Since moving from Argentina to Los Angeles over two decades ago, Adolfo Suaya has envisioned a better LA where food and fun are interchangeable and nightlife means more than celebrity sightings. Having opened over 15 exciting bars and restaurants in Los Angeles like Gaucho Grill and Bar Delux, Adolfo is moving on to The Surly Goat and a Peruvian and Japanese fusion restaurant called Osaka. Read what this nightlife Renaissance man has to say about “disco bars,” the fall of the nightclub and what he predicts for 2010.
Clubplanet: How have the criteria for a successful restaurant changed since 1986 when you opened Gaucho Grill to your new project The Surly Goat?
Adolfo Suaya: Just imagine 23 years ago there was nothing in Los Angeles, it was like a ghost town. It was a town full of people with nothing to do and nowhere to eat, nowhere to go. No clubs, no bars, just very little. And Gaucho Grill was a restaurant with something more to do than just a restaurant.
When I started there was nothing, then there was so much, too many restaurants, too many clubs, to many lounges, to many new restaurants! We didn’t have time to have people come check out the restaurant because there was a new one opening a week later. It was almost like the real estate bubble. The same thing with nightlife.
CP: Do you think it’s harder to have a successful restaurant now?
AS: Well back then there was so much; it was impossible to make it. People would open restaurants and wonder if they were good enough, but the problem was just that the customer could easily go somewhere else.
Imagine, you could put a salad with chicken and it was brilliant! You’d go to a club, then three months later there was a new one.
Now what I want to do is go back to basics, start all over again like it was in the '80s and open little bars where there is nobody at the door, you can just come in. Open restaurants that cater to everybody like BoHo, not just the trendy crowd.
CP: Do you feel like restaurants are becoming the new nightclubs in LA for celebrity hangouts?
AS: No, not at all. I think there’s going to be more small bars than nightclubs.
CP: Tell me about The Surly Goat.
AS: I wanted to open a place really for everybody. It’s a place where people can come and just have a beer and hang out with friends, for $15, $10, $5. Then go home.
CP: Everybody is talking about The Surly Goat being the “beer heaven” for Los Angeles. The selection is amazing, and your working with Ryan Sweeney.
AS: We are still working out some stuff but people are coming, they are coming and they get together and they like it. They come and have a beer, and get a drink, listen to a little bit of music. It’s not a big deal anymore, going to a club. It was a whole deal… and we did it! Everybody did it so much. I am not saying clubs are going to die. They are still going to be there, I'm not sure if it’s a real business anymore. Not for me, at least.
CP: New places like La Descarga, The Varnish, they are really putting the emphasis on good food and quality cocktails.
AS: Cocktails are very big right now. We learned about food in Los Angeles around 2000, now we are learning about cocktails. We want good ice, we want good glasses, good liquor, we want someone to spend a little more time on the drink. We used to drink cranberry and vodka, and I think we are over that now.
CP: Has the mixologist taken over?
AS: No no, I think that’s done too. In LA it’s a little different. I would call it old school drinks that are popular now, when you have a bartender with a jacket, and he makes you a drink and it really works, the drink. But mixologists mix pomegranate with jalapeño and watermelon. I’m not sure I will be doing that. I just want to make good drinks with good liquor
CP: How is Osaka coming?
AS: It’s coming! It’s coming. We have been in construction for two-and-a-half years. But we didn’t want to rush, I knew this was coming and I didn’t want to open one more restaurant when everybody was doing it. And now it has slowed down just a little bit.
CP: I hear rumblings of a “disco bar” at Osaka, what is that?
AS: Osaka is going to have incredible drinks. We have two bars in Osaka, one is a disco bar with Peruvian tequila in the patio, and then there’s a bar in the main room that will have drinks from South America.
CP: Anything like that in LA right now?
AS: No, nothing. I am bringing something very unique that I think people will enjoy very much. Very light, very tasty, it’s Japanese and Peruvian fusion. A lot of lime, a lot of cilantro, chilies, jalapeños and fish.
CP: Do you think people want to really sit down and enjoy a meal now, and because of the economy get more bang for their buck with their dining experience?
AS: Absolutely. Basically, no bullshit. Don’t think because of a celebrity I'm going to come to a restaurant and get ripped off. People are tired of it. Everybody wants real now.
CP: Now customers are able to talk online about restaurants and bars and give their opinions. What’s the impact?
AS: So it's three things: one, too much is too much, two, the recession and three, the internet that is impacting restaurants. The internet is big. I wouldn’t see a movie unless it had at least a 60 on rotten tomatoes! People tell you the truth and people don’t lie.
CP: You said when you create a restaurant you refuse to give chefs complete creative control of the menu because they create over complicated food, what do you mean?
AS: Now I just give complete creative control… but believe me I don’t sleep at night. It’s the toughest thing in the world. You just have to let it go, it's like a baby when they start walking you just got to let them walk. If you don’t do that you end up with a restaurant that is one half whatever, the other half whatever else. You just have to let the chef do whatever they want. It’s the same with the designer. I just give the designer a key and the money! I used to design my own places but I don’t do that anymore. You trust somebody or you don’t, then god help us all afterwards.
CP: Tell me your predications for 2010.
AS: I believe in value, I made my money with value. I want to go back to basics and I really want to give back to people. Wait till you see my new menu for BoHo, its going to be so good, its going to rock the world, and inexpensive! It's value. I’m giving really big plates of food and worrying about the money later.