New York City
A 240-foot-long, sculptural white marble bar in the Stella 34 Trattoria sinuously snakes through the city-block-long new restaurant on the sixth floor of Macy's Herald Square in New York City. The crema delicata marble spills like lava over a stainless steel base to adventurously unite an assortment of Italian cooking and dining activities, including a Vivoli gelateria'its first location outside Florence'a wine bar, an antipasto display, and three wood-burning ovens baking Neapolitan pizzas (margherita is a favorite). In reinventing department-store dining, Macy's plans to attract not only shoppers but office workers and residents who seek a more refined experience than is available from the fast-food joints and steak houses clotting the blocks around Herald Square. Here you can order prosecco to drink with your wood-roasted funghi.
Marking the termination of the serpentine counter at the south end, the fiery ovens are topped by a stainless steel panel that has been laser-cut and backlit (in flaming orange) with graphic evocations of three Italian volcanoes: Etna, Stromboli, and Vesuvius. The contoured marble bar provides an active backdrop for the dining section, where curvilinear banquettes and walnut-topped tables arrayed along the east wall look out over treetops toward the Empire State Building. 'We wanted just one long room'to create a sense of grandeur,' says architect Jay Valgora of Studio V Architecture, the restaurant's designer, about the white, light-filled volume of 22,500 square feet, where only pale, diaphanous curtains divide a private dining salon at the south end and a lounge at the north from the main dining area. Punctuated by wall panels of tan avodire veneer, the color palette, dominated by shades of white, creates an ambience reminiscent of ristoranti from 1960s Italian films. You want to see Marcello Mastroianni or Gina Lollobrigida saunter in for a Negroni.
For the past few years, Valgora and Studio V have been executing a $400 million renovation for the Macy's emporium, which the store claims is the largest in the world. Composed of the original Broadway building designed by De Lemos & Cordes (1902) with additions on Seventh Avenue by Robert D. Kohn (1924, 1928, 1931), the National Historic Landmark structure is a jumble of layered history. As part of the new makeover, Macy's CEO Terry Lundgren decided a 'destination' dining spot for the flagship store was needed, and had a special express elevator designated for Stella 34 at the 35th Street and Broadway entrance. Currently the trattoria serves dinner until 9:30 p.m. (9:00 on Sundays), although Warren Wolfe, the group vice president of food services for Macy's, says, 'We plan to extend the nighttime business in the near future.'
Working with restaurateur Nick Valenti and his Patina Restaurant Group, which manages the 270-seat restaurant, Macy's brought in chef Jonathan Benno of Lincoln Ristorante at Lincoln Center to oversee the menu. Jarett Appell, an American trained in Italy, acts as executive chef for the Neapolitan cuisine, which Wolfe explains was chosen for its broad appeal to all cultures.
In renovating the space, a stockroom for the last 50 years, Valgora says the team 'peeled off plywood and scraped paint' to bring back the 12-foot-high bay windows of the original structure. The architect and his team also decided to expose the barrel-vaulted ceiling; one series of vaults follows the diagonal direction of Broadway, while the other moves in the east'west direction of 34th and 35th streets, the store's south and north boundaries. To cut down on the din from combining marble counters with new mosaic-tile floors and solid-surface booths, Valgora covered the concave areas of the vaults with glass-fiber-reinforced gypsum (GRG). It almost works'especially when the restaurant isn't crowded.
Except for the mosaic-tile floor, which does look as if it came with the architecture, Valgora kept the distinction between existing architecture (barrel vaults) and new column casings (of cast gypsum with fluted contours trimmed in stainless steel). 'Old should be old and new should be new,' says the architect, adding, 'We tried for the effect of contrapposto.' The term seems to be taken most literally in the way Valgora's capital-free columns smack into the soffits between the barrel vaults, which leads to some architecturally awkward moments: a mild collision more than a contrapposto. Fortunately, the complex topography of the ceiling lets the cove lighting work to great effect, creating ripples of light and shadow along the wall of windows overlooking Broadway.
In an area of New York frequently described as either a culinary wasteland or architectural sinkhole, Macy's entrepreneurial spirit in joining dining and design is both generous and brave.
Studio V Architecture, PLLC
44 E 32nd St New York, NY 10016
Size: 22,500 square feet
Completion date: March 2013
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Floor and wall tile:
Nemo Tile (bathroom floor and wall tile material: Porcelain OXY Blackmore) (Restaurant Wall material: white metro tile); Matt Karlin 212-505-0009 ext 235
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