A step above
For the Mandarin Oriental, New York, down-to-earth Tony Chi designs a restaurant and bar in the sky
Stephen F. Milioti -- Interior Design, 4/1/2004 12:00:00 AM
Commissioned to design a five-star restaurant and glamorous bar-lounge in a luxury hotel on one of the world's most coveted pieces of real estate, many architects would breathlessly throw a ton of gold and glitter around. Not Tony Chi. When conceptualizing Asiate restaurant and MObar at the Mandarin Oriental, New York, he turned his back on glitz—and his sights on Central Park, 35 stories below.
"It's a Monet outside those windows," Chi says of the Time Warner Center location. Indeed, it's virtually incomparable not only on the Manhattan dining scene but also in Chicago, Miami, Las Vegas, London, and Shanghai, where Tonychi and Associates has previously designed hotel restaurants.
Asiate's connection to nature reaches a crescendo in an abstract installation hovering above the main dining room. With each twiglike length of silvered Italian glass mounted on stainless-steel rods suspended from the ceiling, the piece evokes the frosty elegance of tree branches in winter. Elsewhere, Chi's use of wood extends the natural theme. Flooring and tables are limed oak; ebonized reconstituted veneer covers part of the walls and the bases of the sommelier stations.
While these elements reflect nature figuratively, literal reflections abound as well. Walls and pillars are mirrored; glass fronts the dramatic wine-storage units. These 12-foot-high showpieces stand along the side and rear walls, holding 3,000 bottles and reflecting Central Park views from the windows opposite. The side unit also lends privacy to an eight-person table overlooking the park.
In the rest of the dining room, the area closest to the windows is, of course, where the power tables are. Four booths, while devoid of park vistas, compensate with seclusion and luxury. Rich brown leather upholsters the banquette cushions, green-and-gold Italian silk enlivens the panels dividing the booths from one another, and grass cloth covers the wall behind them.
Views are similarly less integral to MObar, which faces the Time Warner Center's residential tower rather than the park. "A bar is different from a restaurant. It's more about seeing and being seen," says Chi. Whereas lightness and serenity suffuse 2,500-square-foot Asiate—which starts the day with breakfast at 7 AM—MObar is dark, even sexy, at an intimate 1,200 square feet.
Interestingly, though, Chi used many of the same materials to create these two contrasting effects. Both limed-oak flooring and leather-covered seating reappear in MObar's entry lounge. New elements include sheer linen, draping the windows, and a nickel-topped bar, which adds a touch of old New York.
The lounge's essentially triangular shape bears witness to Chi's ability to work with unusual layouts—interiors at the Time Warner Center are downright pointy in places, with some of the largest support beams and columns ever seen in a skyscraper. But Chi took the unwieldy and made it workable. One giant column, for example, was pressed into service as the lounge's bar back.
To unify the lounge with the bar proper, Chi extended the limed-oak flooring, using the same wood for the high benches and tables lining a wall covered in burnt-orange velvet. This row of seating is punctuated by totemlike partitions of carved Portland brownstone. Sconces, on the other hand, are ultra-minimalist. The bronze fixtures glow softly against the velvet, encouraging guests to people-watch until last call.