Leo DiCaprio on Avenue A-List, Benny Soto’s Shoe-In
I made a rather big mistake: I underestimated the effort by Noah Tepperberg and Jason Strauss, Strategic Group, and “special friends” on behalf of Avenue, the newest, hottest place around. From afar, Avenue seemed like a smart move. A built-out space 100 feet from Richie Akiva and Scott Sartiano’s super hot 1Oak would give Noah and Jason an opportunity to service their A-crowd, which was bored with Marquee after six years of undeniable success. Richie, Scott, Ronnie Madra, and Jeffrey Jah have already done the heavy lifting and turned a block once dominated by Harleys and those who worship them at the always-rowdy Red Rock West into a high-rent district. I felt that without much effort, Avenue could do pretty well. Word on the street a few months ago indicated that it would be a quick fixer-upper — a band aid to service for the Tao Vegas/Marquee crowd until they could do something right again. But word on the street should often be washed into the gutter, as Avenue is a monumental effort and success.
I stopped in to taste the food, check out the design, and support last night and was absolutely blown away. The level of service from a sharp staff and the familiar Strategic Group players, including Wass, Patrick, Andrew, and Christian, is way above what I’ve seen around town. Everybody talks it, but Avenue delivers. The place looks great. Noah gave me the guided tour, which I’ll go over in a follow up story next week. I think discussing decor here will be very important, as many people won’t be seeing the inside of this place for a couple of years. Danny A and I were talking basketball while he was waiting on Leo; he was a pretty good point guard until he reached a level of the game where defense of inevitably taller opponents brought home a sense of reality. Reality was staring me in the face as I watched Avenue get born. This is the business, indeed the science of nightlife, in its most developed incarnation.
Noah and company have opened on the bones of the ill-conceived and amateurishly run Earth club. This is potent proof that the energies and wisdom of club professionals are the most important factors for success in this business. On the way out I stopped to chat up dapper door don Wass. We were discussing how much better-looking than Steve Buscemi he really is when Leonardo DiCaprio walked up. Leo greeted me like an old friend, and we chatted about movie stuff with Wass, a successful thespian in his own right. Leo is the most down to earth, real-deal guy around, and no amount of Hollywood muck ever distracts him from being a gentleman. Leo was accompanied by actor and LA lounge owner (Villa) Vinny Laresca and Stephen Graham, the dude playing Capone in the new Martin Scorsese TV series. Everybody in town has been auditioning for a part in this HBO winner. Steve Buscemi is in the series as well, and we all agreed Leo is better looking than Steve Buscemi also. But small talk aside, Avenue is the real deal.
After that, I slipped over to Cielo for the second time in a week. This time it was my old friend Danny Tenaglia DJing for Benny Soto’s birthday extravaganza. The smoking section of the joint was turning into a good-natured roast of the chic Benny, as those who couldn’t shine his shoes fed me dirt for this column. The shoe thing was the theme, as it seems that Benny has a thing for shoes. Rob Fernandez swore it was a sexual fetish. Christine Jennings was dragging me into back rooms to show me a ginormous birthday cake (three weeks to make by chef Renee Scotti) shaped liked a red shoe. The backstory is unclear, but it seems this shoe thing goes back to Miami, where Benny would make DJs like Hector Romero wear red high heels. From time to time, during an evening he would also cajole various hot customers and scenesters to don the pumps. Someone said, “He is not only the president of the women’s shoe club for men, but a customer as well.” Benny was Keith Haring’s assistant and was the subject of a rather important piece of art by our dearly departed friend. “Angel, portrait of Benny,” was in Benny’s possession until hard times called for hard cash. Recently the piece sold for $250,000. While the material thing may have gone to someone with beaucoup bucks, birthday boy Benny has the only known tattoo done by Keith’s hand on his shoulder. Memories and love, all apparent at Cielo last night, are indeed priceless. Happy birthday Benny Soto! Oh, and the door was manned by Shu, of course.
I’ve read a great many comments sent to me privately and via Facebook which indicated that I declared Bungalow 8 closed and done in yesterday’s column. Although I haven’t heard from anyone in Amy’s camp yet, I want to clarify: Bungalow is reopened and remains the clear choice in that neighborhood for intelligent revelers. Although outer Chelsea has lost some of its charms, there are a great many fabulous people still partying like it’s 1999 there. “Disco” is still doing his job, keeping the door tight. The place still has more than its share of fun moments; I was there with a cute crew just a few days ago.