Amy Sacco, pulling up to Bungalow 8 in 2005. Photo by Patrick McMullan.
In honor of our 9th annual Nightlife Awards taking place tomorrow night -- go vote for your favorite nominees HERE! -- we're looking back at some of the folks who took home awards in past ceremonies. From now until the 17th, we'll post a new story each day that tracks down the winners' exploits, closures and rebirths so you can find out what's been going on with your favorite DJ, door person or nightclub since they last witnessed you downing tequila shots and belting out Maximo Park lyrics at 4 a.m at Luke and Leroy's.
Next up: Amy Sacco, who took home the award for "Best Restaurant With a Club Atmosphere," in 2005 with Bette. By then, Sacco was already the queen of the then-booming West Chelsea nightlife scene thanks to the success of Lot 61, her late '90s club for art stars and celebrities alike, and her A-list haunt Bungalow 8. Named after her mother, who Sacco says instilled in her a love for cooking and entertaining for large groups of people, Bette opened in 2005 and enjoyed a well-received four-year run before closing in 2008. Shortly thereafter, Sacco shuttered Bungalow 8 in 2009 and moved to the UK. She returned to New York -- and New York nightlife -- last year as a consultant for LDV Hospitality, and as the creative director for LDV's post-Bungalow offshoot, No. 8. Here, she chats with us about Bette, the secret to a good restaurant, and rock star scientists.
Bette was meant to bet a sort of more grown-up answer to Bungalow 8, right?
Yeah, for me Bette was never meant to be about celebrities or nightlife. It was just supposed to be a place to go have a great meal with friends. Like a neighborhood local. It just always ends up that wherever I go, all the fun, crazy, nightlife-y, celebrity people follow. And I'm not saying that's a bad thing, but Bette was, for me, about being with friends and family. That's how I was raised -- I feel like that's the influence of my mom. I'm the last of 8 kids -- which is why 8 is always a big number for me in everything I did -- and with our whole family, and my parents, doing dinner every night at the dinner table was a big production. That's where you kind of really reconnected and everyone told their stories about their day and that's how you kept up with what everyone had going on in their lives. When you're out at night and it's louder and crazier, it's just hard to get that kind of connection with people. A lot of my friends also don't go out every night.
Right, at a certain point in your life you'd much rather be at a little neighborhood bar or restaurant than in a club.
Restaurants are more casual and relaxed. But I even tried to recreate that same feeling with Bungalow, by always trying have the same staff there, so that there was consistency. Same staff, same people -- "the usual suspects." And that's important, especially, like, for a woman to want to be able to go out alone and feel comfortable. You walk in and you know all the security, you know the bartenders, you know the managers and you're relaxed. You're not going to get hassled by some guy at the bar.
What items on your menu were the most popular?
The truffle french fries. I still get, like, sad-faced notes from people saying "I miss my truffle french fries".
Eric Asimov wrote a sad little goodbye to your wine list for the Times.
I didn't know that. Yeah, he loved to order the same bottle all the time. I can't remember what it was. We had an amazing wine list. I mean, I feel like that comes with an attention to detail that you get more in the restaurant business than you do with clubs. My formative years were spent in the restaurant business. When I was 13, I got a job at a cafe without telling my mom. And then when I moved to the city from Jersey I got a job at Bouley. And then I opened Lot 61 when I was 30, which was my quasi-hybrid between a restaurant and a bar.
Are there any stand-out nights from Bette?
There are so many. It was sort of the base camp for the New York Rangers after games. All the boys would come down and it would be like entertaining them almost, which was great because it wasn't a late-night space. So we had all the boys there: Sean Avery, Brendan Shanahan, Henrik Lundqvist, yada yada. Mick Jagger and L'Wren Scott were like two of our best patrons, they were big fans. And Barry Diller would ride his bike over.
Bette closed very abruptly. Was that something that was hard for you?
It was easier than you would think. Business is business, and to get emotionally attached is not good. The economic crunch was just so tough. It was a clobbering moment for everyone. But it was a place I had named after my mom, so that felt bad, and a friend of mine who is an amazing restaurateur reminded me that there's not anyone I know in this industry -- even someone famous or on television, from Jean-Georges to Gordon Ramsay, -- who's never had to close something at some point.
Amy Sacco with James Franco at No. 8 in August. Photo by Patrick McMullan.
Would you ever open a club again?
If I open anything with anyone, it would have to be with my partners now. They do all the heavy lifting. They do everything for me. So really for me, I just do creative direction. If I see something I think is amazing, I put it into the fold. I can come and go as I please. It's almost like receiving the Oscar of hospitality awards, to have LDV as my partner. I feel like now I get to really enjoy more about what I do, and let all the other stuff -- they deal with everything else. It's better than getting married.
Bungalow 8 was known for its advertised exclusivity with its "No Vacancy" sign and needing keys to get in. Do you think that sense of exclusivity is still an important part of making a club work?
It's a lot more work to keep people out. It's not about exclusivity for me; I only wanted -- and I only always want -- people that get it. You'd see my plumber there and you'd see George Clooney and they'd be hanging out telling jokes. It wasn't about "we're doing something fabulous," it was about wanting people around who were happy and relaxed and respectful. And I think that that's what made the celebrities comfortable. You didn't have everyone trying to take a photo of a celebrity or something.
But it didn't matter what someone did for a living, or if they were poor or rich, or if they were famous. If they were funny, nice and interesting, they were in, and they're still in. I mean scientists, after all, are our new rock stars. It's not about elitism. The sense of "exclusivity" came more from the people who heard about it, or were there to write about it, or were there to gawk. Those were the people who were there to criticize and complain. They weren't there to enjoy. It was just, "Oh, I worked so hard to get in this place, and everyone's just sitting around here." But that was the point! But letting people in that didn't already know it, and were recommended by someone -- that was when you always have a bad night. You'd get someone who couldn't handle their alcohol, or who'd get too excited over a celebrity or trying to pick up girls. People with creepy energy -- you try to avoid that. We just go by energy -- it's not about any kind of resume.
Did I hear you say scientists are the new rock stars?
I want to see Neil deGrasse Tyson hanging out at No. 8 one night.
Who would blame him?
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