The Curators: Navy NYC’s Owner & Designer Avika Elstein on Restaurant Design & NYC’s Top Interior Gems | meltingbutter.com

The Curators: Navy’s Akiva Elstein on Restaurant Design & NYC’s Top Interior Gems

In NYC’s competitive restaurant landscape, restaurants can no longer rely solely on the quality of their food offering. The recipe for a restaurant’s success must also include an ability to evoke a strong emotional response and a connection with diners through its environment.

But how is this best achieved?

Through the huge amount of consideration and thought that gets put into a restaurant’s design and the details that bring it to life.

Akiva Elstein is no stranger to this thought process after having designed several popular NYC restaurants like Navy, Smith & Mills, Employees Only and Macao Trading Co. In fact, when designing Navy, he’d often be found sitting inside the empty restaurant space pondering the themes, aesthetics and Bauhaus inspirations of what would eventually become a restaurant that has nailed the balance of excellent food and vibrant atmosphere.

I recently caught up with Akiva to take a tour of the charming details that make Navy such a visual delight. Like the raw bar’s patterned tiles that are influenced by a sailboat image found in the bathroom and the fully functional antique train sink that folds up neatly into the wall.

During the tour, we got talking about the considerations, inspirations and sourcing secrets of restaurant design before he kindly curated a Melting Butter city guide with NYC’s top 5 restaurant interior gems.

The Curators: Navy NYC’s Owner & Designer Avika Elstein on Restaurant Design & NYC’s Top Interior Gems | meltingbutter.com

Akiva Elstein, Navy NYC Owner – Photo: Nicole Franzen

 

MB – The interior at Navy is a big part of what makes the restaurant special to me. Can you share some of the places where you sourced some of your favourite pieces?

AE – I’ve been collecting the fabrics you can see on the walls which are vintage French linens, old World War II military tents and Japanese indigos for many years and they mostly came from eBay. I also go to the Brimfield Antique Show in Massachusetts, which happens 3 times a year. I always get a van and drive up there to buy things for the restaurant like these benches which are made out of old bowling alleys from Brunswick (an old American brand from the 50’s and 60’s). Some of my favourite pieces in here are the speakers up above the raw bar – I really love those – and they’re from Brimfield as well.

The Curators: Navy NYC’s Owner & Designer Avika Elstein on Restaurant Design & NYC’s Top Interior Gems | meltingbutter.com

Navy raw bar & vintage speakers from Brimfield Market – Photo: Nicole Franzen

 

MB – Cool, I wasn’t sure what they were – they’re a funny cone shape. Did they work when you got them?

AE – Well we had to adjust them and fix them up on the inside a little bit to make them work properly but the cone shape is what makes the sound very vintage – it reminds me of a radio station from the 50’s.

MB – Did you use any cool websites or blogs to get visual references for the restaurant design?

AE – Yeah there are a bunch of them. There’s a really cool one called THIS & THAT CRE8TIVE.

I also use Pinterest for image research and the New York Public Library Digital Gallery to search for inspiration from old menus, typography and things like that.

MB – What’s your absolute favourite piece in the restaurant?

AE – It’s hard to say what my favourite one is but I really like what’s happening with the Japanese indigos we have on the windows. At night they go all the way up the windows like curtains and the way we cut up and mix the fabrics has a cool visual effect.

The Curators: Navy NYC’s Owner & Designer Avika Elstein on Restaurant Design & NYC’s Top Interior Gems | meltingbutter.com

Japanese indigo curtains at Navy NYC – Photo: Whitney Hayes – http://whitney-hayes.tumblr.com/post/82198541027/navy-nyc-camille-becerra-whitney-hayes

 

MB – What do you think the most important interiors consideration is for creating a thriving restaurant environment?

AE – It’s definitely the configuration and lighting. You have to imagine how people would move within the space and you have to create corners and nooks that create a certain sexiness in the restaurant. You also shouldn’t have white light in a restaurant – it should always be a yellow or soft amber lighting. So lighting is one of the things I’ve been really intense about to ensure it makes people look and feel really attractive at night.

MB – Are there any other considerations that don’t relate to the restaurant interiors? I noticed that the staff are really well dressed and have this complementing vintage style. Do you brief them on a specific type of uniform?

