Block 16 and Billy Richardson are building an empire—with burgers
Wed, Aug 1, 2012 (8 p.m.)
Photo: Steve Marcus
It might have seemed unlikely for Block 16—the Las Vegas-based hospitality company behind wildly popular restaurants LBS Burger Joint, Pink’s Hot Dogs, Holsteins, the Barrymore and Public House—to assume control of Gallery Nightclub at Planet Hollywood. But it’s not so strange if you know Billy Richardson. The Vegas native, Block 16 principal and quietly successful innovator appreciates Vegas life almost as much as he relishes coming up with new concepts to satiate tourists’ (and locals’) never-ending appetite for fun.
Was getting back into the nightlife industry always the plan? No. We had invested in Gallery before, as Privé, and we kept our interest into Gallery and then acquired it two months ago. If you asked me two months ago if we were getting back into the nightclub business, I would have told you no. But it’s Planet Hollywood, a great hotel that’s always busy and fun, and we are tinkering around with it and trying to figure out what our niche is.
How’s that going? It’s a learning experience, but we’re having a good time. A lot of locals and people in the industry are starting to show up for industry night on Wednesdays. We are really just figuring out where we fit in the marketplace of every other nightclub. When I did this last, there were four nightclubs. Now there are 50.
That makes you sound old. I am old.
You’re not, but you grew up in the business. Your dad worked with the company that acquired Circus Circus, built Mandalay Bay and Monte Carlo, and eventually sold to MGM. When I got out of school and was figuring out what to do, they were doing a big remodel at Luxor, ripping out that Egyptian boat ride and trying to decide what to do. I said, “Let’s do a nightclub.” Everybody said, “Why?” At the time there was the Drink, Utopia and Club Rio, maybe the Shark Club and a couple other small places and that was it.
That’s when you opened Ra at Luxor, and also when Studio 54 opened at MGM Grand. Studio 54 opened the week before we did. Now, I’m sitting there at 24 going, oh God, everyone knows that name. That’s the most famous nightclub in the world. But we took our time and grew our culture, and people were different then. We all knew each other and everyone would support each other.
What came after that? I started doing development work at Mandalay Bay, and we created a restaurant called 3950 out of a space that was a clothing store. That’s where Stripsteak is now. And then we had the idea of doing a topless pool club, which became Moorea Beach. We just thought, what if we did something like in St. Tropez, a real experience where you go and it’s your own pool? Is it like the pool parties now? No, that wasn’t our intent. But now I wish we would have thought of that, creating an outdoor nightclub.
Your restaurant at the Royal Resort, the Barrymore, has kind of an old-school clubby vibe to it. Yeah, it’s my favorite place. It’s kind of our local place, too, because it’s near the Strip but not really on the Strip.
Which of your venues is your favorite place to eat? Oh, man. That’s tough.
Is it like having children, where you have to pretend you don’t have a favorite? Yeah. It would have to be LBS. That’s our first joint, the one that started this whole thing. It’s right by my house, too.
I really like the Flyin’ Hawaiian burger at LBS. That’s named after my buddy Shane Victorino [who now plays for the Los Angeles Dodgers]. That was on the menu a long time ago, when he won the World Series. It went away, but we brought it back. Now that we have a couple different burger places, with Holsteins we can slide things around, change the menu and see what works in different places.
The menu at Public House in the Venetian isn’t what people expect. How has it gone over? We wanted to do something different there, a real gastropub. The first couple months, especially getting so many convention people there, they didn’t understand some things. They thought Welsh rarebit was rabbit. We had to explain that it’s beer and cheese and bread, and it’s really good. So we’ve changed it in the way that we’ve reworded some things, made it more simple and also changed it seasonally with which ingredients we’re using.
What’s next for Block 16? We would like to do more concepts in town while growing our brands. We’re exploring Downtown, looking for the right area. We’re also negotiating with the Linq project to do something there.
Something new? Of course. Why would we do something the same? Pizza will be the next concept. There will be other stuff going on and a great beer component, and we are still working out the details. But it will be pizza.