Meet New York's Nightclub Queen

Amy Sacco outside her restaurant Bette (Peter Hunt)
This article was written for CBSNews.com by Muni S. Jaitly.

If New York City nightlife were a pizza pie, Amy Sacco, 38, would have a slice all to her own.

The Jersey girl turned Manhattan 'Scene Queen', most famously known for her celebrity-studded club Bungalow 8 and restaurant Bette, told CBS News that she has visions of creating a 'lifestyle brand'.

"We're doing what we feel is appropriately fun. Everything makes sense for me, I only sell what I believe in," Sacco said in a telephone interview.

Bungalow 8, located in Chelsea, is the center of Sacco's mini-empire. The club, modeled after the enclave of the same name at the Beverly Hills Hotel Pink Palace, has turned into a celebrity playground of sorts since its opening in 2001.

On any given night at Bungalow, one might spot former President Bill Clinton, actress Lindsay Lohan, and singer Bono sipping drinks with Sacco, a striking 6-foot-1 blonde.

Sacco, who is known for wearing stilettos and designer dresses from the likes of Armani, Versace, and Gucci, is rarely seen at the club without some sort of drink; they're not always alcoholic.

Often mingling with her clients until the early hours of the morning (the club officially closes at four o'clock), Sacco walks to work. She usually starts the night at Bette, her Chelsea-based restaurant.

Ken Addington, 35, Bette's head chef, said Sacco loves to entertain. "She finds time to be involved… She knows her clientele and keeps giving suggestions on how to treat them."

Sacco, who lives in the same building as Bette, has said many times, "Lunch is for quitters."

An ideal candidate for a tell-all book, Sacco simply told CBS News, however, "I'm not into them."

Bungalow 8 has been called New York's 'celebrity watering hole', and Sacco New York's unofficial 'Scene Queen'. She is routinely boldfaced in Manhattan's gossip columns and blogs.

Over the years Bungalow has developed an allure amongst active city clubbers. This is due in large part to its cachet, exclusivity, door policy, and low-key facade.

There is no 'Bungalow 8' sign outside the club, which can easily be mistaken for a run-of-the-mill warehouse. Instead, a single neon sign flashes 'no vacancy'.

Occasionally the sign simply reads 'no', perhaps referring to the response most people get from Bungalow's doormen. Only VIPs, city socialites, Amy's close friends, and select referrals can get in. Certain clients have been granted VIP cards for immediate access.

Rumor has it the Three Musketeers were rejected some time ago.

Divya Narendra, a 24-year-old hedge fund analyst, has been to the club several times.

"For better or worse, Bungalow still maintains an air of exclusivity other nightclubs rarely achieve. Once you're in, you're in, but your friends are probably still waiting outside," he said.

Sacco said she likes to be fair with regards to who she lets into the club; a topic she has discussed with students at Yale.

Oftentimes she rejects people because her club is small (125 person occupancy). All the pushing and shoving, Sacco said, "Makes me nuts."

"Out of a long list it's hard to gauge who we let in… With too many guys it gets difficult for security," said Sacco. "We try to be as fair as possible."

Oftentimes Sacco, a former doorwoman, has to reject people herself. "They don't believe you and just stand there… I tell them that I'm actually the owner, they don't understand," she said.

Bungalow's interior is replete with palm trees and poolside murals. It's meant to resemble a sultry California bungalow.

The club offers its clientele a concierge, mini-bar, and portable phone service at each table. Around the corner from Bungalow is a helipad, which the club calls 'convenient'.

Since Bungalow's opening, several clubs have opened on the same block to critical acclaim (27th street between 10th and 11th avenues), including Cain and Marquee. "I never make an opinion of another club, they're all great people," Sacco said referring to a couple of Chelsea club owners.

As a result, 27th street is covered with street vendors, clubbers, tourists, and policemen most weekend nights. Groups can get unruly and waste generally accumulates. Authorities have recently added metal barricades and flood lights to monitor and control the huge crowds.

Sacco said of the street, "[it's] appalling, disgusting, vile... It makes me uncomfortable." She often has security guards pick up clients from the street corner.

Twenty-seventh street, however, remains a stalwart nightlife attraction in New York, and Bungalow one of its high profile tenants.

Owning a club like Bungalow, Sacco said, offers her the opportunity of a lifetime. To sit and learn from the Barry Dillers and Donna Karans of the world is, "…a treat and a treasure," she said.

The truth is Amy Sacco is modeling herself after the very marketing and business gurus in her rolodex. Sacco is working with beverage companies on brand representation and licensing. She has come a long way from her hometown of Chatham, New Jersey.

"Sometimes you pinch yourself," she said. "It's incredible."

Looking to expand overseas, Bungalow London, the European cousin to her New York establishment, is expected to open in early 2007. Sacco, who expects to be in London once a month, said that one of the benefits of being a club owner is that she has become immune to jet lag.

Sacco is exposing herself to new types of media. "Ultimate Cocktails" by Amy Sacco (Assouline Publishing) came out this July.

She has struck a deal with Sirius Satellite Radio. Disc jockeys from Bungalow 8 will soon be broadcasting live over Sirius airwaves.

It has been reported that an HBO comedy series, inspired by Sacco's life, is also in development. Sacco would serve as a consultant to the show.

"I see myself as someone trying to expand in a logical way... Whatever makes sense," she said.

With a dedicated management team and support staff in her arsenal, Amy Sacco is vigorously seeking to perfect 'people business' as she calls it. One can say this is a business Sacco has been involved with since early childhood; she is the youngest of eight children.

"She's self-made, nothing was handed to her… [Amy] works hard to make herself what she wants to be," said Addington.

