John Friedman Alice Kimm Architects's renovation of a 52-year-old L.A. bar captures its spirit and ties to a special neighborhood.
Edie Cohen -- Interior Design, 11/1/2001 12:00:00 AM
A rough-and-tumble dive replete with dark paneling, frayed carpet, funky smells, and a clientele of hard drinkers and neighborhood hipsters. That was the Brig, opened 52 years ago by boxer Babe Brandelli on Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice Beach, California, before architects John Friedman and Alice Kimm stepped in. Now, the Brig is fresh with a mix of tactile materials and a collage of compelling forms reinterpreting standard bar components. Thankfully, though, the place hasn't been oversanitized. While no longer opening its doors at 6 a.m., it retains an aura of "sensuousness and fascination with the forbidden," Friedman says. "There's an ad hoc quality that goes with the neighborhood."
Friedman and Kimm had two clients for this job. David Paris owns the two-story building housing the bar and an office, and he signed on for significant exterior improvements. David Reiss, who owns the Brig itself, was a repeat client. (His earlier Santa Monica project, Club Sugar, is the architects' only project previously published in the U.S.) Spending a mere $135,000 outside and $210,000 on interiors, the architects still packed a wallop of a punch, with John Martin as project designer, Joel Cichowski rounding out the team, and Jay Griffith consulting on landscape architecture.
The interior, once stripped of items accrued over the years, was kept simple, allowing finishes and furnishings to shine. The 1,940-sq.-ft. plan is a rectangle with insertions of raised seating, mirror-image freestanding volumes for rest rooms, and a rear ramp to bridge a one-ft. grade change. Most materials are standard-issue industrial, but they assume a status belying their humble origins. "When we begin projects, we typically create a palette by combing warehouses and electronics magazines," Friedman says. "We order and see what we get. Some things are cheap, some expensive. They straddle the tacky and the refined." Here, steel-and-laminate panels common in circuit boards are cut to size and screwed to the wall, bringing reflective, translucent qualities to the planes. A portion of the ceiling, dropped to eight ft. over the entry and bar, is aglow with Panelite rectangles suspended in a T-bar grid and backlit with fluorescents. Cladding for bathroom enclosures appears to be a crafted gilt surface but is actually nothing more than commercial-grade, stamped-linoleum wall covering painted silver. The back bar is a sleek expanse of aluminum shelving; the facing wall displays a contrasting texture with green velvet draping the DJ booth. Holding it all together is $80,000's worth of terrazzo, the continuous surface for flooring, bathroom interiors, and even the molded lavatories—expensive but worth it, Friedman and Kimm say.
Furniture, all custom, reflects their modern leanings without falling into clichés of me-too modernism. The sliding steel drinks table is stellar. On tracks, it can roll through an open garage door or, on those rare closed-door evenings, pass through a special slot—a friendly solution for a still-smoking crowd in a smoke-free state.
Designed with an eye to sex appeal, the bar has a mahogany counter under which a translucent white tulle skirt, lit below, fronts delicate crisscrossed metal legs. It's not exactly Marilyn in The Seven-Year Itch, but the allusion is vivid. Fiberglass bar stools and chairs developed with Ilan Dei, lounge seating, low mirrored tables, steel benches, and an acrylic flower-display fixture serving as a stunning ramp terminus complete the custom repertoire.
Exterior work focused on heightening the Brig's presence as a gateway to Abbot Kinney's strip of quirky shops. Friedman and Kimm tinted plaster surfaces midnight blue and freshened a 1970s mural with the help of the original artist and a professional restorer. Above, they built a fluorescent-lit wood-and-steel canopy, or loggia.
While car culture is king in L.A., this stretch of Venice does have a vibrant street life. Friedman and Kimm celebrated by installing a steel bench and a planter filled with palms in the middle of the asphalt outside. Opposite, bamboo blocks the traffic, creating a cross between a parking lot and a pedestrian piazza.