Industry Insiders: Amy Sacco, Nightlife Queen

Amy Sacco, simply put, is the queen of New York nightlife. The city’s myriad bars and clubs act as her own personal Cheers, a place where everybody knows her name. Her near-mythical Bungalow 8 club celebrates its unprecedented-for-New York eighth year at this September’s Fashion Week, a year after a larger version opened in London. She’s the kind of club owner that doesn’t need a promoter. From her early days owning Lot 61, this Amazonian impresario understood what celebrities can do for one’s business — Bungalow regulars include everyone from the Olsens to Bill Clinton — so not only did she attract them to her clubs, she became a celeb herself.

Point of Origin: “I started in the restaurant business when I was a kid. My mother was always cooking night and day, with five brothers, two sisters, and my dad, she was constantly in the kitchen. So I learned a lot from her, and was always interested in the business. And eventually I got a job in a café, and then started working in the business altogether, all over, in every capacity you could imagine, from coat check, to bartender, to prep cook, to hostess. I also went to Johnston & Wales College, which is a hotel restaurant college. I worked with Jean-Georges Vongerichten and David Bouley. You meet a whole host of interesting people. I’ve been in the business so many years, I can’t believe it’s that many years. I don’t feel like I’m that old.”

“When I opened Lot 61, I figured a lot of people were doing their own thing, and if they could do it, I could do it. I just had to take the chance. No one’s gonna do it for you. So I decided to do it, and ended up really enjoying it and doing it well. So I was excited, I used to run a nightclub for Howard Stein, who was a great influence on my career in nightlife. He owned Au Bar, and recently passed away. He was one of the most experienced club owners in the city. His club ran for thirty something odd years, which is unheard of. I think all that experience just led me to end up trying it on my own. Lot 61 was super successful. It was 10 years old when I sold it to move onto other projects. And of course, Bungalow 8 is having its 8th anniversary during fashion week this year.”

“It took me forever to fund my first club. I almost quit fifteen times. It was just so impossible. I tried to do it, and half the time guys are like, “Sure, take me out on the town, show me what you need.” You can end up being out every night for years. Everyone has money ‘til it comes time to give it up. Then you’ve got to go through it again, so it takes a long time to learn how to get through conductors and how to structure deals. The first one is always the big learning curve, so we’ve gone through that. The second one is similar, and then you get to the point where you can start to cruise around, you know more about what you’re doing, you know more people. Once you prove yourself, it’s a lot easier.”

Current Biz:Bungalow 8 London has been open for a year. The whole concept is really based on being in a private bungalow if you were living in Palm Springs, or any of the warm climate hotels where they have separate bungalows from the hotel that you can kind of drive in on your own. So your part of the hotel and services, but you’re not really living at the hotel. Bungalow 8 London is more like the sophisticated European sister of New York. New York is more tropical, we have the palm trees, and we translated it differently design-wise, and it’s a little bit bigger in size. We have an outdoor patio there, we have an early cocktail club, and a very specific cocktail bar upstairs that’s open at six o’clock. And the downstairs opens at eleven o’clock, Tuesday through Saturday, and it’s much more of a clubby vibe than we have in New York. It’s darker with more dancing space. And also we have a hundred more bathrooms than in New York, so, fabulous!”

“I’m consulting in Vegas and I really love working with them. It’s partially a Morgans project, we’re part owners of it, but it’s a project I’m doing with Hard Rock Hotel and Casino. And they’re fantastic there, I love Vegas especially because of the fact that you get service to a tee. You go to a club in Las Vegas and it doesn’t matter who you are. If you’re getting in, you’re treated like a king. It’s phenomenal. By the people that own the clubs. Andrew Sasson has a ton of fabulous night clubs, and the Pure group as well.”

“They make so much money in Vegas that the people who work there take their jobs very seriously. In New York you pretty much have to be VIP to get any kind of advanced seating or fast service. As far as treatment, they grab you at the door, they’re very adept at the list. They study it, they memorize it, when they get there it’s not, “wait, I don’t have you.” They have every name and every referral that happens so when you go there, they’re ready for you at the door, they walk you in, they have your table ready. The server’s already waiting for you, they even take your orders in advance so you have it at the table for you. It’s a whole other level. That’s what we do at Bungalow 8, but it’s a very small scale to do it. We’re only 110 people at Bungalow. We’re very small, so for me it’s super impressive, because you get to see how they work that out in Vegas for, say, 4,000 people. I work as a creative director at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino. I work on their events and I work with them on long-term sponsorships with other sponsor and grants and brand alliance.”

Friends and Enemies: “I can’t really worry about enemies. I don’t think I would obsess about any of that stuff, it’s so childish. If I didn’t like someone I would at least respect what they did if they were doing something talented. We all have a hard job, it’s hard to be everyone’s friend. Everybody expects a lot. You meet a lot of people, and they have a lot of expectations for you, and if you don’t fulfill them, they hate you immediately. It’s not easy.”

“I have a lot of people I look up to and respect. Diane von Furstenberg, Donna Karan, Ian Schrager, Andre Balasz. We’ve all known each other for years and a lot of us are more work related than personal friends, but we all attend the same events and spend time together, some of us socially and some just professionally.”

Favorite Spots: “I guess there’s a lot. I don’t go out that much because I travel so much. I go to the Rose Bar, and I definitely go to the Beatrice Inn. That’s basically the two places I go to. I haven’t actually gone out on a tour, which I probably will do by the end of the summer now that I have a little more space in my schedule. No I don’t. I don’t know where I’m finding the space, but I’ll find some.”

“My friends and I go on a bar crawl, we’ll go out and try a bunch of different places. Another one of my favorites is the Randolph, and Employees Only, The Box, and Milk and Honey. Because those are all about the cocktail, really doing service, the people there really care and are very passionate about it. I think that’s gotten to be the trend, more or less. They’re passionate about music or drinks or both. I think that’s a very important trend, and I believe we were one of the very first to start it when we did Lot 61 because we had the 61 flavors of martinis. Then we moved onto champagne cocktails, margaritas, mojitos, and doing all those things and shaping them more so than the average idea of what they are. I stole Ben Pundole, who is my partner in London. He’d come to visit me, I had met him at a party, and at the time he was at the Met Bar, which is the first bar in London to do serious cocktails. And then I met him at an event in New York and said, “Why aren’t you working for me?” And low and behold, he did. And then ten years later when he was at Morgans Hotel Group and we had been talking back and forth about doing something eventually, he called me and offered me Bungalow 8 London. So I made him my partner, and he’s fabulous. We’re actually about to start our second book. I have a cocktail book called Cocktails“.

Projections: “I’m not going be doing too much right now, I’ve got two things that I’m doing — well two, maybe for other people, that’s not too much for me. But you’ll see two things from me in the next six months in New York.”

[Editor’s note: For even more Sacco action, see our follow-up interview.]

Prime Movers interviews A-listers from the business and leisure realms of nightlife, restaurants, hotels, and more.

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