On the Town
The world parades past Yabu Pushelberg's Times Square restaurant—inside Blue Fin, the show goes on
Sheila Kim -- Interior Design, 9/1/2002 12:00:00 AM
Despite its recent Disnification, Times Square remains a swarm of camera-toting tourists, cacophonous cabs, blinking billboards, and flashy storefronts angling for attention. Within this blur of activity, it takes some inspired thinking to command attention—quietly. Which is exactly what design firm Yabu Pushelberg delivered for Blue Fin, the swanky seafood restaurant at the W New York Times Square hotel.
The firm opted for a subdued street-front statement: a glazed enclosure that juts out onto a corner of Broadway. "You just can't compete with Times Square signage," says Glenn Pushelberg, who oversaw the project with partner George Yabu. The designers placed glowing resin bar tables and satin-finished stainless-steel stools just inside the glass facades, providing an ideal fish bowl for people watching—from within or without. "The tables become beacons for passersby," Pushelberg says. The floor is paved with randomly sized bricks of terrazzo and Carrara marble, a luxurious treatment that contrasts with the concrete sidewalk visible just outside. A long bar, fronted with white river stones embedded in clear resin, completes this front area. Call it Zen meets industrial chic.
After a quick see-and-be-seen drink, guests move into the dining area, which stretches over two levels. The ground floor is "fast, clattery, and cafélike," says Pushelberg. "People can get in and out quickly." Walnut tables contrast with the white leather upholstery of Eero Saarinen chairs. A sushi bar tucked beneath the staircase to the upper level has a cast-concrete top and reiterates the river-stone bar-front treatment. Spanning a wall of banquettes, lit by simple rectangular acrylic pendants, an artful composition of backlit acrylic is overlaid with stainless-steel panels. Polished to a mirrored finish, they reflect flickers of motion as patrons navigate the staircase opposite.
Despite its roomier dimensions, the upper level, which includes a main dining room and three private party spaces, possesses a more intimate feel. "Downstairs there's more hustle and bustle, while the upper level features sensual finishes that invite people to relax and linger," says Pushelberg. In the main space, banquettes upholstered in dark, moss-hued leather line the perimeter wall surfaced in aniline-dyed cowhide. Pushelberg, whose firm completed the beauty level at department store Bergdorf Goodman two years ago, describes the origin of this unusual treatment: "George and I first thought of using the material at Bergdorf's, for a purse-display wall to set off shimmery handbags." (For logistical reasons, the store didn't make use of the cowhide concept.) Between recessed booths, the dividing walls are faced with panels of amber-colored distressed mirror.
The dense layering of materials continues in the private rooms that flank the main dining area of the upper floor. Color schemes, however, shift for a change of mood. Two of the three feature sophisticated charcoal hues. The smallest room, which Pushelberg nicknamed the "hot room," is dominated by fiery reds and ringed by rows of flickering candles on walnut ledges. All three rooms are lit by oversize lanterns made from hemp-wrapped wire frames.
The design team's central challenge was to forge a link between the two floors which—by nature of their differing proportions and relationship to the Times Square streetscape—conjure rather distinct moods. Yabu Pushelberg bridged the gap by means of a cantilevered staircase with a glass balustrade that unfolds dramatically along a double-height wall. Designed by artisans imported from Toronto, where Yabu Pushelberg was founded, the wall features an off-white plaster treatment formed in stylized waves. Japanese artist Hirotoshi Sawada's school of black polycarbonate fish, a subtle reminder of Blue Fin's seafood specialty, is suspended right in front. "The staircase is sculptural, beautiful, and engaging," says Pushelberg. "But in a very quiet way."