And Rocco Ancarola, Who Makes it all Possible
By Pamela Jacobs.
It’s been called “One of the 10 Most Unique Dining Experiences in NYC,” and has hosted the likes of Jennifer Lopez, Jamie Chung, and Flo Rida. It’s part dinner theater, part dance party, part sexy theme soiree. It’s Riviera Sundays at LAVO, and it’s made Sunday the hottest night of the week.
So what makes the Sunday experience at LAVO so memorable? In part, it’s the food: delectable cuisine, with dishes ranging from Imperial Wagyu carpaccio with black truffle vinaigrette to a selection of handmade Kobe beef meatballs and grilled branzino panzanella. It’s also the performers: professional dancers (ballet, belly, and burlesque, to name a few) who are true artists. And there are plenty of other reasons why guests are crazy about this enthralling event—for which the theme changes every week. But really, it’s all thanks to Rocco Ancarola, the man who created it, hosts it, and makes sure every single detail of it is perfect.
Born in South Africa to Italian parents, Rocco came to New York as a young man to pursue his dream of acting—a dream he’d had since the age of five. He immediately took acting classes, studying with some of the most legendary, iconic acting teachers, including Shelley Winters at the Actor’s Studio. This led to roles in commercials, a short stint in Los Angeles (during which he starred in the Madonna “Oh Father” music video), and an audition for the role as a maître d’ in Wall Street, after which Oliver Stone said to him, “wow, you’re really good!” and offered him the part.
At the same time, while working as a young actor in NY, LA, and back again in NY, Rocco worked as a waiter in various restaurants, including Mezzaluna, and in some of the hottest nightclubs in the city. He opened his first restaurant, Ciao Bella, on the Upper East Side (“The Upper East Side was the it place to be back then,” he recalls, laughing “we didn’t even know what Tribeca was.”), which stemmed from his experience in the restaurant business and having grown up watching his Italian father lovingly prepare food.
From there, he created a unique concept—a restaurant/nightclub with world cuisine, which he named Boom; It was an instant success and regularly won awards. including the John Mariani Esquire Award for Best New Restaurant in the U.S.A.
“I’m a guy who gets very bored,” he shares. “I have to dance on tables. So I started dancing on tables, and there I am, dancing on tables while people are having dinner.” This, he says, became a phenomenon, and in many ways, his signature. This love for the party, the excitement of it all, led to Rocco opening Pink Elephant, which was undoubtedly one of the hottest nightclubs in the world, and included several Hamptons and international outposts. At the same time, he was throwing parties all over the world—in Rio de Janeiro, Punta del Este, Mexico City—and a millennium New Year’s bash in Havana that people were literally banging down the gates trying to get into. Rocco and his parties were worldwide phenomenons, frequented by celebrities and international A-listers, adored by the world’s biggest names in nightlife. He first started offering live music at Boom, and Lenny Kravitz was a regular. Prince would come every week, and one night he decided to play, borrowing the electric guitar a Brazilian singer had brought.
Boom was where the Sunday night party concept was born as well—he saw the need for a party that offered restaurant and nightclub industry people a night out, as well as a night that was filled with local New Yorkers (devoid of the bridge-and-tunnel crowd).
This reputation, experience, and ingenuity was why the TAO Group people—who own LAVO—first approached Rocco, asking him to join them in the business and host Sunday night parties. He brought his love of theatrics, his passion for Fellini movies, his desire to be different, and his years of success, and created Riviera Sundays, incorporating music and dance from all over the world and bringing Broadway-level talent to the dining experience. It took off immediately and has grown since its beginnings; now there’s a costume designer, a makeup artist, a talent recruiter, and a different theme every week, chosen by Rocco. It’s a true extravaganza.
And while the LAVO Riviera Sundays won’t be ending anytime soon, Rocco is adding plenty of new ventures to his roster. He’s currently working on a book about his experience in the restaurant business, as well as a movie—a love story about his parents.
This continuing drive can be attributed to many things—not the least of which was a health scare a few years ago that brought him near death, a tear in his aorta that his surgeon told him was practically impossible to survive. Now, he says, “I don’t take life for granted; we are not invincible. I’ve always been a church-going person, but now I go every Sunday, and I thank God every day.” He goes on to say that he “got a second chance in life. There’s a reason I ‘m alive. I want to help people.” This includes telling his loved ones to take care of themselves, and working with various charities, including the American Heart Association.
It also, of course, includes showing people from all over the world the time of their lives, each and every Sunday night.
For more information: lavony.com/Riviera-Sundays