From Model to Mogul

Having been a well-established celebrity hotspot in Los Angeles and Paris, Barfly opens this month in Abu Dhabi. We catch up with Tarja Visan, the charming lady behind the capital’s latest hotspot…

Tarja Visa@Barfly Abu Dhabi

Upon arriving in France in the early 1980s to begin her career as an international model, Finnish born Tarja Visan’s career took a turn when her and her husband opened Barfly in Paris. With more than a decadelong history, Barfly single-handedly revolutionised nightlife worldwide as a restaurant and bar that brought in a club atmosphere. Having now expanded into a huge lifestyle brand under the name of George V Entertainment, Tarja is also the brains behind Buddah Bar and B/Attitude Spa in Dubai along with many more interesting international concepts.

How did the concept of Barfly come about?

We started the first one in in Paris in 1994 and it was very successful. It was essentially the first ever Supper Club type concept. Then we opened one a few years later in LA. It was the first concept my husband and I worked on together. We wanted to start something different with a live DJ and live entertainment, which back then was something special and something you didn’t see that often. We wanted the food to
be international with a focus on Japanese cuisine. It was very cutting edge for its time and it was very exciting to open this type of venue in the early 90s.

Reception area

What will be special about Barfly as opposed to other venues?

We’ve been in Dubai with Buddah Bar for 10 years and I think Abu Dhabi is becoming more cosmopolitan and a lot bigger. People will now travel between Abu Dhabi and Dubai for a night out. International franchises seem to be popular here and we’re opening Barfly off the success of Buddah Bar in Dubai. It’s a bar, a restaurant, it’s a lounge, it’s a club, you can sit outside and enjoy the terrace. There are many different
aspects of the venue that will appeal to different people. Barfly here in Abu Dhabi has also been inspired by Buddah Bar. We’ve taken a few of the popular concepts and dishes from Buddah Bar and put them into Barfly here.

What inspired the design?

We took the DNA from the Paris Barfly but tweaked in to suit the feel of 2016. We’ve chosen new fabrics and some really quirky stuff. The bar and the reception desk that are made out of mosaics are exactly the same as the ones in the Paris Barfly which I love and I feel it’s a nice touch. I really believe all trends come from fashion. I go to the
haute couture shows in Paris every year and I see the colours and fabrics and I am inspired by this. This is how I choose the fabrics and décor for my venues. I visit all the museums in Paris and other places also and they inspire me. I think design and décor is very much a passion for me. You have to be in fashion and move with the times. It’s so important.

BarFly Abu Dhabi

How did you get into this industry?

It started with my husband in the early 90s. We were in the restaurant industry and we had a similar restaurant to Johnny Rockets and then in 1994 we decided to open Barfly. It stayed open for 18 years and then unfortunately my husband passed away so we decided to sell the business. It’s very special for me to open Barfly here in Abu Dhabi
after all that time. Service and quality of food is very important to me and we have a huge focus on our drinks and great music.

What attracted to you open these concepts in the Middle East?
The first time we came to Dubai was in 1997. There was nothing here. We came in 2003 again and we just had this feeling that Dubai was going to be big and we feel the same now with Abu Dhabi. I’m really a huge fan of F1 so I’ve been to Abu Dhabi so many times and feel the race has made it really famous. Abu Dhabi has really put itself on the map as a must-see destination. It’s so accessible these days from wherever you live in the world.

Bar Fly Abu Dhabi

You’ve had a very successful career, what are you most proud of in your career?
When we opened Barfly in Paris, there was a huge queue around the corner. There were 17 supermodels there on opening night including Kate Moss and Claudia Schiffer and basically all the 90s supermodels. They were having a birthday party and they were dancing on the tables. Robert De Niro was there and George Clooney too – who was dating our receptionist at the time. It was a real defining moment for me and my husband. It was a very special night that sticks in my memory.

 

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