The bar opened in January and was crafted by New York–based design practice Only If, a team of five architects and designers founded in 2013. The clients, a pair of Australians, wanted the space to look distinctly different from the ubiquitous white tile, reclaimed wood, and Edison bulb coffee shop aesthetic and had ambitious plans despite their tight budget. With this in mind, Adam Frampton, principal at Only If, opted for an “inexpensive but futuristic” material palette of aluminum enamel painted oriented strand board, black marble, perforated aluminum and copper, and black rubber.
“In such a small and constrained space, our first intuition was to be very pragmatic with the layout and articulate the design through the materials and details. However, we didn’t want to simply decorate the space,” Frampton said. “It soon became apparent that a more figural gesture—albeit less efficient in terms of quantity of seating—improved ergonomics within the service area and produced a greater identity and hierarchy.”
Frampton also devised a layout based on two circles: The positive volume, a barista station, allows two baristas to work simultaneously and a negative volume, the “grotto,” a seating space carved out of the surrounding walls. Frampton and his team worked through many iterations before landing on this clever configuration. “The method of exhausting all possibilities until the best fit emerges is probably something that came from my experience working at OMA,” said Frampton. “What’s really interesting about the layout is how it activates different social settings and creates different types of seating.”
The careful planning paid off: After seven weeks of preparing the design and obtaining the correct permit, drawing, and construction documents, the space was built in about eight weeks. It is now open Monday through Friday, 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 110 William Street through the John Street subway entrance.