Lance Bass has added restauranteur and nighclub operator to his portfolio with Rocco’s WeHo casual eatery and nightclub in West Hollywood.
He first exploded as a celebrity as part of the NSYNC boy band selling over 70 million records. Bass continues his successful career as a singer, dancer, actor, and film and television producer. As for expanding into the food and beverage industry, “I love food and come from a big family of cooks,” he explains.
“They really made me respect food, so I have started my own company with my family using recipes from my sister and my mom, which will be launched on QVC this summer. This will be lots of fun.”
Bass is also excited about his partnership with Rocco’s Tavern, a well-known restaurant and bar with several locations throughout the Los Angeles area. Founded by Alexander Manos, co partners include Roger Toussaint, Leo Amari, Johnny Liska, and managing partner Adolfo Espinoza.
He never expected to become part of the restaurant industry, especially Rocco’s, which he frequented as a customer.
“I would go to watch football in Studio City, and I got to know the owners. They approached me about creating a gay version of Rocco’s in West Hollywood. When they told me the exact location, I knew it was perfect. I am obsessed with their bar and love their food; this was great for me to get involved.”
Rocco’s WeHo offers a variety of delicious food and drinks with freshly made-to-order burgers, wraps, pasta, and salads. They will also offer some of their fan-favorite pizza (including vegan) and wings that they have been serving for over 20 years in the Los Angeles area. The drink menu consists of Rocco’s WeHo signature cocktails, Bloody Marys, wines, and 20 beers on tap.
As for the success of Rocco’s, the past two years have been very challenging for the restaurant industry. However, as Bass explains, Rocco’s caters to a local clientele. So when the pandemic happened, they worked to remain open as long as possible, including serving only outdoors, delivery and takeout.
“Rocco’s is more than a bar, but more like a place for the community to come together and socialize. When the pandemic finally shut us down, I felt for everyone who would come in daily for the camaraderie,” he says. “I am so proud that our food is so good that people kept us in business during the pandemic. They have been doing this for over 20 years, so if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it and have to keep serving the best food.”
Pizza is one of Rocco’s specialties with influences from Italian and Greek backgrounds, including Rocco’s Specialty Pies such as BBQ Chicken Pie topped with grilled chicken breast, Rocco’s secret recipe barbecue sauce, and mozzarella cheese. The White Pie, topped with white cream sauce, fresh garlic, spinach, mozzarella, and ricotta cheese, delights the taste buds.
“Our menu was developed over the past 22 years,” explains Manos. “I grew in the food and bar industry since I was eight years old. We first started with Rocco’s Pizza Shop with a simple menu based around pizza, salads, and calzones.”
As Rocco’s expanded into different neighborhoods, the menu was customized to the area it was serving. As for Rocco’s WeHo, healthier selections are offered, including more salads. He anticipates that this will be a trend for all of his establishments.
“I grew up Italian, and we love our heaver pasta dishes. We still will offer Italian cuisine but not as heavy,” Manos says.
Rocco’s is all about giving back and has worked with various organizations throughout its 20-year history, especially in their local neighborhoods. In May, for World Dog Day, Bass representing Rocco’s, judged the dog fashion show and dog pie-eating contest.
“It was a fun day for the community, and we will be involved in more events like World Dog Day,” he says.
“Due to my Greek background, I was always taught to give back,” adds Manos. “We give back to our local schools and sporting teams. Certain locations are family-based, and our other locations focus on adults.”
Rocco’s WeHo creates a strong sense of local community and wants to reflect that in the artwork. In collaboration with One Archives and Michael Turchin, James Kirtley has created a visual representation of the LGBTQ+ movement through photography, dynamic graphic designs, and paintings with their artistic background. This timeline represents the LGBTQ+ civil rights struggles and victories from the 1940s to the present day. This serves as a history lesson of how far the movement has come and as a reminder that remaining vigilant is crucial. But not all of the artwork inside Rocco’s is as serious, and there are fun vintage posters and comical ads framed throughout the location. Rocco’s wants to remind their patrons of the importance of love, and that pride is victory and #proud2be.
Since opening in 2021 Armstrong has proven to be successful restaurateur and now adds nightclub operator with his new nightclub, Heart, which opened in February.
“This makes more sense for me to open a club,” he laughs. “I really love hospitality, entertaining, and throwing parties. I loved any party, especially Halloween and New Year’s Eve and Day when I was a kid. I love making people happy and bringing them together. I want to create the best nightlife that this world offers with this new club.”
Since Bass has attended (and partied) clubs worldwide, he knows the kind of experience he wants to offer. Bass knows what he loves and would want when he goes to a club, so he plans on creating the same for his customers.
In fact, Heart is across the street from Rocco’s WeHo and took over the building that once housed the iconic club Rage, a happening place for over 30 years. “When we got the chance to take it over, I jumped at it. This is the perfect place, and I want to make it a safe community space. We don’t have a real official dance club or discotheque in West Hollywood. You would think that the gay capital of the world would have a real discotheque.”
He is developing an “entertainment menu” with dancing for the new club all night. Bass plans on making each night at the club different. Think of the Troubadour, only now the gay version. Bass plans on showcasing great artists with the best lights and sound as an entertainment venue for everyone. The menu, cooked in its state-of-the-art kitchen, will offer upscale food such as crab cakes and tuna tartar, while patrons also go over to Rocco’s if they are in the mood for great Italian.
“While we planned for Heart to be more experience-based, we still wanted to offer food that our customers can enjoy while enjoying the experience,” says Manos. “We put a lot of shared plates on the menu, such as tuna crispy rice and wrapped shrimp skewers.”
The Rocco’s Tavern concept was created by its four owners, three of which grew up in Staten Island and one native of Los Angeles. They have been serving their community for over 20 years, famous for their pizza, wings, beer, and great sports atmosphere. Their locations are in Studio City, Culver City, Pasadena, Westwood Village, and West Hollywood. Rocco’s menu items and sports vibe are available at their location near the University of Southern California, 901 Bar & Grill. There are now plans to expand into Palm Springs, Fort Lauderdale, and then nationally.
For more info, visit roccostavern.com and follow on Instagram @ roccostavern. Heart WeHo is located at 8911 Santa Monica Blvd. in West Hollywood. Visit heartweho.com for more information and follow on Instagram @ @HeartWeHo.