What are Tony Abou-Ganim's favorite cities?
I would have to say that number one is San Francisco. My formative years were spent there. I got rid of the winters of Michigan, so I guess my respect and understanding for food, for drink, for wine, for culture. I'm a motorcycle guy, and the motorcycle riding in and around San Francisco is fabulous. I think it's a city that offers a little bit of everything. People are great; the restaurant community is fabulous. I felt welcome there, and it felt like home from the minute I moved in. Truthfully, I never thought I'd leave until I got a call from Mr. Wynn to come to Las Vegas and do the program at Bellagio in 1998.
Chicago — I think if we could have spring and summer year-round, I'd be sold. I love Chicago. Again, a great restaurant community; a great bar community. There is, I think, a true love for our profession and the overall hospitality industry in Chicago. There are no prejudices, no arrogance. It's just really fun and the people are really real. I almost tried to buy a boat and live my summers in Chicago, but I found out how difficult it was to get slip to dock a boat in.
I love Las Vegas, I really do. I love the desert. I mean, it could be 115 [degrees] and I can be happy. Love the dry climate. I'm also a big bicycle rider, so I just actually came back from a 30-mile ride under the Red Rock Canyon, which is absolutely stunningly beautiful this time of year. The only thing I really miss here is a body of water. I feel very close to the bar community here in Las Vegas — coming in here in 1998 and being part of the resurgence, the renaissance of drinking in Las Vegas. I feel very proud and connected to that and to that community.
And I would say New York City. What's not to love about New York City? As Frank said, if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere. I had the pleasure of living there for a couple of years and experiencing it first-hand. I was the first bartender at Mario Batali's restaurant in 1998, so I was kind of ingrained in that restaurant community, that restaurant industry, obviously what Mario's gone on to do, but the people that came out of that restaurant, his partner Steve Crane and Jason Jensen. People have spun great careers out of that little 35-feet restaurant. Today, I'm a partner at a restaurant called Babbo Ristorante e Enoteca, so I'm in New York a fair amount. What's happened in the bar industry in New York City is now spread through the entire United States. There's probably not a major city in the United States that you cannot find a good cocktail bar in. I feel very excited and proud to be a small part of that. I think we're all drinking better because of it.
The next stop for me is Maui. I'm a warm weather guy. I like the thought of 82-degree weather year-round. I hope to learn to play golf and continue to ride my bicycle and maybe even do a little surfing — get back the water I've been missing since I've lived in Las Vegas. My retirement plan is to look for a nice little cocktail bar in Maui who is looking for a part-time bartender a couple nights a week who can make a pretty good Negroni, weave some tales, tell some stories, do what I love to do.