Thursday, February 17, 2011

From the pages of AVENUE’s February issue…


Brazilian bottle rocket Jayma Cardoso has re-booted nightlife all over Manhattan, including the Upper East Side where her restaurant/club Lavo (in the former Au Bar space) has awakened the once sleepy neighborhood from a long disco nap. The hot spot now lures socialites, movie stars and even the occasional rap star to dine, drink and dance the night away. To find out how Cardoso juggles her clubland empire—which also includes GoldBar, Avenue and Montauk’s Surf Lodge—Alex Catarinella trailed along with the nightlife diva as she made the after-hours rounds.

New York is witnessing a nightlife re-birth—and it’s not just happening below 14th Street. The Upper East Side was once an after-hours hot zone with stylish spots like Au Bar, the Surf Club and Zulu Lounge keeping the well-heeled up way past midnight . . . even on Sundays. And now, with the opening of the enormous restaurant/nightclub Lavo, the neighborhood is giving downtown a run for its disco dollars.

Behind Lavo’s overnight success—the club has already hosted guests that range from fashion’s elite like Vera Wang, Zac Posen and Shoshanna Lonstein Gruss to social fixtures like Nina Griscom, Carlos de Souza, Mario Buatta and Tinsley Mortimer (not to mention AVENUE magazine’s 35th anniversary bash)—is 35-year-old club queen Jayma Cardoso.

It’s the Brazilian bombshell’s night off and she is kicking off her evening not at one of her massively successful hot spots—among them Lavo (in the old, subterranean Au Bar space), downtown’s rock n’ roll den GoldBar, tony Avenue (a favorite of both the hip Ronson family and the prep set) and Montauk’s rustic-chic Surf Lodge—but at fellow nightlife heavyweight Nur Khan’s Kenmare. “It’s not a small world,” observes one of the many night owls that comprise Cardoso’s good-looking entourage. “It’s just that Jayma knows everybody.” Indeed, and they all hang out at her trendy after-dark destinations.

Things move as fast as strobe lights in the nightlife scene, and Cardoso established herself as a disco diva in a speedy six years. Since then, her little black book of movie stars, pop singers, bottle-popping VIPs and downtown darlings has grown even bigger. Tonight, quite a few of them are huddled around our corner table at Kenmare with Cardoso at the head, of course. Pretty and petite, she wears little make-up and looks stylish in all black—a far cry from the fur vest, excessive bling and studded Louboutins you’d expect from, you know, the leading lady of New York nightlife.

Cardoso’s colossal takeover isn’t the result of some sort of silver spoon-fed upbringing. At 18, she fled Brazil for America. She was quickly hired, then fired, as a bartender at Soho’s Boom restaurant—it seems her nightlife debut was more of a bust than a boom. “They actually fired me as a bartender on my first day when they realized I was making cocktails that weren’t even remotely close to what guests had ordered,” Cardoso confesses with a smile. “Fortunately, they also noticed that none of the guests I mixed cocktails for were complaining. In fact, they seemed to be having a great time.”

With Cardoso’s magnetic combination of sexy South American flavor, warm enthusiasm and fiery charisma, she was re-hired as a hostess and later became a cocktail waitress. She found herself much more at home mingling among the clubbers than behind the bar. Fast forward a few years and Cardoso hooked up with Jamie Mulholland, transforming “a dilapidated taxi cab repair shop,” as she says, into what became the overnight success that was Cain, the Grey Goose-flowing second home to many naughty Hollywood starlets. The triumphant team continued with a Bahamas’ beach club (Cain at The Cove at Sol Kerzner’s Cove Hotel) and (partnering with Rob McKinley) Goldbar—the trendy rock ‘n’ roll lounge decked-out with a wall of gilded skulls and a clientele that includes everyone from punkers to PYTs like Dalia Oberlander, Luigi Tadini and Amanda Hearst. “Jayma brings her own Brazilian flair to New York,” says Hearst. “Every time I see her, I somehow end up with a caipirinha in hand.”

Then, three summers ago, came the birth of the insanely successful Surf Lodge in Montauk—the obvious next move after conquering the island of Manhattan. Although it is a long haul from Southampton, the Surf Lodge is a summer favorite of Calvin Klein, Andres and Lauren Santo Domingo, Andrew Saffir and Nina Garcia, plus Montauk locals like Bruce Weber and his traveling stable of beautiful young models. “Montauk for me seemed like home in Brazil, a little bit more raw,” Cardoso explains. “The beauty is its nature. It’s a true beach town and everyone’s lifestyle is built around the ocean.”

