June 2017 Edition, p32, 33 and 38
Words by Oriana Lerner
“The “boutique” mentality – a small footprint and a super-specific product – has gone from retail to hospitality to restaurants. Another red-hot outpost for that niche market? Nightlife venues that eschew the idea of a basic bar, or, indeed, a basic bar menu and thrive on ultra-curated food (and drink) choices and escapist vibes.
Case in point: Absinthesalon Melbourne. As the offer revolves around the notorious (but legal, albeit with restrictions in many countries) beverages, Grant Amon Architects and interior designer Fabric Interior Exterior rethought the space flow around the experience of drinking it.
Both Amon and Fabrics’ interior architect Rebecca Lombardo wanted to move away from a typical bar structure. Instead, guests are welcomed into the venue with a lush display of various absinthes in what Lombardo calls a reverse bar, with glasses stored in a smaller display farther into the venue.
So much for making the design “work.” Both teams also wanted to bring artiness and edge to the look of the space, without losing an industrial aura. So, they turned to 2D focal points, such as dancing skeleton images on polished concrete floor and slightly trippy murals on the walls and floors to add interest, and focused on the ceiling as the canvas for playing with texture in the form of hundreds of single flower-shaped lights.
Projects like this aren’t just novelty acts. Instead, they are bellwethers for a new kind of storytelling that’s more short story than epic. Sure, the art traces absinthe’s history, but beyond those murals, Lombardo keeps the emphasis exactly where she wants it.
“Inside, the lighting is designed to have important focal features. The tables, art pieces and bar are clearly lit, leaving the remaining spaces shrouded in theatrical shadow,” she says. “This allows a feeling of mystique to be maintained while still letting customers read their menus,” she says.
Leave that green fairy out of it, already. Business might not be “usual,” but it’s still business. Sorry, designers – even flights of fancy need a GPS.