The cinematic quality of the long journey to open the doors of Fontainebleau Las Vegas is not lost on Jeff Soffer, the resort’s chairman and CEO.
“It could be a very good book or movie,” Soffer says of the dramatic sequence of events surrounding one of the greatest comeback stories in the history of the hospitality business.
Intended to be the sister property of the legendary Fontainebleau Miami Beach hotel — the southeast stomping grounds of Rat Pack legends like Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr, regarded as America’s first mega-resort — the Fontainebleau Las Vegas broke ground under Soffer’s direction in 2007. He acquired the land in 2000.
The hotel tower topped off in 2008. By the following year, banks collapsed, funding dried up, lawsuits were filed and construction stopped. What was planned as the tallest tower in the state of Nevada, at 67 stories, remained in limbo for 12 years, 70 percent complete. It stood as a costly reminder of the Great Recession, which hit Southern Nevada hard. The unfinished edifice was regarded as an eyesore by those who encountered it day in and day out. Many believed it would never be finished and eventually torn down.
Several owners came and went before Soffer and Fontainebleau Development, in partnership with Koch Real Estate Investments, reacquired the property in 2021. Plans were unveiled, construction started up again and the 3,644-room resort will finally open December 13, 2023, ahead of Fontainebleau Miami’s 70th anniversary, in 2024.
“You could be the best businessman in the world but if you don’t have good timing …” says Soffer of the project’s long dormancy. In the end, though, “everything just sort of lined up.”
When Soffer found out Fontainebleau Las Vegas was back on, one of his first calls was to Miami-based hospitality entrepreneur and restaurateur David Grutman, who was moments away from signing a long-anticipated deal with another Las Vegas casino-resort.
“He said, ‘do not sign this deal. I’m going to get the Fontainebleau Las Vegas back. I’m going to need you,” recounts Grutman, whose celebrity-favored venues in Miami include the Goodtime Hotel, the nightclub LIV, and restaurants Komodo, Papi Steak, Strawberry Moon, Swan, Gekkō and The Key Club.
“It had taken me two years to get to that point — my deal was done, ready to go,” says Grutman, who worked on the original Fontainebleau Las Vegas plans 16 years ago. But [Soffer] was the man that gave me my chance. My first bartending job was at his father’s restaurant in his mall. When I went to open my first nightclub, he made me his partner in 2008 at LIV. He gave me a platform to do what I do. There’s only one guy in the world that could make me not sign that deal and it was Jeff Soffer.”
Through a strategic partnership, Grutman’s Groot Hospitality will bring Fontainebleau Miami Beach’s nightclub LIV and two of his restaurants, Komodo and Papi Steak, to the desert when the $3.7 billion Vegas resort debuts. LIV Beach dayclub will be a new addition to the portfolio, opening in spring 2024.
These venues will be Vegas super-sized. This will be the third location for Southeast Asian restaurant Komodo — after Miami and Dallas. According to “Restaurant Business Top 100” ranking of the largest independent restaurants, the Miami location was No. 1 in the country in 2022 with $41 million in sales and 285,000 meals served. Papi Steak is fronted by the charismatic David “Papi” Einhorn, whose white-gloved Louis XIII-loving antics have become this era’s hallmark of South Beach indulgence, along with the massive slabs of meat in his signature “Beef Case.” Inspired by the Marsellus Wallace briefcase in Pulp Fiction, the Beef Case is like bottle service for a steak. When someone orders a $1,000 55-ounce Wagyu Tomahawk, they get a 60-second show with sparklers, an entrance song, lasers, all to present the slab of meat in a gold-lined, bedazzled briefcase. These over-the-top spectacles equate to big business: It is estimated that Papi Steak, which seats just 93, grossed more than $24 million last year. The Las Vegas version will be nearly three times the size of the original. Grutman’s restaurants are frequented by celebrities including David Beckham, Drake, Rihanna, Tom Brady, Anitta, Maluma, Justin Bieber and more. Both Komodo and Papi Steak will be among 36 new restaurants and bars opening at Fontainebleau Las Vegas. Situated on just 25 acres, a compact footprint for a Las Vegas casino, the resort is vertically integrated — the casino has 42-foot ceilings — with the restaurants and other amenities set apart from gaming action.
“Las Vegas has matured a lot since I originally started this project,” Soffer says. “People want to see, be seen and be entertained. LIV and LIV Beach will not be the biggest [nightclub and dayclub] in Vegas but they will have the best experience.” Soffer also notes that everything about Fontainebleau Las Vegas will exhibit the highest standards of luxury.
LIV opened in Miami in 2008, the same year that XS debuted at Wynn Las Vegas, ushering in the era of the megaclub. The EDM DJ boom would follow. The two cities have long run neck and neck, Vegas getting the edge over Miami with new versatile venues, the luxury of space and especially the multi-billion-dollar casino business driving the club industry, which fuels those $60 million DJ paydays. Since Resorts World opened in 2021, a new resort hasn’t been constructed on the Strip. LIV will embody how the Las Vegas audience wants to consume its entertainment now.
Soffer and Grutman settled on a stadium-like design by superstar architect/designer David Rockwell without a bad seat or obstructed sightline in either LIV, the multi-level 50,000-square-foot nightclub with 62 tables, or the adjacent LIV Beach, the 35,000-square-foot dayclub. LIV Beach is everything you find at the nightclub, just add water and sunshine, with six bungalows with private pools.
Both clubs will be built around the DJ and stage tables, intended to be the most coveted seats, which will go for up to $25,000. Yet unlike at most Las Vegas clubs, where the general admission crowd doesn’t even get to see the DJ booth — and the best views are reserved for those purchasing five-figure tables — at LIV, the average patron will congregate in the middle of the action. Both LIV and LIV Beach will have a capacity of about 2,000 people, half of the Strip’s standard.
“I’m in the fun business and we’re throwing a party, and I want you to be part of that party whether you’re at the bar downstairs or upstairs, or you’re at a skybox, or you’re at a table that’s next to the DJ,” Grutman says. He also promises to do something different musically with a “new fresh run of DJs that have made a lot of noise around the world but haven’t made that kind of noise in Las Vegas.” Undoubtedly, they will also scoop up headliners from other nightclubs around town.
“There isn’t a more cutthroat hospitality city in the world than Las Vegas. We don’t really have an inch to mess up,” Grutman says.
A version of this story appears in the Sept. 20 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.