Be it low-budget noodle shop or high-gloss dining destination, restaurants are a classic proving ground for architectural experiment and whimsy, drama and desire. The latest crop of chow houses finds this tradition in full flavor: from rustic-chic to sumptuous quartz slabs, anything goes so long as all five senses are firing. In that spirit, here are new restaurants from across the nation and beyond, revealing that whip-smart design is still every match for the fiercest culinary chops. Dig in.
SWEETGREEN, WASHINGTON, D.C., CORE
Reuse was the motto in designing Sweetgreen, a grab-and-go yogurt and salad bar near Georgetown University. The owners procured a 500-square-foot burger franchise whose exteriors were inspired by Tudor cottages. CORE changed little on the outside except to turn the red roof green. On the interior, reclaimed hickory planks run from the door to the floor, walls, and ceiling; a custom stainless steel serving counter focuses attention on the nutritious offerings; and brightly-lit menu boards reinforce the fast-food motif.
STUDIO LUZ ARCHITECTS
Inspired by Japanese torii gates, a series of passageways defines this sushi spot’s dining hall, arching across the ceiling and folding into shelves and table-bracing brackets. Laser-cut from cold-rolled steel, the gates were easily bolted together on site. A gun-blue patina and coat of butcher’s wax, all hand-finished, protect them from restaurant wear and tear, while offset columns create niche-like spaces near the bar. Atop the gates, embedded LED strips soften the room with ambient light.
ANDRE KIKOSKI ARCHITECT
When you come down from your Rocky Mountain high, Second Home offers a cozy environment to thaw the chill. The designers blended rugged, continental-divide surfaces such as dry-stack stone walls and rough-hewn wood plank ceilings with more cosmopolitan design elements, including 1950s Italian chandeliers, graffiti-covered chairs, fin-de-siècle Viennese secessionist banquettes, and upholstered walls. A sultry, low-slung lounge and open-air patio with a 15-foot fire pit sum up the restaurant’s frontier chic.
Inserted within the 1917 Penny Savings Bank building, Banq gives the radical-ceiling motif a sleek update. For this upscale South End eatery, the designers turned the task of concealing mechanical systems into a design brief: Wooden slats rise up from the floor and flow across the ceiling in undulating patterns to express vents, plumbing, and lighting, all of which form a grotto-like canopy soaring above the dining room.
STEVE HALL/HEDRICH BLESSING
VALERIO DEWALT TRAIN
Working with Ivanka Trump, Joe Valerio has created a destination restaurant in the new SOM-designed Trump Hotel that’s all about the view. Named after the floor where the restaurant resides, Sixteen’s neutral palette—a limestone floor, amber glass ceiling, tan leather seating—keeps the eye focused outward on the bridges, lake, and landmark architecture like the nearby Wrigley Building. Divided into three dining areas, the restaurant draws on the iconography of the city rather than the flash of the Trump brand.
Putting a slicker face on the urban rustic trend that has ruled the city’s hipster dining scene, this East Village bistro summons the vibe of a New York social club: Behold a 40-foot zinc bar, custom ceiling lights fitted with antique glass lampshades, old subway tile walls, and classic Thonet-style dining chairs. The main room features photographs of Victorian nudes, while the party-room walls show images from vintage magazines and books that contain the name Smith.
Z-A AND CHENG+SNYDER
City traffic flows in streams and pools in eddies. Brett Snyder of Cheng+Snyder and Guy Zucker of Z-A used that metaphor as a design template for Chelsea’s Café Grumpy. Stuffed into a typically tight New York storefront, the cafe is organized around a coffee bar of plywood blocks that divides the space into an in-out corridor and small inlets for seating. The understated blond wood and exposed brick interior focuses all the attention on the java.
The Lower East Side and Chinatown have always been liminal spaces between Old World and New. Bridging that gap was the main challenge in designing Red Egg. Would it be a small-plates bar or a restaurant with an ample lounge? Fish tank or light installation? Openshop opted to embrace it all: The ceiling is adorned with a constellation of “88 lucky koi” light bulbs; the bar is flanked by communal tables; and banquettes in back allow for more secluded dining.
ADOUR ALAIN DUCASSE
Located in the St. Regis Hotel, Adour takes the idea of urban theater long associated with the hotel lobby and translates it into dining experience as public ritual. For Rockwell Group, that meant layers of luxurious textured craft, from a bronze-based bar with a parchment goatskin top to panels of antique seeded glass. The main dining room is fashioned after an elegant library, where temperature-controlled armoires display an extensive wine collection, and the furniture is upholstered, naturally, in wine-colored leather.
L’Ouest Express, conceived by super-chef Paul Bocuse and French designer Pierre-Yves Rochon, aims for a new concept in restaurants that would be an oxymoron in less expert hands: elegant fast-food dining. Opened in January in Lyon, the first L’Ouest Express has a clean look based on big curves, a duotone palette, and a flattering lighting system that could have been borrowed from the cosmetics department of a high-end department store. It’s an aesthetic bound to travel far and fast.
