After 15 years of dominating New York and Las Vegas restaurants and nightlife, the TAO Group officially planted their flag in L.A. on Thursday night, simultaneously opening a complex of four venues.
The searchlights surrounding an entire block in Hollywood were visible as far away as Hancock Park, some three miles away.
The complex, adjacent to the soon-to-opened Dream Hotel, will overwhelm insatiable Hollywood nightlife appetites of upscale trendsetters and social chiefs of the media and entertainment industries.
Over 2,000 invitees got their first looks at TAO Asian Bistro (a subterranean restaurant/lounge, not a club like in Vegas and NYC), Beauty & Essex (multi-level restaurant), Avenue (the L.A. outpost of the NYC hotspot nightclub) and Luchini Pizzeria (a by-the-slice pizza joint open late with a full bar).
Also in the mix, Katie Holmes and an exemplary potpourri of Hollywood friends from all over the creative spectrum: Owen Wilson, tennis ace Novak Djokovic, former L.A. mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Victoria Justice, EDM legend Kaskade, 21-year-old social media star Logan Paul, artist Mr. Brainwash and actor Michael Chiklis.
More newly-minted celebs like G-Eazy, Kardashian affiliate Tyga and model Charlotte McKinney mixed with veterans like Busta Rhymes, supermodel Cindy Crawford, former Playboy model Holly Madison and composer David Foster. None of them paid; all of them turning up the way Hollywood nightlife used to be until the end of the “US Weekly glossy era,” about 10 years ago.
Former friends and mid-2000’s “it-girls” Tara Reid and Paris Hilton were reunited under one roof, at the hottest of hotspots. It’s a pairing that pop-culture aficionados will remember as a lot of echoes and carries significant baggage.
On background, this ownership group’s Vegas venue Marquee earned its own full-length GQ profile titled “The Best Night $500,000 Can Buy.” Founding partners Jason Strauss and Noah Tepperberg are regular speakers at Harvard Business School.
Their nearly 25 years of relationships going back to promoting NYC parties during school breaks was on full display. After launching this complex that instantly tilts the geography of L.A. nightlife, a TAO Group resort or their own Vegas casino should be the moguls’ logical next step… but here in the present:
Forget about all the celebrities, though.
The real “turnout” story is how the opening illuminated the deep respect the Tao Group has from their industry peers… and rivals.
Their grand opening “block party” drew so many of their actual or potential nightlife competitors that the event fostered a prospective “Designated Survivor”-type crisis for the national nightlife industry — All of the key players were in the same place at the same time.
There was the original dyad of L.A. celebrity nightlife: Brent Bolthouse and the Alliance (Hartwell and Josh Richman) both in attendance as guests, not hosting.
Original Skybar innovator Rande Gerber, now a tequila co-conspirator with George Clooney, glided through with wife Cindy Crawford.
The king of Miami Dave Grutman (LIV, Story, Komodo) flew in for the opening, sporting his trademark all black threads with clean white kicks.
His predecessor Chris Paciello, who launched the contemporary era of South Beach clubbing in the 1990’s with Liquid and now Rockwell, was another out of state import on Thursday night.
We’ll categorize Miami local and certified nightlife enthusiast Michael Bay in with the area code 305 VIPs. The bombastic director rocked a half-moon of model-esque women around him inside Avenue, the nightclub venue where everyone eventually ended up.
As DJ Cassidy spun inside the subterranean Tao across the alley and a Cirque du Soleil-style performer teetered on a two-story silver pole in the middle of Selma Avenue, hundreds of guests were left cooling their heels outside the barricades.
The fire marshal shut the doors around 9 p.m., physically extending his hand to block even celebrities from entering the red carpet.
For a moment, Russell Simmons (wearing his headphones), Randy Jackson, Christina Milian, and a well-liked on-air veteran from E! were all on the wrong side of the wall chilling on the corner of Selma and Cahuenga.
Earlier, Strauss had been outside, personally escorting some of his guests. Throughout the night we saw Strauss directing staff and operations all over the complex. The execs most known to the industry — Deb Fass, Mike Snedegar, Andrew Goldberg and Rich Thomas — were in from across the country, all hustling on walkies in perpetual host mode.
