“We wanted to take the word design out of it,” Siobhan Barry, a partner at ICRAVE, a design and branding studio, says of The General, a new restaurant in the Bowery. It’s a provocative thing for a designer to say but one that makes sense when you consider that the spot is a contemporary riff on the classic Chinese restaurants that used to dot this stretch of Manhattan.
Instead of putting together a high-concept, design-intensive look for the restaurant, a product of a collaboration between EMM Group and chef Hung Huynh, a Top Chef winner, Barry and her team opted for a grittier approach— one that pays tribute to the area’s past.
For starters, a glass floor-to-ceiling garage door fronts the place, opening up the 4,000-square foot to the city just outside. “It’s not isolating nor insulating,” Barry notes. “It gives the feeling of bringing the sidewalk in.” The flooring at the front, too, bold black-and-white squares, has the suggestion of the sidewalk. “It feels like an outdoor space that’s been pushed in,” says Barry.
Beyond the bar area, which serves as a hub for the restaurant, the look is industrial, as if the finishes had just been removed. Walls are covered in lath and plaster. The ceiling looks as if it has been ripped away, revealing the conduit above, and the sconces dotting the walls look stripped to their bare bones.
At the back of the space, Barry and her team pulled out all the stops, creating something like “a hidden opium den,” she says. Here, the rough edges found at the front give way to a more luxe experience that consciously evokes the Chinese restaurants of yesteryear. “It’s more decorative and the saturation is more intense,” Barry explains. The ceiling has a design reminiscent of pressed tin, a look carried down a section of the wall; other walls in the same area are covered in a bold pattern that is repeated on the light fixtures.
“We wanted to get away from the sleek uptown look,” says Barry. “The idea was to shred and peel back layers and bring back a little of the memory of what this neighborhood used to be.”