Owner Of The Smart-Set’s Favourite Bar Spills His Secrets
In Sloane Square, the epicentre of ‘smart’ London, lives a club that’s a little bit special. While the entrance is set in cosmopolitan West London, head downstairs and you’ve arrived at Day of the Dead themed Mexican jungle hideaway Tonteria. A firm favourite of Prince William, Pippa Middleton and the rest of them, at the helm sits partner Alain Dona. So I caught up with him to find out what makes Tonteria tick.
In a city where clubs are declining, and nightlife is changing what makes Tonteria stand out from the rest and remain so popular?
We always wanted to improve the product: that’s a key to our success. We always look at the current trends and understand our consumer audience. We are treating clients as our own family members in an approachable accessible way.
A few concepts have gone big and gotten major UK and worldwide press coverage within Tatler, Evening Standard, GQ and The Times like Do Not Disturb (a racy suggestive latex-themed night), TonteMania (a faux wrestling fight actually in the club) and Muertos Mondays (an Alice in Wonderland-twist on the Day of the Dead theme with the white rabbit and Alice).
The themes became so popular that Do Not Disturb did a pop up night at famed Matignon Club Paris for the Paris Fashion Week Closing Party and atop the Diva Skybar in Bahrain for a night time pool party. TonteMania was taken to launch the Formula 1 opening party at the Domain Hotel in Bahrain which was headlined by 50 cent’s DJ Whoo Kid.
Coming from a job as a waiter in the South of France, what is your advice to working your way up in the nightlife industry?
Enjoy your journey, the process and cultivate a strong long-standing network which can support you. I constantly network and have face-to-face meetings with my contacts. In a world of social media, I think this one-to-one personal touch is what makes relationships thrives and one’s network is a key to growth in a social industry like hospitality.
And your biggest piece of advice to budding entrepreneurs?
Always keep disciplined. Always think about the details and always put yourself in the consumers perspective.
What inspired the Day of the Dead theme in Tonteria?
Day of the Dead came organically because it’s a popular Mexican holiday in Mexico, Central America and South America that evokes creativity and a festival atmosphere. As you can see from James Bond’s Spectre Movie, the Dias de Muertos in Mexico City is a vibrant celebration honouring deceased love ones with symbols of the skull and actually the rabbit which sweet egg bread is made into the shape of. Hence, the further concept Muertos Mondays was made combining Alice in Wonderland and Dias de Muertos. TonteMania was actually inspired by Lucha Libra which is Mexican wrestling. We took that wrestling concept with a WWF-twist so that wrestlers would “smack talk” about each other into a microphone with funny scripts in front of Tonteria guests on a Monday.
Why are Mondays so popular at Tonteria?
Monday’s are so popular as we decided to create a signature night for our wealthy demographic and our industry friends who need a night off. It’s a very New York style vibe having a party on a Monday and we felt London was lacking that. Monday’s typically attract the super-rich who park their Lamborghinis and Ferraris outside.
Your most exciting moment of Tonteria?
The opening of Tonteria was the most exciting moment as it came as an achievement after all my years of work. With an extensive amount of time working as a VIP host and waiter in the South of France and Courchevel, this London nightclub opening was going to be the first venue I was going to be a partner in. The space was located in Sloane Square with nearby Knightsbridge and Belgravia so our client base was ensured to be quite smart.
What do you want the legacy of Tonteria to be?
Legacy – to be one of the best clubs and a globally recognised establishment in this competitive market. With numerous clubs opening and closing around the Chelsea area in the last 6 years, it is a testament to our great operating skills and customer service that our tiny Mexican tequila club has remained such a cool hot spot for people to come to.
What’s your most expensive bar tab?
This is a difficult question as we have a reoccurring client who comes alone with only two friends and regularly stands at the VIP bar ordering bottles of champagne for himself – to give you an idea a 70cl bottle of champagne in a nightclub can range up to £650. We have also had one business man from a very affluent family who came in with one friend at 2:00am one Thursday and ordered £30,000 worth of champagne for a sparkling show and he didn’t drink anything.
Which celebrities have visited Tonteria? Any good stories to tell?
We have a rule at Tonteria never to share stories about our A-list celebrities who come down which is why they keep coming back. We have a trustworthy relationship with our VIP’s, so they feel secure to come down so we don’t share stories.
Some our VIPs who have visited the club are Prince William, Prince Harry, Cressida Bonas, Pippa Middleton, Princess Eugenie, Princess Beatrice, Leonardo DiCaprio, Justin Timberlake, Will.I.Am, Brooklyn Beckham, Tom Hardy, Jesse J, Robin Thicke, A.P.L of Black Eyed Peas, Henry Cavill, Cuba Gooding Jr, Tom Holland, Axl Rose, Otis Ferry, Pussycat Dolls Ashley Roberts and Kimberly Wyatt, The Spice Girls’ Geri Halliwell, Lottie Moss, Tyson Beckford, and Nicole Scherzinger.
So we’re at Tonteria which cocktails should we order?
If you’re at Tonteria, I would recommend ordering Platinum Skull which is vodka, fresh mandarin and ginger ale and lemon juice.
What major plans have you got for Tonteria moving forward?
We wanted to establish ourselves first as an institution as one of the strongest brands in nightlife. Without giving too much away, we have been approached by many international operators in different hospitality sectors so watch this space – a new era is coming very soon…
Head down and check out Tonteria for yourself, 7-12 Sloane Square, Chelsea, SW1W 8EG