Linda Lee | August 01, 2011
"The coolest place I've ever been," veteran restaurant critic John Mariani commented while stopping by the Wynwood Kitchen & Bar in Miami. Perhaps hyperbole. Perhaps not. The place certainly pulls a cool crowd: 700 artists and art lovers during the area's gallery walks, once a month, and A-list parties during Art Basel Miami Beach, last December. That's because the former warehouse is plastered with street art, inside and out, and sits right in the middle of a new art park.
The park, called Wynwood Walls, was a joint effort. Just before Art Basel 2009, Tony Goldman offered the outside of buildings owned by Goldman Properties in the scrappy warehouse district to international artists selected by the New York gallery Deitch Projects. They included Shepard Fairey of Barack Obama Hope poster fame.
Goldman's daughter, Jessica Goldman Srebnick, saw one corner warehouse and announced, "This has to be a restaurant." So she and her father asked Orson Design Group principal James Samson to transform the 4,000-square-foot interior and 1,000-square-foot patio. It was a tricky assignment. "The art was so bold—you had to be careful," Srebnick says.
Her father adds, "We knew Jim. We trusted him. We knew his ego was intact." Samson sees things slightly differently: "I have no ego." He doesn't even have a Web site.
Design elements at the Wynwood Kitchen & Bar are indeed low-key to the point of disappearing. With the dining room's blazing abstract murals, diners would be forgiven if they did not notice the clear-finished concrete floor, the taupe and putty-colored walls, and the reclaimed oak paneling.
The patio, facing a red, black, and gold mural by Fairey, features Ross Lovegrove's tables and stacking chairs in white, turquoise, green, and orange that perfectly coordinate with the mural. "We liked the space-age feeling," Samson says. Another Fairey work—a phantasmagoric smash-up of Moroccan arabesques, muscular women, a bird medallion, and more—dominates the lounge.
There certainly aren't any disco lights behind the bar, but its counter is wrapped in no-holds-barred black faux leather. "Tony asked me for that," Samson says. He was worried at first about how it would hold up. Now that the restaurant has been open a while, however, he's a convert. "That bar top has really taken a beating—spilled drinks, whatever," he continues. "And it just looks more and more beautiful."
Goldman's participation was also crucial in figuring out what to do with the warehouse's street-facing wall, where a mural by Brazilian twin brothers already stretched from one end of the building to the other. "We had to decide where to put the front doors, which were going to have to cut into the mural," Samson explains. "Tony was so pained about it."
Goldman concurs, "Any time we touch a work, it's painful. But I was able to consult with the twins, and local artists extended the mural into the new opening. So the entrance became part of the art instead of a scar."
Wynwood Walls will be getting six more murals before Art Basel 2011. But the park itself, which consists of a few repurposed tractor tires, some blacktop, and some grass, will never get any fancy landscaping. "This is Wynwood," Samson says. "We're not going to Disneyland it up." That means no birds-of-paradise and no palm trees.
DNB Design Group: Architect of Record. Radiance Lighting: Lighting Consultant. Alex Kondrat: Structural Engineer. JMM Consulting Engineers: MEP. Consulting Engineering and Science: Civil Engineer. Lounges 2 Lobbies: Woodwork. BRV Construction Services: General Contractor.