The man comes around
An interview with Beauty Bar owner Paul Devitt
Wed, Nov 11, 2009 (7 p.m.)
Photo: Scott Den Herder
And the Beauty Bar’s new manager is ... the chain’s New York-based owner? Okay, so he insists it’s only temporary, but head honcho Paul Devitt has holed up at a Downtown casino, with plans to run his Las Vegas location firsthand as it nears its fifth anniversary this spring. He takes over for outgoing GM Joe Garcia, who leaves the bar/music venue after a year at the helm and a long run as head soundman before that.
First, why you?
This is out of necessity. Joe’s leaving, and the place needs a little attention. I figure the best thing is for me to do it myself for a little while.
How long do you plan on living here and running the place?
At least through December, and probably through January. I’m hoping to find a new manager by January.
How would you assess the job Joe did managing?
He had a pretty good run, I think. He brought a lot of good shows to the place and a lot of good events. I think his biggest strength was his booking, finding the acts that make sense here. He knows the scene, he knows the town, he knows the musical taste.
What are you hoping for in a new manager?
Somebody local would certainly help. And somebody who’s not just a manager, but a host as well. I think it’s important that a place has an identity, and that there’s somebody that people know and want to drink with and party with.
In the short term, how will concert booking work?
We'll keep working with the independent bookers that book a lot of our stuff, and I've also booked venues before. But in January, February, you can’t really do that much because of weather and our outdoor stage. So we’re gonna see what we can do to get people in without live bands, necessarily—just as a place to hang. That’s what Beauty Bar is, or always was. In New York we’ve never had a band, never charged a cover in 15 years. In San Francisco we’ve never had a band. It's just a hang.
What’s the biggest challenge facing this Beauty Bar?
You can’t operate a successful business on one or two things a week. A place has to have constant, steady business, and that’s kind of been the mystery for us here ... This is not my most successful Beauty Bar, I can tell you that.
Is it your least successful?
No, I wouldn’t say that either.
What can you do to make your crowds more consistent?
I’m not sure ... More creative booking, maybe, different types of music to try to draw different crowds. I think we’re gonna do an indie-Latino night in the future. Just trying to be creative, I think, is the key. And maybe making the place a little more comfortable—have an area where people can sit and it’s not so loud that they have to yell. We need to try to figure out what brings people down to hang out and drink and spend money. That's why I‘m here, to see if we can do something like that, to see if it’s even possible.
Should anyone read into your arrival that you're assessing whether Beauty Bar Las Vegas is still viable, and that the place could leave town when you do?
This is still something I believe in. I still believe in Downtown; it’s never lived up to its potential—the hype that was surrounding it when I first came down here—and certainly the economy has put a big damper on things. But I think things will change. I still think there could be something very great down here. I still think Downtown is the heart and soul of Vegas. So nothing will change with us. We’re just gonna keep plugging and see what happens.
Why don’t you think East Fremont has succeeded the way you’d hoped when you moved in?
I think that’s mostly due to the landlords. They don’t understand that they need to give people very strong incentives to come down here. Is it better to have a place empty for four years or to have somebody paying $1-a-foot for those four years until they get going? Nobody’s gonna come down here and pay $3-, $4-a-foot and be successful.
Have the other Downtown bars helped create a better atmosphere?
When the Griffin and Downtown [Cocktail Room] opened, all that did was divide up the people that were coming down here; it didn’t bring any more people down, in my opinion. So now, the 1,000 people-a-week coming down spend their money at three places instead of one. There needs to be more things going on down here to get more people down here—restaurants, a coffee shop—and that hasn’t happened. The little strip down there should be a very viable entertainment district, but just having 12 bars is not the answer.
[Plus] everybody else can just open their doors; they don’t have the overhead and the extra security and the sound guy and the sound system—all these fun things that cost money—and they don’t have to take the risk on the shows. A lot of shows lose money. I think we’ve painted ourselves into a corner a little bit as just a venue. People picture it as just a venue and only come here for certain things, where in order to survive it needs to be both a venue and a place to just go hang out, which is what we were when we started.