Why I Pick What I Eat Based On How A Place Looks // by Interior Designer Abi Spear
MEET ABI SPEAR
You remember Abi, right?! Abi Spear is a dear friend of mine, and a British-born Interior Designer. Through her job at Hastings, a well-respected architecture firm here in Nashville, Abi designs workplaces for companies such as Microsoft, Asurion and Mars. Today, Abi has joined us to talk about some of the most beautiful places to dine and drink in Music City.
My first instinct isn't to look at a menu. It's to look through the window.
In my opinion, if a restaurant or bar pays attention to how it presents itself or takes the time to focus on the finer details of your dining experience, surely the food should follow suit -- or be even better, as that is its primary function, right?!
To me, a beautiful restaurant is usually the kind of restaurant that shows utmost respect to the customer. There is a psychology behind how people use spaces, and that's a large portion of what my job focuses on. From a business point of view, the longer a person spends in your space, the more they will consume -- and the more money will be spent. A space should be pleasing and comfortable so people will want to stick around. They'll come back in the knowledge that they will eat well, feel at ease, and will not be moved on for the next round of diners. And that's why they'll return time and time again.
I spend a lot of my time looking into the design of restaurants and hotels. Even though I specialize in the design of commercial workplaces, I find that there is a lot of crossover particularly for companies like Microsoft. They have a specific design language that ensures their brand is continuous, but that each site has its own identity. This kind of thinking encourages the movement away from the traditional workplace, and closer to what you'd expect to see in residential and hospitality design. So, this leads me to study the influences, the design, and the psychology behind places of leisure much more closely.
Without further ado, here are a few of the places in Nashville that I would consider the loveliest (and tastiest!) places to share a meal and a beverage in Music City.
As a preface: My husband and I eat out quite a lot, generally at the places I am going to talk about below. We are definitely narrow-minded in our food selections when we go to these places. We get the same thing every single time, because it's too good. My husband would call it Refined Taste. I, on the other hand, am simply too scared to get anything else in case I order something I might regret. *shrug.*
Photos above via Kathryn Lager Design Studio
Henrietta Red in Germantown ticks all of my personal design language boxes. Simple, warm, Scandinavian, muted color palette. It is not overkill, with subtle pattern being added in the way of tile that doesn't over-complicate. The design fades into the background and makes you feel comfortable and at home in a way that 'hygge' would suggest. (That's an idea borrowed from Danish cultures, and the concept is, basically, the art of creating intimacy by designing your space for Optimal Coziness.)
Whether or not the design is intentionally meant to be Scandinavian, I am unsure. Maybe it's the seafood-heavy menu, the "home-iness" of the open kitchen, or the ambiance created by the wood burning oven, but I feel like I could be in Copenhagen every time I visit. In fact, the place is meant to embody owner and head chef Julia Sullivan's grandparents "Carolina low-country hospitality," which doesn't feel like a dissimilar concept to hygge to me.
This place could so easily be pretentious, but it's somehow managed to avoid that. I also really like the idea of keeping the bar area and the dining area separate. It adds a journey to your eating experience, or a separation if you are not doing one or the other. The furniture is perfectly selected and the crockery is from Heath Ceramics. (That's enough to make my heart melt.) Kathryn Lager Design Studio did such a great job with this space!
- Any of the Crudo dishes
- Oysters (if you're into them, they are shucked right in front of you.)
- Braised Lamb
- Roasted Carrots
- The Chocolate Goat - if it ever returns to the menu!
Photos above via Design, Bitches
Entering the restaurant through a golden door, you flow into the blush pink glow of the interior. I prefer this place when the sun is setting and all the candles are lit. It's as though the design blends with the sunset. (Sorry, that was corny, But, seriously, visit at dusk and you will see.)
This space was conceptualized by Design, Bitches -- which are without a doubt the coolest female-led design company to come out of LA. Probably the coolest one period.
I love the design of Little Octopus not just as a whole, but because of all the intricate and well-thought-out design details that make it complete. As Holley pointed out when we were last there, even the light fixtures look like the suckers on an octopus' tentacle. A well-executed but un-obvious design concept is the best kind.
A little more obvious is the giant Octopus mural painted on the back wall. We recently had the artist Chris Zidek into Hastings for a Design Lab discussion that we host once a week. He is awesome and claims that if you find matching patterns on the octopus, he'll buy you a free meal there. Again, the kitchen is open so it appears we are running into a theme here.
- Fingerling Potatoes (Holley seconds this, very, very much.)
- Melon salad
Most photos above via Mas Taco's Facebook Page or Pinterest. The rest are from Abi's wedding.
MAS TACOS, POR FAVOR
Mas Tacos, Por Favor (commonly referred to as just "Mas Tacos") could be seen as a giant contrast to the two expensively designed establishments that I mentioned above, particularly as it started out as a food truck. This doesn't, however, mean that it is any less thought-out.
The place might not look like much from the outside, but you'll be pleasantly surprised upon entering. The charm of Mas Tacos lies in its eclectic collection of Mexican themed accessories and a hand drawn menu wall. This place has character, done in the most tasteful of ways. Every wonky chair, every old portrait feels like it has a story and a feeling of authenticity. I believe that the owner and head chef traveled to Mexico to study the local cuisine, which is evident in her fresh and delicious cooking. (A note from Holley: This place is incredible. I dare you to find a better taco anywhere. Yeah, I said it.) A bar area is a recent addition to the restaurant, and my husband and I actually had our post-wedding meal here. The atmosphere was perfect for celebrating.
I adore this place, and for $3 a taco, we just keep coming back. (It's cash only, so heads up! Have your ATM card ready.)
- The Cast-Iron Chicken Tacos
- Chicken Tortilla Soup
- The Fried Fish Taco
- Literally Any Taco, Tho
- All The Margaritas!
Photos via Nashville Guru
It doesn't seem like Old Glory is trying to "make its mark." Instead, it feels like it's fitting into or even taking a backseat to the cavernous old building in which it is situated. Heritage refurbishment (that's the careful and historically-conscious refurbishment of older building) holds a special place in my heart, and I was fortunate to work on a major rejuvenation project in London. (See: Coals Drops, Kings Cross.)
There are so many fantastic old buildings in Nashville that have the opportunity to leak their character into the next bar/restaurant/housing project, and it is such a shame when these are torn down to accommodate for the dreaded Tall-And-Skinny housing complex. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate that there is an additional cost associated with refurbishment, but history is so cherished here in the USA, and these buildings should be rescued whenever possible.
I like that the entrance way to this 1920's boiler room is so inconspicuous. The lack of wayfinding (that's the use of signage or other methods of communicating direction to travelers) makes simply finding Old Glory an adventure in itself. When you do manage to enter, you walk into what is essentially one gigantic room. The height of the open, three-story space is vast, which makes you feel particularly tiny on the ground level. Here's a link to some history about the building and neighborhood in which Old Glory resides, called Edgehill Village.
Anyway, I could ramble on about Old Glory, but what I love most is that it feels untouched and unintrusive. The respect for the original building is still there, and I think there is nothing better than when a building can be used for a multitude of functions over its (hopefully very long) lifespan.
- I'm British, so anything with gin.
To learn more about our guest blogger Abi Spear and her incredible work, have a peek at her website.