HEART OF GLASS
Byline: Alison Oneacre
NEW YORK — Bigger is better, or at least it had better be for Marika, the 10,000-square-foot restaurant newly open on the Upper West Side.
When faced with the prospect of transforming a sprawling sports bar — one that hummed with the sound of more than 40 TVs — into a slick American restaurant, proprietors Don Evans and Marika Somerstein called on the architecture firm of Rogers Marvel, known for turning large public spaces like the Pratt Institute Library and Design Center and the Studio Museum in Harlem into functional and modern ones. Evans’s only request: “We wanted it to be like Gramercy Tavern.”
Using Gramercy Tavern’s layout as a blueprint, architect Jonathan Marvel created a space whose informal front-room cafe opens onto a main dining room in the rear. Plus, he added two private dining rooms.
“Since it’s just off Broadway, I wanted the interior to capture the spirit of Mondrian’s ‘Broadway Boogie Woogie,”‘ says Marvel, who used the painting’s primary colors and geometric shapes to guide his design.
“We wanted bright colors and no round corners. Our main challenge was to make a modern space cozy,” he explains.
To do so, Marvel bypassed building interior walls, using glass instead — a material seldom touted for its warmth — to break up the restaurant’s five sections. “The glass screens allow for transparency and intimacy,” Marvel says. “The ceilings are low, so we had to go horizontal — go Japanese.” Marvel pushed the glass motif even further with a 90-foot-long glass bar, a 50-foot-long glass wine cabinet and cast-glass tabletops.
But to combat the fish-bowl feeling that glass partitions can evoke, Marvel incorporated rugged materials like green cast-concrete tabletops, bluestone columns and slate floors, and ran modern American paintings the length of the back wall. His team custom-designed all of the furniture as well, recreating the Fifties designs of Edward Wormley.
“Wormley’s furniture was modern but warm. It fit our vision,” says Marvel, who copied Wormley’s Dunbar chair in green leather for the lounge and plush red synthetic suede with tall matching banquettes for the dining room.
Marika’s chef, Joel Somerstein, formerly of Water’s Edge in Queens, is turning out cozy, though embellished, American food: maple-cured duck breast with poached pear fritters; sauteed skate with roasted artichokes and tomato confit, and roasted Maine lobster with a sage risotto cake. Visitors from downtown may notice that their dinners are being served by a waitstaff wearing Kate Spade-designed aprons.
Marvel, for his part, says he is most pleased with “the long views and the spatial quality.”
Marika has already been called a “house of glass,” however, and Marvel doesn’t discount any unforeseen collisions with his material of choice.
“Yes, I’m worried,” he laughs. “Keep your fingers crossed.”