Growing up in Chatham, New Jersey to a middle class family, Sacco's father was owner of Chatham Moving and Storage.

Her mother Bette was a full-time mom and big influence.

Sacco most closely identifies with her mother, whom she has named her Chelsea-based restaurant after. "My mother raised eight kids on her own and was cooking twenty-four seven. Our kitchen was like a diner," Sacco said. She used to help her mother host and cook dinner for family and friends, learning to entertain very young.

Sacco credits her mother for helping her to develop a signature style that has brought her so much success.

The restaurant Bette is a salute to Sacco's mother. She said her mother, despite a frenzied schedule, always found time for family and friends. Sacco's mother used to cook baked ziti dinners for the Chatham High School basketball team.

In stark contrast to Bungalow 8, which Sacco describes as a wedding party every night of the week, Bette is a place where people can turn to for conversation, a change of pace, and some chic design.

"Everyone has a world spinning each way... [Bette] is a place to share and listen," said Sacco.

Sacco said her mother brings her homemade soup occasionally. "Bette loves Bette," she said.

Sacco dreamed as a child of owning a restaurant and found work at several New Jersey restaurants after high school classes; she would cut vegetables in the kitchen.

She graduated from Johnson and Wales restaurant school (Providence, Rhode Island) in 1990. Soon afterwards Sacco took a job as a coat check girl and hostess at the famed Bouley restaurant in Manhattan. This is where Sacco, 22 at the time, met Gilbert Le Coze, the head chef at Le Bernardin.

The two fell in love and became engaged just four years later. The relationship tragically ended the same year when Le Coze, 49, died of a heart attack. He had a heart condition which he kept secret.

Sacco said she has moved on since losing the love of her life. "It's important to realize nothing's been around forever, that part is over… Take the memories." She said, "Gilbert would be proud."

After a mourning period, Sacco went back into the New York restaurant scene.

She joined the management teams of Vong and Monkey Bar. Her club experience in New York was brief.

Sacco spent many nights with friend and former Bouley hostess Yvonne Force Villareal, an art enthusiast. The two talked of making it big one day, and they pledged to help each other down the road.

After founding a curatorial consultancy, Villareal introduced some of her clients to Sacco in 1998.

Sacco raised $1.2 million from Villareal's contacts, enough to convert a former truck garage in Manhattan's then offbeat West Chelsea district into a restaurant/event space called Lot 61 in 1998.

Sacco's restaurant offered clients a menu of 61 flavored martinis. It was the first city restaurant to offer so many of them. Sacco, a self-proclaimed cocktail aficionado, experimented using mint, berries, herbs, and fruits with alcohol.

The restaurant was home to site-specific art, another first in New York. Sacco persuaded rising contemporary artists, like Sean Landers, to showcase their work at Lot 61.

A blizzard dampened hopes of a slambang grand opening, but close to 600 guests and several celebrities, including actor Denzel Washington, showed up.

After hosting an event for Giorgio Armani, Sacco knew her gamble had turned into a hit. Lot 61 made close to four million dollars in the first year of business. The key to Sacco's success: low rent and cachet. Humdrum West Chelsea was becoming fashionable.

Chelsea was the new frontier, and Sacco its soldier of fortune.

"I provide entertainment... I create an environment around me. The people that work for me do their millionth best... I believe in working with great people," said Sacco. Most of her management team and support staff has remained intact over the years.

Using her newly established connections and business skills, Sacco next opened Bungalow 8 in the Spring of 2001. She raised $1.4 million, with the help of some Fortune 500 investors, for a $28 per square foot Chelsea venue located in the middle of a scrap yard.

Bungalow was a hit; she relied on word of mouth for promotion.

Sacco has built a list of loyal clients, whom she calls friends, over the years. Every once in a while a client will introduce Sacco to a son or daughter, presumably future Bungalow goers. "They'll say 'watch out for this one Amy'," she said with a giggle.

Aside from her mother Bette, Madonna and Martha Stewart are two other prominent female figures that Sacco closely relates to.

Madonna because she pushes the envelope. "She's an incredible force of nature," Sacco said of the material girl. Martha Stewart because she is an entrepreneur.

Sacco has talked to media outlets in the past about 'Amy's world'; 'world domination' has even been mentioned. Sacco called all the talk tongue-in-cheek. "I own two bars and a restaurant... I'm in the entertainment business," she said. "I also like using my voice for good things and giving back, using my platform to make good things happen."

Sacco is associated with many charitable organizations including the Elizabeth Glazer Pediatric Aids Foundation, the Elton John Foundation, City Harvest, and the Wayu Taya Foundation. She would like to adopt an orphanage one day.

Will Amy Sacco's establishments last forever? Sacco is realistic. "Everything has an evolution period... There are fantastic places that last forever," she said.

Sacco will continue to concentrate and groom her small empire, ensuring her projects remain fresh in a world where restaurants and clubs easily fizzle. Sacco is spending more time at Bette.

"As you get older you want more quality time in life," she said in reference to the restaurant.

Sacco said she likes to check off a couple of items from her 'to do list' every year. She would like to see the pyramids in Egypt, see her friend's house in Brooklyn, and drive a gumball rally one day.

She would also like to meet interesting people along the way.

Several years back Sacco met Buzz Aldrin's wife at a Vanity Fair party. "She was stunning… Like Marilyn Monroe," Sacco said. She asked Mrs. Aldrin about life on Earth while her husband was in space preparing for lunar descent. "You must have had a panic attack," Sacco asked.

Mrs. Aldrin replied, "I'm really the second wife." Sacco was hysterical. "Now she belongs at my club."

By Muni S. Jaitly