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The Finest New Restaurant Design in New York Metropolis


My first time strolling into HAGS, a queer wonderful eating vacation spot within the East Village, I assumed I might be flooded with reminiscences. I assumed it could be apparent what it had been, the bones of its earlier life pushing by means of the pores and skin of its partitions. However among the many bar’s material, the mushy cubicles, the lime inexperienced accents and the heart-shaped pink lights that adorn every desk, it felt like a singular area, one thing new and peculiar and decidedly queer. I used to be shocked to search out I wasn’t considering of all of the dinners I’d had on this room, which had outlined eating within the early aughts in New York Metropolis not only for me, however for principally the entire nation. The transformation was kind of an incredible feat.

HAGS sits at 163 First Avenue in Manhattan, which from 2004 to 2007 was the unique location of Momofuku Noodle Bar. It was famously spare and cramped. New York Journal then described its “practically unpassable, slim aisle of stools and its starkly purposeful, brightly lit setting.” Its uncomfortableness was a part of the romance, the concept that you had been one of many chosen few getting into this secret, practically unmarked room to eat an impeccable bowl of ramen. Later, because the model expanded, the handle was the dwelling of Momofuku Ko, and after that, the primary location of David Chang’s fast-food endeavor Fuku.

Interior of a restaurant space facing the door, with tables and chairs.

An oval window overlooks the street with several restaurant tables below.

In 2021 the restaurant went on the rental market, and initially, it didn’t look like the type of place HAGS house owners and couple Telly Justice and Camille Lindsley had been going for. Their necessities included issues like a lot of pure gentle and a heat, mushy presence. “I don’t know in case you keep in mind the previous Momofuku area, nevertheless it didn’t have any home windows or pure gentle onto the road. It was fully blocked off,” says Sarah Carpenter of Sarah Carpenter & Studio, the design staff that constructed out HAGS.

However then once more, it’s uncommon to discover a Manhattan restaurant area that doesn’t have issues. Carpenter, who had a hand in serving to discover 163 First Avenue, says that regardless of its shortcomings, it had potential. “They at all times knew that they needed the area to be small and intimate,” says Carpenter. “I feel as a result of it actually permits them to have simply work-life steadiness and employees therapy, that was actually important to their ethos.” The HAGS staff was up for the problem of not simply the best way to make the previous Momofuku eating room completely different, however the best way to make it queer.

Justice by no means anticipated the pair could be working their queer tackle tasting menus in a spot with such historical past. “It was perhaps a fiber of self-sabotaging,” she says, “as a result of we had been like ‘that is Momofuku Ko, we’re by no means going to get the lease.’” This assumption allowed Justice and Lindsley to be barely fantastical of their concepts. They needed pure gentle, plush surfaces, and no proper angles as a result of “proper angles are straight,” says Justice, midway joking. These concepts had been shaped with out consideration for the bodily realities of any potential location. However Carpenter ran with it. “[She] took our extremely inane and erratic temper board,” says Justice. “It was like footage of individuals’s lips and orchids and peculiar stuff, like a shucked oyster, and she or he actually fleshed this out.”

In fact, the largest challenges weren’t the horny ones: 163 First Avenue wanted nearly an entire demolition. The HVAC system was busted. The plumbing was previous. “Deciding that it was crucial to design the area for ADA compliance, and it being such an extremely small area, there have been quite a lot of shock elements of like, how can we get yet another inch?” says Justice. “How can we push this wall on this kitchen just a little bit additional so {that a} wheelchair can fairly entry the toilet?”

Small bowl containing button pins reading “he/him,” “she/her,” and “ze/zir” next to a lit heart-shaped lamp.

Photo of the interior of a restaurant focused on a bright green bar with stools.

However as soon as they bought the whole lot functioning, Carpenter was then tasked with taking this darkish, angular area and reworking it into one thing radically completely different, full with a window to the road that by no means existed. Carpenter says she was aesthetically impressed initially by Justice and Lindsley’s relationship. Working a restaurant as a pair might be famously disastrous, so Carpenter thought, “Okay, these two are companions in life. They actually love one another. We need to be sure that they nonetheless love one another when the restaurant opens.”

That influenced the format of the bar and the kitchen, making it open “to allow them to catch glances of one another all through the service.” It influenced the colours, like lime inexperienced and pink, which Carpenter says she selected to match Justice’s ever-evolving hair. And whereas constructing solely spherical corners was not possible in a room this small, as rounded corners often take up more room than proper angles, Carpenter discovered methods to embody the mushy, inviting ethos Justice and Lindsley needed. The bar has a padded armrest. The upholstery is tufted. The lime inexperienced paint has a mushy visible texture to it. Even the heart-shaped lamps on the desk are squishable.

For Justice, nonetheless, one of the best a part of the rework was the outside, which reworked the black, thatched steel gateway to Momofuku right into a psychedelic, Gaudí-esque opening. “It’s so inviting, this concave, punched-out, sloping portal into like this different world off the road,” she says. “You enter it and also you come into this little den, I feel it’s actually transportive.” And although it’s bizarre and singular, it matches in with the remainder of the neighborhood, a spot with a multiethnic, countercultural, punk rock historical past, which was vital to Justice. “Our individuality issues, our personalities, our identities matter, however we’re part of this bigger neighborhood, and I really feel just like the frontage actually captures that for me.”

Greater than something, Justice and Carpenter knew individuals could be wanting on the facade, questioning what had changed the restaurant that launched an empire. “There was one thing that was actually pivotal in that area earlier than and may you match that?” says Carpenter. And never simply match it, however make it queer — one thing that’s practically not possible to outline. What makes a window queer, or a desk, or an angle? Queerness is just not present in objects, however in emotions, which suggests any design decisions needed to convey intimacy and heat, and be equally welcoming and peculiar. The outcome appears nothing like what was there earlier than. However the portal paves the best way to a restaurant which will flip into one thing simply as iconic.

Christian Rodriguez is a New York Metropolis-based photographer enthusiastic about creating work that dives into his diasporic roots. He has been revealed within the New York Instances and New York journal, amongst others.

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