AE – Having great staff is really important. The staff here dresses in their own clothes and because I always try and hire people that share a similar aesthetic they fit nicely into the style of restaurant. I do have plans for uniforms in the future though – I’m getting them made by Lady and Butler.

MB – What are they going to look like?

AE – So far the ladies will be dressed in French style schoolgirl dresses – one that you could probably imagine Coco Chanel wearing back in the day.

MB – I’ve read that it’s a growing trend for some NYC restaurant designers purposely remove soft furnishings to make the restaurants noisier. Were acoustics a consideration of yours in the design of Navy?

AE – I used to work at Schiller’s Liquor Bar in the Lower East Side and I remember it being really loud. I didn’t want Navy to be loud like that so when we designed the space we kept acoustics in mind. Navy is already such a small restaurant it really doesn’t need to be so loud so we made sure of this by adding a layer of foam underneath the fabrics we have on the wall to absorb the sound.

MB – What are some restaurants or bar interiors that inspired you the most for Navy?

AE – Definitely a place called Café Moto in Brooklyn. This place also inspired the design at Smith & Mills. They are right underneath a bridge in what wasn’t a very nice area of Williamsburg so there was this element of surprise when you walked into such a cool beautiful space. The industrial vintage aesthetic they had was new and hadn’t been done before and I think and a lot of restaurants in New York copied them after that.

 

AVIKA ELSTEIN’S TOP 5 NYC RESTAURANT INTERIOR GEMS

CAFÉ SABARSKY, UPPER EAST SIDE

It’s an all-Viennese café that looks like a grand café. I like that it’s understated and not too over-designed.

http://kg-ny.com/

1048 5th Ave, Manhattan, NY 10028
(212) 288-0665

Cafe Sarbasky | The Curators: Navy NYC’s Owner & Designer Avika Elstein on Restaurant Design & NYC’s Top Interior Gems | meltingbutter.com

Inside Café Sarbasky – Photo: Courtesy of Café Sarbasky

 

CAFÉ MOTO, WILLIAMSBURG

They were the first ones to do old industrial design. I think they are one of the most beautiful restaurants, which is probably why everyone in the industry copied them.

http://www.cafe-moto.com/

394 Broadway, Brooklyn, NY 11211
(718) 599-6895

Cafe Moto | The Curators: Navy NYC’s Owner & Designer Avika Elstein on Restaurant Design & NYC’s Top Interior Gems | meltingbutter.com

Café Moto Exterior – Photo: by Justin Hall

Cafe Moto | The Curators: Navy NYC’s Owner & Designer Avika Elstein on Restaurant Design & NYC’s Top Interior Gems | meltingbutter.com

Café Moto Interior – Photo: https://www.flickr.com/photos/garrettziegler/

 

MINETTA TAVERN, GREENWICH VILLAGE

Very classy, old New York style. I love that I can go there at 12pm (I normally eat late) and the food is always consistent.

http://www.minettatavernny.com/

113 Macdougal St, New York, NY 10012
(212) 475-3850 | Make a Reservation

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Minetta Tavern | The Curators: Navy NYC’s Owner & Designer Avika Elstein on Restaurant Design & NYC’s Top Interior Gems | meltingbutter.com

Back dining room at Minetta Tavern – Photo: https://www.flickr.com/photos/roboppy/

 

LUDDITE, GREENPOINT

A gorgeous interiors store in Greenpoint. I actually purchased the lights from Navy in there.

http://luddite.us/

Franklin St, New York, NY 11222
(718) 387-3450

Luddite Antiques | The Curators: Navy NYC’s Owner & Designer Avika Elstein on Restaurant Design & NYC’s Top Interior Gems | meltingbutter.com

Luddite Antiques store – Photo: Nicole Franzen

 

MAISON O, SOHO

A Japanese izakaya in Soho. I like how playful the interiors are – they were actually designed by Serge Becker who is a big influence for me.

http://maisononyc.com/

98 Kenmare St, New York, NY 10012
(212) 274-9898 | Make a Reservation

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Maison O | The Curators: Navy NYC’s Owner & Designer Avika Elstein on Restaurant Design & NYC’s Top Interior Gems | meltingbutter.com

Inside Maison O – Photo: Courtesy of Maison O

 

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(Feature photo: by Nicole Franzen, courtesy of Navy NYC)

 

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