This September, it was back to her glitzy, urban nightclub roots with “the best operators in the business,” opening the nightclub-cum-restaurant Lavo, which launched the reinvention of the Upper East Side as a disco destination with a regular crowd that includes both socialites dripping in diamonds and rap stars with diamond-studded front teeth. Meanwhile, Avenue’s hold on the blue blazer boy’s club is unrivaled. In fact, sometimes the scene at Avenue looks more like The Racquet and Tennis Club on Park Avenue—if it weren’t for the abundance of leggy models dancing on banquettes.

Back at Kenmare with Cardoso, countless bottles of fine wine are being imbibed. She’s all smiles and charm, talking a mile a minute in her throaty Brazilian accent. Chatter amongst the table is like a lesson in nightlife etiquette 101. “So what if you know the owner, if you know everyone?” Cardoso asks. “You don’t have to kiss the doorman’s ass, but be genuine. People don’t realize that the door guy has a lot of power to bump up your night.” Cardoso even dishes some nightclub gossip, like one top-notch establishment allegedly requiring cocktail waitress weigh-ins.

Throughout the over-the-top meal, it’s a revolving door of who’s who of familiar faces. DJ and step-and-repeat fixture Mia Moretti, who’s commanded the Surf Lodge and GoldBar turntables on numerous occasions, stops by to chit-chat before her DJ set in the den below us, from which we can hear old-school songs like Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart” and Tina Turner’s “Proud Mary.” As the group finishes up a chocolate-drenched dish, Cardoso’s attractive and slightly soft-spoken fiancé, stockbroker Scott Campbell, joins the table. The undoubtedly exorbitant tab is apparently non-existent in Cardoso’s world, and around the corner to GoldBar we go. There, Cardoso hugs the doorman and cruises past him as if into her own living room—albeit packed with people and loud music.

Partying with (and like) a rock star into the early morning may be the norm, but being the perfectionist Cardoso is, sleeping in isn’t an option. After all, she is responsible for a burgeoning empire. “Nightlife is arguably one of the most taxing industries in our city,” says her close friend Tadini. “Jayma does it all while being a graceful hostess with endless charm. She is the embodiment of the ‘New York’ woman: high heeled, detail oriented, witty, ambitious, generous and worldly. We have partied together, raised funds for non-profits and shared many incredible moments in each others company.”

By day, Cardoso tries to squeeze in normal person activities (in her case, yoga) between overwhelming business meetings and BBM-checking galore, so long as she never neglects her motivational phone calls to Lavo’s promoters, amping them up for another frenetic evening. “I think people think we have this glamorous life—that we sleep all day,” she says. “But there’s so much work that gets done. It’s like orchestrating a show: You have to prepare all of the pieces before you see the whole picture.”

At brunch the next day, the typical (and ordinary) bottomless Bloody Mary and Eggs Benedict deal is nowhere to be seen. Instead, judging by the sea of fur-ensconced women lined up behind a velvet rope at 3 p.m., it’s clear that in Cardoso’s world, all is an unpredictable spectacle—not just after midnight. “Who are these people?” she laughs, welcoming a familiar face at the door. “These people” refers to an overwhelming collection of human beings: the cute cocktail waitresses in tight, black minis hoisting massive bottles of Rosé in which sparklers dangerously ignite, “dancers” in Santa garb (if Santa wore midriffs and no pants), a fishnets-wearing, glam-rock chick gyrating around on towering stilts and, yep, a show-stealing miniature Santa. It’s always a holiday when Cardoso is in charge.And then there’s the customers: high-rolling, über-straight corporate types releasing their Wall Street stress by aggressively fist-pumping from atop their booth seats to thunderous house mixes of Kylie Minogue and Lady Gaga. Cardoso, on the other hand, is working her way through champagne-spilling socials, enthusiastically engaging with tables and ensuring her VIPs—who’ve included Lavo regular Russell Simmons and Leonardo DiCaprio—are satisfied. Who wouldn’t be at this over-the-top bacchanalia? Forget the fact that the sun hasn’t yet set, wherever she is and wherever her name is attached is a lavish circus, and Jayma Cardoso is the ringleader. —Alex Catarinella


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