You’re from Singapore? I love your country!” Yells a petite brunette as she grabs my arm and pulls me close to her. It is just past midnight at the legendary Marquee New York Nightclub and the venue is absolutely packed. I’m trying to make my way back to our VIP table after an arduous trek to the restroom; I somehow manage to squeeze through the horde of clubbers waiting in line for drinks at the bar, offering an apologetic “pardon me” to the blur of bodies as I pass.
The brunette stands between me and the haven of our VIP booth, wherein lies an oasis of premium spirits and mixers perched at the edge of the second-level balcony overlooking the sea of bodies on the dancefloor, bobbing in unison to the house beat blaring from the speakers. The conductor of this evening’s EDM adventure is French DJ Bob Sinclar; for a moment, the screens in front, above and behind him project the image of the Singapore flag with the accompanying message: MARQUEE LOVES LAVO SINGAPORE.
Noah Tepperberg opened The Marquee with business partner Jason Strauss in 2003. After 14 years of operations, it stands as an institution both in the New York nightlife scene and the global realm, ranking 30th in the most recent world DJ polls. For a city where even highly successful clubs often close within a short span, this is a feat so remarkable that Harvard Business School has published two scholastic papers analysing the secret behind the success of The Marquee.
It is a remarkable coincidence that I interview Tepperberg the evening before he heads up to Harvard, with his partner Strauss, to conduct two classes on the university campus. Up until the birth of his son, Tepperberg describes the annual visit to Harvard as the best day of the year for him. “Interestingly enough,” he notes between bites of an early dinner during our interview, “there are almost always one or two Singaporeans in the class that I conduct every year.”
ESQ: What do you envision the clientele at LAVO Singapore to be like?
Noah Tepperberg: We will have a real diverse clientele at different times of operation. We’re going to get one type of guest at lunch—probably people who are staying at the resort—and I think we’re going to have a different type of guest at 6pm, probably people coming in after work, who have offices around the CBD and walk over to MBS to have a drink on the roof.
For the dinner crowd and later part of the night, we will get locals who want to go out for a meal or a drink. On nights where we have certain nightclub programming, we will get the younger kids, the club kids who frequent other local clubs. The crowd will also change if it’s a big weekend or there’s a lot of people in town for a convention or holiday.
ESQ: Is there any concern about the competition or copycats?
Noah Tepperberg: It’s not really a concern; I find [copycats] flattering. I definitely feel that there’s a lot of competition, but competition is good; people don’t want to go to the same place every night.
ESQ: And how will LAVO Singapore stand out?
Noah Tepperberg: Besides the location, we’re going to offer premium food and a party experience. I’m not sure that there’s a place in town where you can have both: really good music in a fun atmosphere with really good food. That’s really part of the DNA of our company; we are one of the first groups to have both at the same time in the same place.
ESQ: Will there be anything unique to LAVO Singapore?
Noah Tepperberg: On the culinary side, we’re definitely going to introduce a few variations of our dishes; our chef has shared that he feels he won’t be serving as much veal. We’ll probably have more whisky-based drinks than, say, vodka-based ones like we do in the US. We will definitely be changing the menu a little bit to appeal to local tastes.
Other than that, it’s too soon to really tell. We will have to open and see what happens before we can really decide what’s going to be different. For now, we’re trying to keep it as close to what you see in New York as possible, but knowing that we will need to make adjustments once we open and see how people react to it.
Just how will Singapore react to LAVO’s opening? Based on two visits to LAVO New York, I can confidently say that the dining and nightlife scene here is about to be wowed by a new level of experiential overload.
Our first visit is on a Saturday for LAVO NY’s famous brunch party: a long queue waiting outside greets us at the door; inside, it is completely packed, with every table, chair and passageway in the dining area filled with guests primed for partying. As the venue chosen by Paris Hilton for her 30th birthday, LAVO NY has played host to many celebrity guests and events; the clientele I see that afternoon are certainly above-average folks of affluence. While it may be 4°C outside at three in the afternoon, the outfits worn by the women inside are both hot and haute. I guess you could say that the crowds at LAVO NY are hella atas.
As we get seated, the thumping mix of classic hip-hop, trap and EDM blares over the speakers. Enter our curvaceous hosts, dressed in skimpy costumes, trooping towards our table hoisting sparklers, a huge illuminated sign and neon-coloured receptacles housing bottles of premium vodka and tequila. The DJ momentarily cuts the music to yell, “WELCOME LAVO SINGAPORE!” over the sound system. The entire venue whoops and cheers. Foghorn sounds are triggered, whistles are piercingly blown, neon headbands are adorned and hands are placed in the air. The carnival of fun has begun.
The food at LAVO NY is delicious. Everything ranging from their signature wagyu meatballs to tuna tartare starters are impeccably fresh, well prepared and flavourful. Foodies might find having half-naked, big booty dancers gyrating intensely on surrounding table tops distracting, but you cannot argue that every minute in LAVO is an Instagram-worthy moment dying to be captured. Sparklers! Table-top dancing! A bikini-clad lady hoisted on the shoulders of men donning space helmets serving a bottle of tequila! A plate of beautiful, super-sized eggs benedict! Sensory overload, again and again, every social media snap screaming, “Oh hello, I’m having an insanely wild and hedonistic time. How are you doing?”
If the brunch party levels sound too intense for your liking, our visit to LAVO on Sunday for dinner brings things down a few notches, albeit briefly. The music is slightly more downtempo and, while there are still sparklers, whistles and the hoopla of bottle service, conducting a conversation at the table is a little easier (it also helps that the DJ doesn’t command us to “put your hands in the air” every four minutes). The theme for the evening is Who Framed Roger Rabbit and the entertainment is an eye-popping assortment of tap dancing, burlesque, sword swallowing and stilt-walking. The performers are so captivating that I struggle to finish the sumptuous spread of steak, gnocchi, octopus and other dishes laid out (which I wholeheartedly regret now, thinking back on how good it was). It feels like New Year’s Eve, except New Year’s Eve happens every other night at LAVO NY.
Once dinner service concludes, chairs are pushed out of the way as the BPM rises from the DJ console. It’s past midnight on a Monday and the crowd is starting to pile into LAVO. Bottle service is back in full swing, glasses are clinking, bodies are grooving and PEET-PEET-PEET whistle blasts fire off from every corner of the room.
Don’t these people have to work later? I wonder, as I raise my glass to down another shot of 1942 Don Julio tequila. Clearly, LAVO and the TAO Group brand are an American institution; the decision to launch in Singapore is a highly calculated, carefully assessed move, with much consideration for adapting to changes once operational. The average naysayer will probably be highly sceptical about LAVO Singapore’s sustainability, but having experienced first-hand how remarkably popular and successful their New York establishments are, I say that this is just the beginning of greater things to come.
LAVO Singapore officially opens in January 2018 to the public at Marina Bay Sands.