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February 18, 2015

Philly architects dish on new restaurant designs

Restaurants Design
Girard Brasserie Sam Oberter Photography/Courtesy of Otto Architects

Girard Brasserie at 300 East Girard Avenue.

From Fishtown to Fairmount, from West Philly to the Navy Yard, Philadelphia’s hottest restaurants are literally all over the place. With the expanded canvas has come a commitment to highly designed spaces that feels, if not unprecedented, stronger and more daring. 

Chalk up the surge to Philly’s “great building stock,” said architect Joshua Otto, whose work on Rittenhouse’s TRIA Taproom earned him a James Beard Award nomination. “Today’s industrial aesthetic and our abandoned warehouses were made for each other.” 

Interpreting historical elements is “what we do best,” said David Fierabend, of his Groundwell Design Group, which just completed El Poquito in Chestnut Hill and whose public space works — WinterFest, Spruce Street Harbor — often bounce off of existing infrastructure. 

Spruce Street Harbor. Courtesy of Groundswell Design.

By bringing old buildings to life, restaurants “populate streets and build community,” observes architect Richard Stokes, who recently worked with Groundswell to convert a century-old pumping station into Le Peg and is the man behind some of Stephen Starr’s most spot-on recreations of resto types (Paris bistro, English pub).

Here’s what the three designers and their teams have in store for late winter/early spring.

Stokes Architecture

With no in-town Starr projects on the near horizon, up next is an adaptive reuse of a former Fishtown distillery, Mulherin & Sons, with Pitruco of pizza truck fame as the client.

The original Mulherin & Sons Distillery in Fishtown. Courtesy of Stokes Architecture. 

Bearing the distiller’s name, the restaurant will highlight original ceilings and wall paneling, enhanced by a wood bar top, metal cabinetry, brushed brass accents, and upholstered leather banquettes. 

Meanwhile, the firm is continuing its association with La Colombe, which includes the coffee purveyor’s recently unveiled uber-spot in Fishtown and a makeover of its Rittenhouse outlet. 

Staking a claim in the barren plaza on the northern side of the Dow Chemical Building, the next La Colombe will feature outdoor seating accessed via a new set of stairs down to the sidewalk.

Inside,”we’ll be using the same teaks and metals found in the Mid-Century interior,” Stokes said, “including custom benches that are copies of those created for the building.”

Groundswell Design Group

The new La Colombe joins chef Michael Schulson’s Independence Beer Garden in activating the formally dreary exterior of the Dow building. 

With its lush plantings, shipping container bars, and salvaged wood tables, that popular spot, unveiled last summer, was pure Groundswell.

This spring, the group is working on five new restaurants. Chief among them is a new partnership with Schulson, which will craft a series of hidden spaces next to the chef’s Sampan. 

Equal parts curated pawn shop, speakeasy, and Japanese eatery, Double Knot suggests a mash-up of the funky found object vibe of the Soho House hotels and the comfy quirkiness of homegrown lifestyle retailers Anthropologie and Terrain.

Fierabend says to expect exposed pipes, crushed velvet, dripping candles, and lots of books and curios. 

Otto Architects

Fresh from Fishtown’s Girard Brasserie, the firm is turning its attention to what Otto calls “the most exciting place to be working in the city”: the Navy Yard.

They’ll be transforming the “worst building down there” into a new Mercer Cafe, featuring Tacconelli’s pizza (both restaurants are Port Richmond stalwarts).

A look at The Mercer Cafe in The Navy Yard. Image courtesy of Otto Architects. 

Otto promises a reworking of the nondescript facade via blackened wood and salvaged metal panels and an interior that opens the ceiling to expose its trusses, all in keeping with the Yard’s gritty heritage. 

The team is also working with Assimilation Design Lab on a new TRIA, to be located at the old Dmitri’s in Fitler Square. 

“We’ll be taking advantage of the park views,” Otto said, “with an interior that references that setting, with lots of woods, seating evocative of park benches, and sensuous patterned wallpaper.”