“We like to say the show starts at the ropes,” says Tao Group Director of Design Susan Nugraha, and she’s not kidding: From dragon door knockers to lush custom fabrics and light fixtures, the N.Y.-based dining and nightlife entity has executed a dazzling, incredibly detailed overhaul of the 34,000-square-foot former Excalibur nightclub, transforming it into a sensual palace of Asian-inspired cool. Sophisticated pan-Asian fare and exotic libations have helped make it the season’s must-hit spot, but the eye-popping design is what makes the place sparkle. Nugraha shares with us six reasons why.
1. “British urban artist Hush is a good friend of Tao Group, and we collaborated with him on three installations for Tao Chicago. The one at the entrance is really special because it folds around this vaulted entry vestibule that we created. It’s like Hush’s women are greeting you. It’s just so captivating and it elevates the space.”
2. “You know those waving lucky cats you see in Chinese restaurants? We wanted to turn that into an extraordinary moment. We have a gold velvet-tufted wall at the nightclub reception, and against it are 125 cats painted matte black. So it’s this cool installation where they all wave at you at the same time as you enter the nightclub.”
3. “Everybody loves the Quan Yin— that’s our showstopper. We have a projection mapping of her entire body profile with custom programs that turn on in sequences of five minutes and are curated for each night. In one video, her eyes pan around the room; she winks a little to the left and to the right. Those are actually my eyes.”
4. “The disco bell is our custom ‘wow’ moment. It’s based on a Japanese prayer bell and hangs on the nightclub ceiling with a custom disco ball inside that goes up and down. That’s a first for Tao.”
5. “The temple gate was sourced from China and is made of two sets of wooden doors melded together and framed with red arches. It’s an incredible entrance for guests as they travel down the alley to the nightclub space.”
6. “We like adding good luck charms to our spaces. In Chicago, we’ve attached brass dragonflies to walls and light fixtures randomly throughout the venue, like moths to a flame. The idea is that they live around the Tao palace."