead the way.
“As an emcee, you’re kind of like a chef. You make things from scratch. You create a night with people,” Jonnis says. He was hired at Sake Rok after being introduced to the owners by a friend. His résumé was a perfect fit for a job description that included teaching servers to dance and being able to talk with strangers eating sushi.
Photos by Krystal Ramirez
Jonnis was born in Vancouver, Canada, and is the youngest of 10 children. He attributes his knack for taking center-stage to his upbringing. “Imagine what it takes being the youngest of 10 trying to get a word in at the dinner table. Running a night at Sake Rok is the same,” he says.
It also helps that six of his siblings, including himself, became entertainers. Jonnis focused on tap, jazz and musical theater as a kid, and at the age of 16, he followed several of his siblings to Atlantic City to dance in shows. But he ultimately ended up performing in a showroom in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, before auditioning for the first season of So You Think You Can Dance, where he made it to the top 16 before being eliminated. By that time, his siblings had relocated to Las Vegas, so he joined them here.
Jonnis’ look has been compared to Aerosmith lead singer Steven Tyler because of his long, silky locks (and robes). But when he takes the floor at Sake Rok, you’ll see that the moves and attitude are his alone.
Rok the House: Sake Rok’s One-Year Anniversary Party
Featuring complimentary drinks, geishas, sumo wrestlers and a 100-person sake bomb; April 18, 9 p.m.