Tribeca godfather moonlights as hotelier/restaurateur

Las Vegas — Sure, Robert De Niro is recognized for his work in the film biz, but he’s got a parallel career that’s just as thriving: that of restaurateur/hotelier.

De Niro is co-founder of the Nobu Restaurant Group, which has 26 pricey eateries on five continents, and recently launched its first Nobu hotel in Las Vegas. (Separately, De Niro helped develop the industry-fave, 88-room Greenwich Hotel in Tribeca.)

In Las Vegas, the $45 million-plus project transformed a 45-year-old tower within the Caesars Palace complex into the 181-room Nobu Hotel Tower, with 18 suites skedded to open in April, and a tricked-out penthouse suite set to bow in October.

On the tower’s ground floor, connecting to the hotel via a wood-block-paneled elevator lobby, is the largest Nobu restaurant to date: 327 seats and 12,775 square feet.

David Rockwell of New York’s Rockwell Group designed the interiors for hotel and restaurant. De Niro’s longtime business partner, chef Nobu Matsuhisa, is overseeing the eatery, the contents of the hotel minibar (Nobu sake makes an appearance) and a room service menu that features Matsuhisa’s original take on breakfast (green tea waffles and soba pancakes).

De Niro, in Las Vegas in early February to help open the Nobu Tower after three years of development, design and construction, says he sees hotels as a logical extension for Nobu, which launched the first restaurant in its chain in New York in 1994. De Niro says the group has increasingly been approached by investors to add locations, often in new hotels. “Obviously (a Nobu restaurant) adds cache, adds credibility, adds hipness, if you will,” he says.

De Niro is hardly a silent partner. He oversaw every detail of his Greenwich Hotel project — from the lobby’s antique rosewood tables to the selection of art books in the top-floor suites.

Both Nobu partners worked closely with Rockwell, who says the new hotel’s style reflects Nobu’s Japanese roots: Custom-made walnut, oak and teak furnishings have a contemporary Japanese aesthetic. The Zen-influenced simplicity plays off high-tech features that industryites admire, such as in-room check-in via iPad and a 55-inch Samsung HDTV. Another perk: guests of the hotel get preferred reservations at Nobu restaurant.

De Niro finds similarities between the hospitality and the film businesses.

“Doing a hotel is like doing a movie,” he says. “You have the management side, you have the money side, and there’s always the reminder from the producer, ‘We have this to spend on that.’ ” Cost controls are a constant; and the details add up in both professions. This summer, a second Nobu hotel will open in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. A resort version (50 suites, 2 villas) in St. Barts is scheduled to launch in November, with London on deck for 2014. Expect De Niro’s meticulous oversight in each locale.

“If we spend properly on the details, people are going to notice,” De Niro says, talking like a producer who wants the effects budget to be apparent onscreen. “They might not articulate it, but they notice that in a subconscious way.”

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