A little less than a year ago, the Meatpacking District in Manhattan embraced a new restaurant known as La Sirena. Amidst the sea of neighboring pre-war buildings, the 13,000-square-foot space emerged as the new hotspot in Chelsea, which is inspired by a traditional Italian trattoria. Located on the raised plaza level of the Maritime Hotel, La Sirena features two intimate indoor dining rooms linked by a glass-enclosed bar that opens to an outdoor plaza. Accessible through the hotel’s lobby or the grand stairs off of Ninth Avenue, the playful fine dining restaurant is Batali and Bastianich Hospitality Group (B&BHG)’s newest addition to the New York City restaurant scene in about a decade.
“The vision of the restaurant was born out of simultaneously figuring out the cuisine, as well as the environment that would support that story,” explained Alec Zaballero, design principal of TPG Architecture, LLP, in New York, NY, who has aided B&BHG in the design of a few of its other spaces throughout the years. “You can’t design a restaurant that contradicts your food offerings.”
“It all starts with the food,” added Diana Revkin, managing director for retail at TPG Architecture, who managed the project team.
The overall design concept was to blend the midcentury modern vibe of the legendary Maritime Hotel with contemporary Mediterranean flavor, while evoking ‘50s and ‘60s vibes, according to Zaballero. “The combination of an Italian chef, piazza terrace and maritime connection in a mid-century setting generates Capri in the 1950s, which is the look we were trying to achieve,” the designer explained. “Imagine Sophia Loren looking over the Mediterranean having prosecco and calamari.
“This is the coming together of a lot of things,” Zaballero went on to say. “It’s the coming together of the history of the building, unique characteristics of the architecture (piazza and loggia) and the ability to make a pavilion in the hotel. The vision in Mario’s mind was very Mediterranean, reminiscent of a courtyard with lemon trees where you could sit out in great weather, hence the open glass doors to the big bar.”
Crafting an Italian eatery
To create the authentic look and feel of a typical Italian eatery, designers searched for a muted palette with accents of lighter colors. Approximately 9,000 square feet of custom mosaic tile in Estremoz Blanco and Ruivina Grey marbles was selected for the flooring throughout the entire restaurant, with a polished finish used on the interior and a honed finish on the exterior. “There are certain materials that carry the alimentation of a place and specificity of culture, and white and gray marble are very Italian and very appropriate,” said Zaballero. “Strategically, the other reason [we chose this material] is because of the indoor and outdoor layout — with a terrace, bar and two restaurant wings. The decision was to make them feel as if they flowed from one to the other. We put in all of these glass doors that open during good weather, so we wanted a material that could be continuous from inside to outside, but which would hold up in exterior conditions. Unlike Italy, we do get blizzards and whatnot.”
The ‘60s-inspired curvilinear pavers, supplied by Walker Zanger in New York, NY, are constructed of marbles from the central regions of Estremoz and Sintra in Portugal. “In traditional Portuguese and Brazilian culture, these are cobblestones,” said Jonathan Zanger, president of Walker Zanger. “The cobbles would be handset [traditionally], so these are made to look like that. We took pieces and hand-laid them to shape, then arranged them into a pattern. It looks like it’s all done by hand; you don’t see where one sheet ends and another begins.”
“From an aesthetic standpoint, the pattern in this tile really drives the whole visual of the restaurant,” said Revkin. “It’s the dominant creative aspect.”
It took Zanger and his team about two months to create the customized mosaic, which was implemented in 12- and 24-inch sheets. “It has become the whole logo of the restaurant. It’s replicated on the front of the plates, business cards and napkins,” said Zanger. “It was a win-win because it was the kind of stone that is often used for these types of projects in Portugal, it was suitable for the New York City climate and it was also suitable for the heavy foot traffic.”
Tying everything together
When applying the unique flooring at La Sirena, the existing terrazzo from the original construction in the mid-1900s also had to be taken into account. “There were some challenges from a floor transition standpoint to make sure the tile coordinated well with the existing terrazzo, which was kept in the dining rooms, and which is beautiful and mid-century,” Revkin explained. “The terrazzo was lightly refurbished and polished, but it was important to make sure everything flowed and fit well.”
The project took about a year and a half to complete, given the complexity of the existing building conditions and amount of work involved. About a month after its opening, the restaurant landed a spot on The New York Times Critic’s Pick list, which has contributed to its lengthy waiting list. “The city is in love with it,” said Revkin.
“If we didn’t have this tile on the floor, it would be very hard to tie together some very disparate spaces,” added Zaballero. “You’ve got the loggia, the open atrium area, but then you’ve got an entire wing of the balcony that faces the street and curves around the building. So if we didn’t have a strong element like this tile, how do you distinctively tie together disparate spaces? It’s the tile that does that job.”
La Sirena Ristorante
New York, NY
Client: Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group, New York, NY
Architect: TPG Architecture, LLP, New York, NY
Stone Supplier: Walker Zanger, New York, NY (Estremoz Blanco and Ruivina Grey marbles)