After much anticipation, the new restaurant in the 2200 block of 2nd Avenue North, El Barrio, is poised to open the first part of December. The owners of Trattoria Centrale, a few blocks east, plan an innovative, energetic, foodie type of a place with cuisine inspired by all regions of Mexico. Picture a younger Sol y Luna, but with a much bigger kitchen (and therefore a more diverse menu). We give you a sneak peek at the design of downtown’s newest culinary attraction.
Above is the storefront, in the former Storkland store; you will notice the hostess stand (temporarily outside) made from leftover concrete from a core drill on site, with rebar twisting up to hold the “book”. Design was a collaboration between KDAG Designs and Appleseed Workshop, with Appleseed not just handling general construction, but also custom building many of the interior elements like the stand. Outdoor seating will be installed at the sidewalk.
A visually arresting feature of the main room is local artist Shane B’s full-wall mural (above, with a half-built banquette underneath; Shane B can be found at Non Stop Art around the corner on 20th Street). A riff on urban street art, it should set the mood for botanas (Mexican street snacks that are part of the planned menu).
Opposite the mural is the long bar, seen left in the picture above. To either side of the storefront entrance is a small stand-up drinking area, and a larger lounge area with built-in banquette and kidney tables designed for the space (below). Reclaimed wood and original, historic materials mix with new steel and concrete accents in an eclectic, “vintage” way.
El Barrio plans to open initially just serving lunch, while they await their liquor license to get final approval (expected early January). At that point, the restaurant will be open every day for lunch and dinner (until 9 on weeknights, midnight on the weekends), with happy hour bar specials as well. Owner Brian Somershield emphasized that he wants dinner to be a full experience, including Latin American wines picked especially for the cuisine, seasonal fresh fruit margaritas, etc. So while we’re eager for evening service, we’ll be happy to enjoy lunch until they’ve got the bar ready to go.
As anyone who’s eaten at Centrale can attest, these guys are serious about details (above foreground, owner Geoff Lockert inspects new kitchen equipment). While the food and drink should be fresh and innovative, they also want the atmosphere to feel warm and accessible. Servers and bartenders are being chosen as much for their demeanor and passion for food, as for their experience (a similar concept to Centrale). The chef, Neville Baay, was chosen due to his culinary skills of course, but also because his philosophy matches that of the owners. It should make for a good combination.
And why does this restaurant matter–besides giving us another dining option, of course? First, it should extend foot traffic and street life east from the 2300 block, enlarging the nucleus of retail, restaurant, and bar activity there. Second, it should become an anchor for its block, encouraging others to follow. For instance, above (middle storefront) is a recently rented space which is planned as the District, a bar serving late-night tapas–directly across the street from El Barrio. We can’t report much more about it yet, but it’s an example of how most businesses like to congregate around other similar businesses. It takes some initial pioneers, and then hopefully–with the right conditions and context–others follow, and then you have a real district. In other words, we’re ready for tacos!