Safely inside, Andrew Sasson (creator of the Light group, late NYC club Jet and Hamptons spot Conscience Point of Lizzie Grubman car assault infamy) made the scene in the lounge area of Avenue, where bottles of Grey Goose, champagne and Don Julio floated around a crowd including LMFAO’s Red Foo (still in some type of bedazzled jacket) and Super Bowl Champion tough guy Julian Edelman (of the Patriots).
Over in one corner booth, Pasquale Rotella (founder of Insomniac, owner/operator of EDC and a global array of dance music festivals) was flanked by Alex Acuna (of the Palms in Las Vegas) and tucked in with Brad Zeifman, whose Shadow was just one of the two (normally) rival PR firms working jointly on the various venues, with TAO’s team at Domain Integrated.
Jesse Waits (former managing partner of XS in Vegas) and Sean Christie (EVP at Wynn Resorts – Encore Beach Club, Intrigue, XS, Surrender) are the two architects of Steve Wynn’s nightclub profit machine over the past 12 years. They were both there.
LA’s own nightlife notables filled the space. Pantera Sarah, second-generation Alliance promoter Frankie Delgado (who originally came up on “The Hills”), Allison Melnick, model whisperer/fashion designer/Bieber buddy Cedric Benaroch, Tanjee Mahdavi, “A-list” guest list queen Ashlee Margolis, event producer Tony Schubert, and event fixtures Joyce Sevilla, Sam Ong, Jordan Buky and Jessica Meisels also helped break in the space.
The film delegation included Owen Wilson, producer Tommy Alastra (whose Oscar weekend birthday party was a highlight), and someone who segued from nightlife to film, NYC originator Danny “Danny A.” Abeckaser.
Elsewhere, TAO Group’s own Wass Stevens, who has a role in a Sundance hit getting awards buzz for next year’s cycle, and producer Gary Michael Walters (“Whiplash,” “Drive”) sampled the scene.
Even Mark Birnbaum, the guy who appears to have the most buzz to lose with TAO’s touch down, came to support. Birnbaum owns “Catch,” the Melrose hotspot imported from NYC that has been the celebrity spot since the rooftop eatery/bar opened during Emmy weekend last fall.
Note that in pre-TMZ, pre-social media era of 2006, at the apex of the era in Hollywood nightlife when real celebrities would still go to the weekly hotspots, Los Angeles Magazine revealed that the aforementioned Hartwell refused to be featured in their nightlife issue alongside Bolthouse. Highly competitive nightlife stakeholders are not usually this chummy.
The “Designated Survivors” on this night — the only A-level players left to rebuild US nightlife — would have been Neil Moffitt (Hakkasan Group), Richie Akiva (1Oak) and John Terzian (h.wood’s Nice Guy, Delilah, Bootsy Bellows. Terzian’s partner Brian Toll was there.) They were the only notable absences in this club version of “This Is Your Life.”
At 12:18 a.m., the owners/managers of nearby nightlife spot The Warwick sent out an email blast to their community announcing their own strategic partnership between their venues and the Tao Group.
“We’re extremely excited to join forces with a company that we consider to be the best in the world at what it does,” Sylvain Bitton wrote.
Along with partners JT Torregiani and David Jarrett (the guys once behind Les Deux) their group Horse & Carriage will oversee both Avenue and the soon-to-open Highlight Room. The latter is the Dream’s rooftop lounge/bar/ pool club/grill opening later this spring.
“We’ll be actively and fully supporting their operations,” Bitton wrote. “And they’ll be providing the same level of support to us at Warwick.”
Jordan Horowitz and Barry Jenkins hugging it out at the Oscars. Now this.
Along with TAO, the humanity-era in Hollywood has arrived.
Check in at Avenue (opening to the public on Tuesday, March 21) with Tao, Beauty&Essex, and Luchini Pizza to open in April.The Highlight Room and Dream Hotel will open later this spring.