In 2008, two partners secured the lease of a questionable pho restaurant at Kingsway and Fraser. One partner wanted to open a French bistro. The other partner was willing to go along with that idea, but expressed concerns, by no means unreasonable at the time, that it was an odd location for a French restaurant. He felt that it would only really work if it were more like a bar, but with food on offer. Along with unresolved issues on the part of the partners with regard to the exact nature of the place, the neighbourhood exerted considerable pressure as well. As the first actual French bistro in East Vancouver, the problem of assimilation became paramount. How can you use design in such a way as to prevent alienation, rather than produce it? We decided to treat the interior as if it were more of a dive-bar or diner, perhaps built sometime in the post-war era. The name of the bistro refers to people living outside of the city's historic centre, but also to those who reach beyond their class, in an attempt to enjoy the trappings of another.
In keeping with these factors, we set out to tap into our heritage of "lower" forms of modernism. Adolf Loos used to brag that he could source the thinnest slices of marble in Vienna. He understood the principle of cladding. We added to this sentiment that the material could also be fake (faux) and that the fake material may convey the more appropriate message and hence be more "authentic", in a less usual sense of the word. The long bar top that runs the depth of the room is clad in vinyl composite tiles, black with white flecks. This gives a distinct "starry night" impression and since the bar is kept waxed to a high polish, to the uneducated eye, it looks a lot like some rare, expensive black granite. The edges of the bar top are carefully detailed for durability and profile. In the end, granite would have cost more in material costs and less in labour, but the cheap flooring tile looks great on the bar and the cultural associations are far more appropriate. In general, investing in labour (locally), as a means to creating value, rather than simply importing something expensive is a credo we like to live by.
The furniture too, corresponds to a Loosian idea, that of the object-type. Loos reviled the fashionable but uncomfortable "designer" furniture of his day. He favoured classic types, like the Thonet cafe chair, the Thebes stool and the Indian reclining arm chair, all distinct and iconic while being at the same time, common and ubiquitous in their own right. The kidney-backed cafe chair is the post-war counterpart to the Thonet chair. They are still made in the same towns and factories in Eastern Europe as when Loos used them and they are widely available. The stools at the bar, on the other hand, are standard American-made "legion-style" barstools, still available from a number of producers, mainly in the mid-west. They swivel 180 degrees and they are extremely comfortable. they can be found in dive-bars and legion halls all over North America. The trumpet lamps were custom-made locally and the fiberglass shades were cast over orange traffic cones.
The exterior of the restaurant holds the expression of the interior to an absolute minimum. One cannot tell what the interior will feel like from outside. This was done as a way of mitigating the net effect of the restaurant's presence on the street, in order that it would look like a mom-and-pop joint that had been around for a while, rather than wearing the badge of hipster appropriation. If you can't tell whether or not it's hip, then half the problem is solved. This perceived "light touch", however, is deceptive. On closer inspection, this particular mom-and-pop place appears to be native not to east Vancouver, but to east Montreal. The exterior of the building, then, refers to East Montreal, but the food and service are distinctlyFrench (from France). The interior is both French and American.
Restaurants are like little embassies or miniature resorts. They are the most personal element of a city's marketplace. In effect, you pay money to have someone invite you over and make you lunch or dinner. This is entirely different from buying something in a jar. The sheer amount of cultural information which can be communicated during the course of even a simple meal easily rivals that of a concert or exhibition. A bistro or tavern is like a theatre where every night is a new performance. Eating out may be a bourgeois conceit, but not more so than other popular forms of cultural consumption.