Aristotle famously wrote, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not a single act, but a habit.” For French restaurateur and nightlife impresario Jean-Philippe Bernard, co-owner of Azur Hospitality Group, excellence is a cornerstone of his life’s work, which in a nutshell, consists of creating unforgettable experiences for guests across the globe.
As one of the first people in the industry to meld an atmosphere of fine dining and nightlife into a single locale nearly 30 years ago, Bernard has had a massive impact on the food and beverage industry; and he’s continued his legacy with Villa Azur. Bernard began Villa Azur Miami, Azur Hospitality Group’s first restaurant, back in 2012 alongside partners Michael Martinez and famous actor Olivier Martinez, who many will recognize as Halle Berry’s boyfriend.
A destination for fine food, great music and a rare ambience that transports restaurant goers into a world of flawlessly fresh Mediterranean magic the second they step foot inside the door, Villa Azur quickly became one of the posh beach city’s hot spots, attracting the likes of Paris Hilton, Robin Thicke, Leonardo Di Caprio, Ronaldo, Gael Monfils, Gabriella Sabatini, Florent Pagny, Johnny Halliday, Eric Cohet, Enrique Iglesias, Gerard Butler, Adriana Lima, Donatella Versace, David Guetta, Bob Sinclar, Gerard Depardieu, amongst others.
Bernard has constructed Villa Azur in a way that places it in a league of its own; however, long before opening Villa Azur he was already one of the biggest influencers in the nightlife and food world. His hospitality concepts with Villa Azur, Nikki Beach, and Le Patio, to name only a few, have had a lasting impact on the development of new trends and international hotspots.
“If you want success for a business like this in hospitality, spectacular food is a priority, and then the decoration, so you’re coming into a space and you have beautiful decorations, and finally, you have to have great service,” explains Bernard.
“When you have this combination you create the right atmosphere. Then you bring in the music, and you can catch people, they feel comfortable, you can see them moving with the music, they really feel free to dance on tables and enjoy themselves.”
Bernard has a unique affinity for creating a comfortable, yet luxurious atmosphere, which shows through his work with the famous Nikki Beach Group, where he was a part of the leadership responsible for opening and developing Nikki Beach St. Tropez, St. Barth and Miami, as well as opening the popular Corsican restaurant lounge Le Patio and more.
Now, three decades into his career, it would be difficult to find a posh restaurant owner, impresario or foodie who doesn’t know his name. From creating the ambiance of the places he’s managed and owned through the decor and lighting to the cocktails and cuisine, to the party themes and music, and putting in place the perfect team, Bernard creates the kinds of experiences that guests will never forget.
“Jean-Philippe is a 360 degree person, he knows about the hospitality on both sides from a customer experience point of view, as well as on the operation side of things,” says Celia Serra, the director of operations for the world famous Nikki Beach Group.
“Being so knowledgeable in so many different areas gives him a full overview of any hospitality venue… Normally in our business people are only good on one side of the business, not on both.”
Bernard began carving out his reputation as a nightlife impresario back in 1989 when, at the age of 19, he was asked to help open the Le Passport nightclub in France.
“A friend of mine was buying a nightclub and he asked me to help him. I’d never worked in a nightclub but he knew I was really conscious of everything I did,” Bernard explains. When I start something I do it correctly or I don’t do it. I very quickly understood how the nightlife worked and knew it was an area I wanted to get involved in.”
On top of creating the menu and cocktails and booking the DJs that appealed to the clientele, Bernard created the ordering system, service bar, and the additional front and back of the house positions that turned Le Passport into a buzzing nightclub. It wasn’t long before his reputation expanded beyond Marseille.
He explains, “After that people started to know about me because the nightclub was doing super well… and then I was asked to start running another nightclub and then a restaurant…”
It wasn’t long before the general director of Nikki Beach Group, asked Bernard to join them as the General Manager of Nikki Beach St. Tropez, opening this beach club and eventually Nikki Beach St. Barth.
With destinations around the world, Nikki Beach is known for its opulent atmosphere and is often referred to as the first luxury beach club concept to combine elements of music, dining, entertainment, fashion, film and art all in one.
