Fashion Meets Food at the Brasserie 8-1/2
The bar is well scaled and comfortable, with an onyx counter illuminated from below. Behind the bar is a wall of orange luminescent tile coated with optic film, which gives it a three dimensional, shimmering appearance (or is it just those three martinis?).
The lounge itself is a somewhat ill-defined area around the curved stair, but it has comfortable Ward Bennett chairs and sofas in taupe and gray leather. It has a great vantage, nonetheless, for spying the dramatic entrance. Signed Henri Matisse lithographs on the lounge wall reinforce the Modernist esthetic.
Tucked behind the staircase, just around the corner from the bar, is the brasserie's private dining room, big enough for about 40 people. Of the brasserie's spaces, this one seems to reach back through Modern design history to the Arts and Crafts period.
Its north and south walls are paneled with exquisitely rendered hardwood, while the east wall is covered with a floral patterned fabric, "Puutarha" by Marimekko, that is reminiscent of William Morris wallpaper. The wide-plank wood floor seems just right for this room.
Light and subtlety are the watchwords for the main dining room, which seats 230. One is immediately thankful for both the lack of pretension and the homage to Modern design. The room is a broad rectangle, with banquettes on the north and south walls, an island of banquettes in the middle, and satellites of small tables for couples nearby.
The banquette seating is the most successful. Along the room's sides they offer private, cozy realms with walls rendered in green velvet panels. Above each table is a wall mirror, tilted at a slight angle so that other diners can see what meals are being enjoyed.
The middle banquettes are screened from each other by low panels of ribbed glass that offer privacy without cluttering up the room. All of the upholstery is understated taupe and gray leather. Table tops with a warm cherry finish and stainless steel bases are unabashedly, thoroughly Modern. A flat note here is the small-table seating. The Ward Bennett caned chairs with gray cushions seem just a bit tired and common.
The lighting in this room is by Paul Marantz of Fisher Marantz Stone, and it is very comfortable. Most illumination is from a large central ceiling fixture with orange and clear textured glass by the Joel Berman Glass Studios (who did all the lighting fixtures in the brasserie). The glass panels step in a sawtooth pattern from east to west, and help articulate the ceiling.
As one moves around the room, the fixture's color and light change. From the east it looks mostly warm yellow; from the west the light is icy white. Small recessed ceiling fixtures provide additional illumination around the dining room, along with valance lighting over the wall banquettes. The overall effect is very balanced, without harsh shadows or dark spots, and makes the food (and your fellow diners) look great.
And for dessert, we have a tasty mural by French artist Fernand Leger (the only work of his in stained glass). "Les Constructeurs" is nearly 14 feet (4.3 meters) long and 11 feet (3.3 meters) high, from floor to ceiling, illuminated from behind. This glowing panel separates the kitchen from the dining room—the "constructors" of 8-1/2's cuisine from its consumers.
One applauds the placement of such a fine piece, with its Modern dashes of primary colors and line drawings, not on some trophy wall but right where the action is, amid the brasserie's scurrying waiters and convivial diners.
Michael J. Crosbie is a contributing editor to ArchitectureWeek and an associate at Steven Winter Associates, Inc., in Norwalk, Connecticut.
Design Architect: Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates
Owner: Solow Development Corporation
Client: Restaurant Associates
Mechanical/ Electrical Engineer: Cosentini Associates, LLP.
Structural Engineer: Thornton-Tomasetti, P.C.
Kitchen Consultant: Cini-Little International, Inc.
Lighting Consultant: Fisher Marantz Stone
Construction Manager: Jones-GMO