As the sun sank along the railroad tracks bisecting the Westside Provisions District one late October evening, architect John Bencich welcomed some 40 architects, food mavens and “neighborhood fans,” as Bencich describes them, to a gathering of Dining + Design. A collaboration between the Architecture and Design Center and the Atlanta chapter of the American Institute of Architects, the program is intended to spotlight Atlanta chefs, designers and the spaces they have created together.
Each event focuses on a single neighborhood. The first, “Bikes, Bites and Booze,” was held on the BeltLine in the summer of 2014 and brought attention to the rapid growth of a culinary scene there. The second highlighted the restaurant culture flourishing in the old storefronts of downtown Decatur. October’s installment spotlighted the Westside Provisions District, the former slaughterhouse-turned-textile storehouse that is now a thriving mixed-use development.
Chris Faussemagne of Westbridge Partners — the firm behind Westside Provisions District — spoke about the project to those assembled on the footbridge between White Provisions and Westside Urban Market. He opined that the area’s success demonstrated to other Atlanta developers that there was money to be made in the reinvention of older industrial spaces, as it had in other cities, thus paving the way for such projects as Ponce City and Krog Street Markets. (Given the evening’s theme, it’s worth noting that restauranteurs Anne Quatrano and Clifford Harrison jump-started Westside Urban Market in 1998 when they moved there from Buckhead, staking a claim with Bacchanalia and Star Provisions.)
The culinary tour began at West Egg Café, where pop-up restaurant Oddbird served the first course of the evening. While guests tucked into chicken and waffles, pickled vegetables, chicken biscuits slathered in apple butter and craft beer, Ben Johnson, the co-owner of West Egg, Oddbird and General Muir, explained that the restaurant, on the ground floor of a recently built apartment building, was designed — by Square Feet Studio — to replicate the look of the original space in an old industrial building.
Following Oddbird’s take on Southern classics, it was off to Europe via Marcel, restaurateur Ford Fry’s latest creation. As cocktails were served and plates of food passed around, Fry and Elizabeth Ingram, Fry’s design director, talked about creating ambiance and a sense of place as part of the dining experience.
In contrast to West Egg’s stark aesthetic, Marcel is casually opulent, suggesting an old-world restaurant whose eclectic décor evolved over many years. The dining room, with dark leather seating and subdued lighting, was crafted to complement the European steakhouse fare.
But Ingram’s attention extended well beyond furnishing and lighting the dining room. Designing the bathrooms, she said, consumed much of her time. The old wooden chest in the men’s restroom, stocked with an array of vintage accessories for guests to discover in its drawers, evokes the bygone era of restroom attendants doling out mints and mouthwash out of glass bottles.
The final stop was Little Trouble, which serves what might be described as Japanese street food — ramen, dumplings, yakitori — and caters to an ultra-late-night clientele. Ian Jones, metalworker turned restaurateur, told the group that the movie Blade Runner was a source of inspiration for the design, which makes use of tough materials like concrete and corrugated metal and brash red and blue neon lighting. The dystopian industrial chic paired well with the food to create a distinctive ambiance of a back alley in Tokyo circa 2100.
While the three spaces are vastly different, they share a common thread. “There are great characteristics in existing buildings that can’t be recreated — as simple as the volume, texture or patina, or as tiny as a particular detail,” explains Bencich, who runs Dining + Design and has designed restaurants in similar spaces.
The program was conceived as an entertaining and stimulating vehicle to deepen understanding of design. One sign of its success: Although the event was to end at 8 p.m., most participants were still crowding around tables an hour later, discussing design, food and Atlanta.
The next Dining + Design event will be held in the first quarter of 2016.