Jason Strauss of Marquee Singapore: "As far as we know, there has not been a ferris wheel in a nightclub"
Towards the end of our 15-minute conversation, I asked Jason Strauss to show me his go-to dance move. He paused, sheepish but uncertain. "Everyone has a go-to dance move," I offered, hoping to get this nightlife veteran to show off before he attends his first Ultra Music Festival Singapore that weekend. "I don't know if I have one," he laughed, before proceeding to demonstrate. "I think there's a very unique New York City style hand-in-the-air move I probably know. It's a mixture of a wave and fist pump."
At 44, the term 'veteran' might be used a tad loosely, but not when you've been in the business for more than two decades, like the native New Yorker has. Next year will prove to be another milestone to him, as the co-founder of TAO Group launches his second nightlife establishment in Singapore, Marquee. If that name sounds familiar, then congratulations — you're part of the mainstream masses who submit to EDM and pop, bottle service-style clubs and celebrity residencies and appearances for a good time. Not that there's anything wrong with that. It's this highly successful formula coupled with top notch service and larger-than-life trimmings that has made the likes of Strauss and his nightlife empire successful in Las Vegas, New York and Sydney.
As far as Asia's concerned, Marquee Singapore is going to be Strauss' only focus. "There's been extreme interest in Europe and in other American cities for Marquee, but for now we have no plans for anything else," said Strauss. This dedication will result in a club spanning three floors, with 70 feet-high ceilings and a full-sized ferris wheel. Yes, a ferris wheel. Taking residence in one of the theatres at Marina Bay Sands, the club is designed by Rockwell Group, the same guys behind the Marina Bay Sands Casino and W Singapore Sentosa Cove. Marquee Singapore comes after their first collaborative venture, the "vibe dining" restaurant LAVO, a place where you'd chomp down on a slab of Porterhouse as dinner conversation competes with thumping beats from a DJ.
When I met Strauss, he was dressed slickly in a blazer and tee, bearing a suaveness you'd expect from a smooth-talking entrepreneur. The Boston University graduate has certainly come a long way from his humble beginnings in America's nightlife industry. Along with business partner Noah Tepperberg, the duo have bussed tables, handed out flyers, tended bars and even dabbled in events management and marketing in college. After raising their own money, they opened the first Marquee 16 years ago. "We found this garbage truck garage in a very undeveloped neighbourhood in New York City, and bet our entire careers and our young energy that we could make a nightclub there," shared Strauss. "People felt we were crazy with that neighbourhood because there was nothing there."
Now, that neighbourhood — on 28th and 10th — is booming with The High Line and condominiums that command the best prices in Manhattan. Strauss, along with Tepperberg and other partners Marc Packer and Rich Wolf established Marquee in New York City in December 2003. It's been called "The Starbucks of Nightclubs" and has been the subject of a Harvard Business School case study, but it's also hosted Maxim Super Bowl parties and Victoria's Secret angels. Resident artists have included industry bigwigs such as Travis Scott, French Montana and Paul Oakenfold, but they're also known for promoting artists who are on the rise. Avicii's first American show in a nightclub was held at Marquee New York. "Who knew how explosive and talented a career that performer and artiste had?" recalled Strauss, remembering the late DJ who passed on in April.
There was also a time when Strauss brought in Calvin Harris, way before his collaborations with Ellie Goulding, Rihanna and Dua Lipa put him on the map. "In Vegas, we used to have Calvin Harris perform at our small club, LAVO, when he just had one song," remarked Strauss. "He was playing on a Wednesday night because we didn't think he was strong enough to fill a weekend."
Doing the legwork
After handling the deal with Marina Bay Sands, Strauss and his team set out to put together the management and marketing teams. While he's based in Las Vegas, the TAO managing partner wants to make sure that the DNA and culture of Marquee is brought to Singapore with sensitivity. To involve himself in day-to-day operations, he plans to engage in phone meetings and regular visits — Tepperberg will be in Singapore in two months' time, while Marquee's top executives and vice presidents will visit during Formula One season in September. Their DNA is steeped in great service, a top notch sound and technological experience as well as a roster of the most relative and relevant performers — they recently had Bruno Mars perform at Marquee Sydney's sixth anniversary. While they have not fully set out Marquee Singapore's programming, they'll be monitoring where the market is in a couple of months to decide who are the top traffic-driving performers to bring in.
Strauss himself was last here in December to open LAVO and also check out what nightlife in Singapore had to offer. Was he spying on other clubs? "'Spying' is probably not the word," replied Strauss, "more like absorbing the culture here to see what worked, what didn't work and making friends in the industry and people that are key connectors, culturally." He counts the people at Zouk as his friends, though he didn't specify who. "We're always impressed with them," said Strauss about the largest club in Singapore. "But much like Las Vegas, if we continued to bring another nightlife experience in Singapore, it lifts all boats. People don't want to go to the same place every night." According to Strauss, seven to eight nightclubs in Las Vegas bring in revenue more than any nightclub in the United States, all in one street. "We all do very well by feeding off each other," he continued.
What to expect
Big name clubs have been housed in Marina Bay Sands before, opening to much fanfare only to shut down a few years later. Steve Adelman's Avalon debuted in 2011, bringing over hype from the original Hollywood brand, only to cease operations as a nightclub after reports of being in the red were made public. Launched that same year, Michael Ault's Pangaea was the place to party with the rich and famous, albeit privately — the over-the-top club even sold 'The Jewel of Pangaea', a cocktail that cost $32,000. By 2015, part of its bottle-service clientele had moved on to newer establishments such as Bang Bang at Pan Pacific Hotel.
To succeed, Marina Bay Sands' latest collaborator had to come in with more than just a good reputation. "When we came to Singapore, we knew we had to really be a game changer," commented Strauss. "We had to put an element of experience that the world had never seen. As far as we know, there has not been a ferris wheel in a nightclub." The said eight-pod ferris wheel will do more than raise a few brows. Taking advantage of Marquee Singapore's high ceilings, each pod will host a different experience. Some will be equipped with photo booth capabilities.
You can also count on many 'Instagrammable' moments. "With social media, no longer is it okay to go to a nightlife experience where you see familiar faces," said Strauss on current nightlife trends. "They want to see familiar faces but want to be wowed in some sort of visual capacity." Currently, Strauss and his team are building a new nightclub at The Palms Casino in Las Vegas, where, according to him, "people are just going to stop, drop their mouth and take a picture because you have no choice." You can expect a similar reaction in Singapore, where a lot of attention has been paid to design. Enter the ferris wheel, and other experiential moments the team hasn't disclosed.
Finally, I asked Strauss what gets him on the table, Instragram-worthiness aside. "I really like what Post Malone is doing," he gushed. "I like the energy of Travis Scott. Kaskade is always one of my favourites — I grew up on his music. I never get bored by him."