When guests enter the upcoming Sable Kitchen & Bar in Chicago, designed by San Francisco-based Puccini Group, they may have trouble immediately recognizing that they are in a restaurant and not a high-end bar. That’s because the property, attached to the soon-to-open Hotel Palomar (April 2010), welcomes visitors with a 1940s Freudian-style lounge area and two large mixology stations to bring the art of the cocktail to life.
“We started looking back at when the art of the cocktail was really famous and really popular, and it took us back to the 1940s and 50s in Chicago when the mob outfit was running the city,” says Robert Polacek vice president and creative director for Puccini Group. “We were looking at how things were put together, the same way a cocktail is put together—you have all the ingredients that need to come together to make that special drink.”
The entire design of the restaurant—from the layout, to the chairs and tables, to the artwork on the walls and the bar—encompasses the notions of mixology, in a style that Polacek terms as sexy industrial. “We used the word industrial, but we really mean we looked at the mechanics of how thing were put together.” For example, he says, the intimate dining area in the back of the restaurant, which features tables that expose their bolts and metal side banding, is enlivened by an expo-styled kitchen where guests can see all the ingredients of their meal being mixed together by the chefs.
All the furniture was exclusively designed by Puccini Group to ensure the vision of a deconstructed industrial look. “You see the rivets. You see the bolts. The edges of the table are banded with steel,” Polacek says.
The bar stools were based off an antique spun aluminum chair—used mainly at the time in medical offices on a ship—and present a very utilitarian feel. To upgrade the comfort level of the seating, however, the designers replaced the hard surfaces of the seat and back and replaced it with upholstered leather. The dining chairs, which were also inspired by 1940s metal seating styles, tout a fully upholstered leather seat and back, as well.
The Puccini Group also commissioned the talents of a local San Francisco furniture designer, who goes by the nickname of “The Industrialist,” to build three custom bar tables out of old cabinets for Sable. (The artist scavenges the city to find old medical equipment, such as vintage stainless steel medical cabinets and old kitchen ware, dismantles the pieces and reassembles them as unique furniture pieces.) Each will function like an old parson’s table, featuring a glass top and drawers filled with mementos that help tell the restaurant’s vision.
“As you’re standing around drinking with friends you can look down and there’s a little story there below your drink,” says Polacek. “It’s a modern twist on using old elements and bringing them back to life in the space itself—the idea of all these pieces and parts that come together that make this really beautiful product.”
Belly Up to the Bar
The bar area by its nature is by far the forerunner in portraying the true art of the cocktail. The bar, which consists of a 30-ft.-plus long blackened steel-top surface and with two mixology stations, is constructed from small mosaic tiles that flaunt a gunmetal reflectivity. Adding to the focal points of the bar are beautifully-crafted back-lit white onyx features behind the mixology stations, while a bar-length, hand-blown glass and bronze light fixture that resembles chemical molecules emits a warm soft light from overhead.
The theme of molecules is subtly transferred from the bar into the artwork behind the mixology stations, as well. The back bars feature two large oversexed graphic images (with another similar feature graphic behind the host by the entrance) of a man and two women from the 1940s speakeasy era. The prints, which resemble a photograph negative and emit an underlying sex appeal, are layered over a faint molecular structure.Polacek notes that this incorporation of molecular structures “tells a story of history and all the elements that are happening in this space” to portray how elements are always being pieced together, even on a microscopic scale.
Hide and Seek
Overall, the designers successfully tackled the right balance of privacy and transparency in Sable’s design. “Some of the challenges we had were pushing the limits of stone, especially with the onyx and figuring how we’re going to build these beautiful back-lit box frames without seeing the shadow lines of the frame itself,” says Polacek.
He continues, “In looking at the pieces and parts and how those elements go together, there are some areas where you want to hide that for the beauty--for instance, to make the onyx glow-- and other areas where you want to celebrate those details of how things go together, such as the metal banding on the tables.”