As diners head back out to Los Angeles bars and restaurants following the depths of the pandemic, it’s no secret that they’re returning to a different industry. Not only have business models adjusted for delivery apps, expanded retail offerings, inflation, and labor shortages, but the restaurants themselves have changed too, in their look and feel. That is, of course, because the dining public has changed — going out has a new significance and design has had to adapt to reflect that.
Everyone is well aware of the value of freedom now. “If you’re going to go out for drinks or dinner, you want to make sure you do it in a place that feels exciting and glamorous,” Martin Brudnizki, of Martin Brudnizki Design Studio, says.
Here in Los Angeles, two macro design trends have emerged over the last 18 months: intimate spaces that foster the human connection that was absent for so long, and restaurants with an escapist aesthetic that celebrates life while feeling transportive. And it’s no wonder that after having been cooped up inside for so long, the desire to travel, or even the need for a quick change of scenery, is real. Eater spoke with some of LA’s top hospitality designers to break down five design trends that are defining the city’s restaurants now.
Trend: More Thoughtful Outdoor Spaces
Roman Alonso, Commune Design
The greater use of outdoor spaces has been a key design trend in Southern California according to Commune Design. “Los Angeles used to have surprisingly few outdoor restaurants for a city that has great weather year-round,” Alonso tells Eater. At La Cha Cha Cha, Cabra, and Bar Lis, beautiful outdoor spaces can adjust to any future lockdown mandates or inclement weather. Meanwhile, Bacari Silver Lake, Causita, and Superba’s Hollywood outpost “have gone above and beyond to create outdoor patio spaces that are complementary to the overall design aesthetic, but also create a uniquely special way to experience the food and service without feeling like you’ve been cast out onto a sidewalk or parklet that feels more like an overflow.”
Trend: Immersive Design
Alexis Readinger, Preen, Inc.
For Preen’s redesign of Alimento in Silver Lake, the team used inked maple, saturated colors, and specific lighting details to create an immersive experience with “a really strong focus on what’s going on with your companion and at your table,” says Readinger. She cites the bar at Horses for a similar sense of intimacy achieved through lighting details, saturated colors, and “the two-person elevated booths right next to the bar that create a bit of arena seating,” which breaks up the room and gives diners a more private-dining feel. At Lasita, another recent redesign by Preen, arena seating and saturated colors establish this same intimate, immersive aesthetic.
Trend: Luxe Natural Materials
Holly Fox, Last Word Hospitality
“Layered design feels more luxurious and special, and is helping to validate the increased expense of going out to eat or drink,” explains Fox. She adds that bars and restaurants are all about the senses, so we expect rising prices to be matched by the atmosphere. “It’s a whole package experience now more than it’s ever been.” For Last Word’s next round of projects, Fox says they will depart from pre-pandemic minimalism toward natural materials like darker-toned wood paneling, patterned fabrics, hand-painted tiles, polished metals, and pillar candles. The Downtown Proper Hotel is a strong example of this trend, Fox notes. The newly opened Capri Club utilizes rich colors and wood paneling, while Last Word’s own Nossa Caipirinha Bar features saturated tones, darker woods, and pillar candles throughout.
Trend: Modern Decadence
Martin Brudnizki, Martin Brudnizki Design Studio
“More than ever, people want to go somewhere that provides an experience and an opportunity to escape day-to-day life,” explains Brudnizki, who centered this principle in the design of Mother Wolf, Mes Amis, and The Britely social club inside The Pendry Hotel. For Brudnizki and team, materiality is key to turning a space into something fantastical and fun. “We like to use marbles, leather, and mohair velvets, which are all glamorous and quite sensual to touch,” he says. Antique mirrors and reflective brass make for elegant and exciting surfaces, while lighting is another essential component to this New Decadence aesthetic. Overhead lighting tends to be too harsh, Brudnizki clarifies, so lighting is placed at different heights to “create the perfect golden glow: from ground level lighting to warm table lamps and floor lamps.”
Trend: The Tulumification of Los Angeles
Christian Schulz, Studio Collective
Studio Collective’s own Caravan Swim Club at the Hotel June, and Ka’Teen in Hollywood are part of a growing number of restaurants that Schulz calls “destination-forward, aspirational spaces.” Schulz singles out the recent “Tulum craze” in which restaurants like Meteora, Chulita, and La Mesa are “overtly themed to try to give off a laid-back, Tulum beach aesthetic with Mayan Mexican décor” that includes basket lights, terracotta tiles, and handwoven rattan or hand-wrapped rope furnishings. After two very intense years, it’s clearly a welcome escape.