Restaurant-nightclub Lavo Singapore opens on MBS rooftop

Lavo Singapore, which transforms from a restaurant to a nightclub, hopes to get people into the party mood every night of the week

Singaporeans seem to party only thrice a week - and that is not nearly enough for the people who run Lavo Singapore, a flashy Italian-American restaurant and nightclub opening on the rooftop of Marina Bay Sands (MBS) next year.

The restaurant is a collaboration between Las Vegas Sands-owned MBS and Tao Group, which is one of the United States' most profitable nightlife, entertainment and dining businesses, with more than 30 venues to its name.

Last year, three of its restaurants - Tao Asian Bistro in Las Vegas, Tao Downtown and Lavo in New York - were on the top 10 list of highest-grossing independent, non-chain restaurants according to an annual survey by Restaurant Business Magazine.

Tao Group co-founder and co-owner Noah Tepperberg, 42, noticed how in Singapore, clubbing nights typically happen only on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

"I didn't see that much energy if you go out on a Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, but if you go to metropolitan cities such as Hong Kong, Jakarta, Bangkok or Los Angeles, New York and Chicago, they have nightlife more than three nights a week," he told The Straits Times in New York last month.

"Since we plan to be open seven nights a week, hopefully we can bring some energy to those other nights - I think Singapore is definitely ready."

Energetic is one way to describe Lavo Singapore, which combines a lounge, restaurant and nightclub into one.

A DJ is always spinning in the background. Further into the night, the music gets turned up and the lights start to strobe.

Located on the 57th floor of Tower 1 of MBS, it takes over the space formerly occupied by chef Justin Quek-owned restaurant Sky on 57 and Flight bar and lounge.

It opens with a private party on New Year's Eve this Sunday, hosted by actor-singer Jamie Foxx, with hip-hop DJ Ruckus spinning. The restaurant opens to the public on Jan 8, starting with dinner service. Lunch and brunch will be rolled out in the coming months.

Guests enter through a lounge with plush seats and exposed-brick surfaces. A bar with patterned tiled floors forms the centrepiece of the space. Here, they can have a cocktail while they wait for their dinner table.

The DJ booth sits between the lounge and the dining area, so guests can enjoy the music no matter where they are. Expect the music to get louder as the night progresses.

If guests want to skip the bar experience, they can go straight to the main dining area, which seats 158 people.

 
 

The off-white New York subway tiles on the walls and plush leather booths for diners are similar to the interiors of the Las Vegas and New York Lavos, but there is something different here: the floor-to-ceiling windows, which offer a panoramic view of the skyline.

Finally, for some fresh air, more drinks and aerial views of the city, head outside to the sprawling open-air terrace and bar area.

Mr Jason Strauss, 43, who is the other co-founder of Tao Group, says: "The experience is panoramic - wherever you are sitting, you can be part of the dining room and from any corner, you can feel the vibe and energy of the room."

He partnered Mr Tepperberg to enter the nightlife business after they finished in rival New York high schools, where they started off organising parties.

Both went in to the nightlife business after college, founding the Strategic Hospitality Group in 1997.

After the opening of the Marquee nightclub in New York in 2003, they partnered Mr Marc Packer and Mr Richard Wolf - experienced nightlife and hospitality impresarios - to open various venues in Las Vegas, New York and Los Angeles.

Under the group's umbrella are brand-name establishments such as the popular Asian-themed Tao restaurants and versions of mega-club Marquee, with the most recent being Marquee - The Star Sydney in Australia.

Big name DJs and celebrities are no strangers to Tao-run establishments.

For instance, Marquee New York will see acts such as Steve Aoki, Rehab and Andrew Rayel playing this New Year weekend.

Earlier this year, the Madison Square Garden Company - which owns the likes of Madison Square Garden and basketball team the New York Knicks - paid US$181 million (S$242 million) for a 62.5 per cent controlling stake in Tao Group.

Lavo Singapore is the Tao Group's first venture into Asia.

Mr Strauss, who has been in Singapore for the past week to oversee the project, says the tie-up with MBS was first discussed around three years ago.

"We have an existing relationship with Las Vegas Sands with multiple properties such as Tao and Lavo in Las Vegas, so when this space became available, it brought up the opportunity to bring Lavo to Singapore because it felt that vibe dining would really fit a niche in Singapore," he adds.

Popular in the United States, "vibe dining" entails starting with a drink at the bar or lounge, then having dinner with a DJ spinning in the background, before continuing the after-party in the same place.

The location on the MBS Skypark has its advantages.

"There's not an off night for this rooftop in Singapore," says Mr Patrick Lang, vice-president of global restaurant and nightlife development for the Las Vegas Sands Corp.

"Whether it's a Monday or a Sunday, everyone always wants to go to the Skypark, which allows us to programme things on typically off nights in other areas of Singapore."

This is not the first time brand-name American nightlife ventures have set up shop in Singapore. High-end nightclubs such as Pangaea and Avalon have had shortlived tenure, closing just after a few years.

Mr Tepperberg feels that the Tao Group has something different to offer. Lavo is "a completely different category of venue comprising a bar and cocktail lounge component, dining component and a little bit of nightclub element," he says.

He is also confident of his tried-and-tested concepts.

"These brands that we're developing had a lot of time to be perfected. Lavo in Las Vegas is going on 10 years - it's a long time and it's still successful, whereas Lavo New York is more than seven years."

Ultimately he hopes that Lavo becomes "part of the fabric of Singapore's daylife and nightlife culture".

There is the possibility of other Tao-run establishments coming to Singapore, says Mr Strauss.

"If it works, we're excited to bring more of our vibe dining concepts here and really expand."


What's in store in Singapore

FOOD AND DRINK

Signature Lavo dishes such as the softball-sized Lavo meatball - made with 16 ounces (454g) of fresh ground wagyu beef, Italian sausage and veal - as well as its 20-layer peanut butter chocolate cake will feature on the menu.

The cuisine will be Italian-American, says Tao Group corporate executive chef Marc Marrone, 32, who is overseeing kitchen operations at Lavo Singapore for the next month.

Since landing in Singapore about two weeks ago, Marrone has also been eating at various Italian restaurants here "to find out what hasn't been brought out here yet".

So far he has decided on a Milanese-style risotto, one that gets its yellow hue from saffron.

Appetisers will start from about $15++ and mains from about $30++.

DESIGN

Customers of Lavo Singapore will be able to dance on the dining tables and banquettes - just like they do in Lavo in The Big Apple.

"We made sure the dimensions, function and durability of our furniture matched Lavo New York's," says Ms Susan Nugraha, 28, director of design at the Tao Group.

To keep the decor of the Singapore branch as consistent with other outlets as possible, interior designers flew in thousands of original white reclaimed subway tiles and light fixtures from New York, Italian leather for banquettes, a zinc bar top from Paris as well as a gelato cart, custom-made in Italy. Menus are displayed on antique mirrors, just like in other outlets.

American artist Peter Tunney has been commissioned to create original artwork for the space.

Greenery and open views differentiate Lavo Singapore from its sister branches.

It has an entry garden and outdoor garden terrace. The adjoining outdoor rooftop bar offers a million-dollar view of Singapore's cityscape.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 29, 2017, with the headline 'Party every night'. Print Edition | Subscribe