With Bernard as the GM, Nikki Beach St. Tropez was hosting 1200 to 1500 guests per day, making it the most popular beach club around. Famous celebrities like Puff Daddy, Beyonce, Brad Pitt, Mike Tyson, Sting, Mick Jagger, Michael Schumacher and other international jet-setters were in frequent attendance.
He recalls, “It was the place to be and it was the place to be seen.”
Bernard attributes much of Nikki Beach’s success to the fact that for literally the first time in the industry, the venue offered both a comfortable and luxurious atmosphere combined with fabulous entertainment and incredible food.
“The decoration was Bali, Indonesia inspired, the chairs, cabanas and sun beds with the white and blue, beautiful drapes, but what made us the best was the food. Because it was a beach club where people were coming to party, but they wanted to eat and they wanted to eat well,” explains Bernard.
“Our chef was spectacular and I was really aware of the dishes, just because you are on the beach, it doesn’t mean you are going to eat sandwiches.”
As the GM, Bernard was in charge of nearly everything about the beach club. He decided the menu and cocktail list, created theme-based parties for his guests, and developed new experiences for his ever-growing high-class clientele. Above all though, he was there to ensure that they turned a strong profit, handling the business side of things and constructing a passionate team to making sure Nikki Beach remained the best in its class. He also managed the Nikki Beach pop-ups at prestigious film festivals around the world, including those at the Cannes Film Festival, Toronto Film Festival and Venice Film Festival.
Being a lover of new challenges, Bernard joined a friend and opened Le Patio in Porto-Vecchio on the French Mediterranean island of Corsica. Le Patio soon proved to be another major accomplishment under his belt.
He recalls, “It was 2004 and I was the first one to bring a live DJ to that part of town in Porto-Vecchio.”
When he began Le Patio it was a simple bar, but Bernard quickly turned it into a happening spot that attracted numerous French celebrities. Using his eye for decor, Bernard transformed the look of Le Patio by adding a chic lounge atmosphere, resplendent lighting and an enticing cocktails and tapas menu designed for people to enjoy their evening before hitting the nightclubs.
Now 16 years later, Le Patio remains a go to spot for Corsicans and travelers from abroad who want to settle into a comfortable space surrounded by traditional Corsican architecture with a modern feel, delicious cocktails, food and great music.
It seems that above all, Bernard has a keen eye for trends and creating a captivating atmosphere that people want. After Le Patio, Bernard returned to Nikki Beach, where he would spend the next nine years as General Manager for Nikki Beach St. Tropez, St. Barth and finally Nikki Beach Miami.
In 2011, Bernard left his position with the group in order to devote his full attention to opening Villa Azur, and what he’s created since is nothing short of amazing.
Bernard fused an upscale dining atmosphere and a “nightclub” together, something that was unheard of before he began his work as a restaurateur and nightlife impresario back in the 90s.
Villa Azur offers the finest cuisine and a luxury lounge atmosphere, then transitions effortlessly at night into a go-to spot for live music and dancing.
There’s no doubt that Bernard knows exactly how to turn any space into the ‘it’ place to be, and that’s exactly what he’s done with Villa Azur. Shortly after opening, Villa Azur Miami was ranked by Haute Living as one of the Top 5 Most Romantic Restaurants in Miami 2013.
Bernard says, “There’s one very important thing when you do this job and that is that ‘No’ doesn’t exist. You are here to make people happy, you want them to leave with a smile and already start thinking ‘when am I coming back.’ We have to do our best to make whatever they want possible, and 99 percent of the time we are able to deliver on their request.”
Bernard ensured Villa Azur made its way into the public eye in a big way through his creation of numerous pop-ups around the world, including those in Montréal, Toronto, New York City, Art Basel Miami, and more, all featuring a variation of their signature dishes and cocktails amidst an unforgettable party.
Over the course of his 30 year career, Jean-Philippe Bernard’s passion, innovation and inexhaustible attention to detail in terms of developing a mouth watering cuisine and a luxurious atmosphere backed by the kind of entertainment that draws guests from around the world have made him one of the most prominent restaurateur and impresarios on the planet; and he shows no signs of stopping anytime soon. Before his arrival on the scene back in the 90s, the concept of a festive restaurant where people could simultaneously enjoy the nightlife and fine food didn’t exist; but thanks to Bernard, it has become the staple of what constitutes an unforgettable night on the town.