David Chang has built his burgeoning Momofuku empire by taking exquisite ingredients and making simple dishes from them—ramen, pork buns, and chicken wings. It could be said that Hiromi Tsuruta of Studio März has worked this magic in reverse. At Ko, he takes simple materials—plywood, halogen lamps, brushed slate, an artfully rusted metal grating—and creates a sleekly understated 12-seat bar that puts the food first while still offering a comfortable atmosphere for enjoying the restaurant’s only offering, a marathon seven-course meal.
BOCA RATON, FLORIDA
BENTEL & BENTEL ARCHITECTS
Located atop a 24-story tower in the Boca Raton Resort and Club, Cielo overlooks ocean and sky on three sides. Patrons enter the space on a slight platform (the architects raised the elevator stop to eliminate the step up) to maintain an unobstructed view. Ceiling “clouds” are made from a variety of materials, including stretched, reflective white PVC. Most diners sit a tier below at glass-topped tables on white, motorcycle-leather-clad chairs. “At night, the building envelope nearly disappears,” said partner Carol Bentel.
Dutch artist Menno Schmitz designed Merkato 55, the latest Meatpacking District food palace, with the same panache he brought to his silk screens of famous American jazz musicians and not-so-famous Dutch rock bands. Here, Schmitz recasts African art and design in a contemporary American restaurant. From the massive silk-screened portraits of Africa’s many nations to the beaded chandeliers, the space has an unmistakable African character that artfully avoids pastiche.
Company is AvroKO’s second foray in Las Vegas. Located in the Luxor Hotel, the space is the result of creative thinking after the client asked for a lodge-look. Literal not being AvroKO’s style, they deconstructed various big-country motifs—think toboggan blades and wooden skis—and stacked them to create screens between the main dining area and a floor-to-ceiling wine wall. Over-scaled light wheels made of iron brackets and translucent fabric update the notion of saloon chandeliers, and a grid of aspen trunks greets guests at the entrance.
Located in the Palmer House Hilton, Lockwood is hard by Millennium Park, making it a good watering hole for architecturally inclined visitors. An island bar unites the historic lobby and contemporary restaurant, while square amber shades enclose original Tiffany chandeliers. “We wanted to create a hybrid, to be complementary without trying to replicate,” said Jennifer Johanson, principal of EDG. “We think Bertha Palmer [who first helped plan the interior] would have wanted to be on the leading edge.”
NEW BRUNSWICK, NEW JERSEY
RISCALA AGNESE DESIGN GROUP
A CNC-milled honeycomb forms the backdrop for this wine bar at New Brunswick’s Heldrich Hotel, its palette crafted to show off the beverage of honor. “For any material we chose, we tried to superimpose a glass of wine next to it to see if it would look good,” said principal Fadi Riscala. The bar itself, made of white quartz slabs from Kentucky-based supplier Rover, harmonizes with white-glass-tiled columns. Custom-designed chairs offer privacy without blocking views—of the wine rack, of course.
Bolts of crimson and cobalt lure patrons to this locale in a suburban mall: A red ceiling band and floors to match pull visitors toward a lacquer-red-tiled fireplace. Taking a detail from Skylab’s Doug Fir Lounge in Portland, sixty thousand linear feet of horizontal fir line the walls. In the restaurant, a backlit ceiling features pyramidal forms borrowed from Japanese screens, a motif with a witty twist in the stunning “blue room” and its wall of tiled sushi plates.
DALE DERRY PHOTOGRAPHY
COLAB ARCHITECTURE + URBAN DESIGN
Evoking the fall harvest season, this wine bar makes use of American white oak, stained concrete, leather, and copper in a tonal and textural homage to vintners, growers, and distillers. The sculptural, double-sided bar creates a social nexus with flexible seating options, defined by varied ceiling heights and color-coded nooks. The compact design also neatly meets the client’s request that the restaurant be operated by as few as two people—one in the kitchen and one tending bar.
MARTIN HEID DESIGN/BUILD
It is fitting that a slow food–as–fast food restaurant in the Mission District would find a former KFC for its home. Not only did KFC popularize the spoon-fork hybrid for which the restaurant is named, but Spork’s owners aim to reclaim hamburgers and fried chicken as wholesome food. Designer Eric Heid recycled many original KFC features for this “utilitarian diner.” The fryers’ stainless steel hood has been bolted to the ceiling as lighting, and the re-upholstered plywood booths are crisper versions of their predecessors.
JOHN FRIEDMAN ALICE KIMM ARCHITECTS
Located in a storefront space in Hollywood, Lucky Devils presents a quintessential LA vibe, right down to the wallpaper showing a time-lapse night-shot image of Highway 101. The 2,000-square-foot space presents a clean, well-lit room with banquettes and plastic chairs from the Italian manufacturer Kartell. The ceiling is more animated, with dropped white panels for subliminal way-finding. Regulation track lighting bounces off crumpled, red paper to toss “flames” that reinforce the restaurant’s inferno-based name.
OFFICE FOR DESIGN O4D
Housed in an old Pontiac dealer-ship, this 8,000-square-foot Gulf Coast seafood restaurant combined an existing building’s industrial vocabulary with polished accents. The architects then structured their palette around oysters: rough on the outside, shimmering on the inside. The exposed kitchen opens onto an expansive dining room of patched concrete floors and pearlescent tabletops lit by capiz shell chandeliers. Shades of sea green and a wavy plaster wall above the banquette complete the aquatic ambience.