Sydney Grims, half of the daughter-and-father team who opened Eater Awards Design of the Year winner Louie Louie in University City last year, had an early 1900s art nouveau aesthetic in mind when she started planning their newest restaurant. But as she and Marty Grims began mapping out the details, they realized that wasn’t the direction they wanted to go.
“We started the design process thinking we wanted to take inspiration from traditional art nouveau restaurants in New York and Paris. But as we got farther along, we realized we didn’t want to do something so reminiscent of things we’d already seen,” Sydney Grims says. “We wanted to switch to something totally new, and bring to Philly something that hadn’t been done before.”
The result, achieved with designer Kate Rohrer of Rohe Creative, is what Grims calls a ’70s-influenced mashup of color and texture inspired by the work of artist Peter Max, Studio 54, and filmmaker Wes Anderson.
“The design change really re-energized the restaurant, taking it from being a traditional French bistro into more of an American bistro with French influence. It inverted the project and got us much more excited about what we were adding to the Philadelphia scene. We wound up with a restaurant that’s energetic, fun, and approachable, with some vintage flair,” Grims says.
The vintage comes in the form of reupholstered furniture and repurposed decor, like the subway tiles that line the restaurant’s walls. Grims lists them as one of four elements that make the difference at Louie Louie, at 3611 Walnut Street in the Inn at Penn on the University of Pennsylvania campus.
1. The floors
The team wanted to mosaic the entire floor of Louie Louie. But it’s a big restaurant and “that probably would have been close to a million dollars, and might have wound up looking like too much,” Grims says. Instead, the entryway and bar area got the shimmering mosaic. The lounge, with its plush couches and chairs, has an oak floor; the main dining room pops with a black-and-white checkerboard pattern; and the secondary dining room has a pink, green, amber, and white marble design. “The floor was our biggest investment. We wanted something dramatic that would also delineate the space,” Grims says.
2. The tiled walls
Those vintage-looking subway tiles came from a Fishtown backyard. Designer Kate Rohrer knew the collector, who amasses tiles — many of which were broken.
“We felt like there was a story within those tiles,” Grims says. “We didn’t want something that was perfect; we wanted it to have more history. So if you look closely at the walls, you’ll see that a lot of them are broken and filled in with gold filigree. When you walk in, you don’t notice it right away because there’s so much else to look at, so it’s kind of a little surprise — the walls and the floors are my favorite part of the restaurant.”
3. The lighting
The globe light fixtures, suspended over the tables and arranged in the center of the dining room like street lamps lining a Parisian boulevard, are a key part of the ambiance, Grims says: “I think people underestimate how much lighting plays a role. We worked with a lighting designer to get how we wanted the tables illuminated exactly right.”
4. The patio
Patio seating enclosed by plants under an awning along Walnut Street, in conjunction with the restaurant’s big front windows, gives Louie Louie an indoor-outdoor feel, Grims says.
“When you walk by, with all the windows and doors open and people sitting outside, you can really feel the energy spilling out of the restaurant,” she says. “At the end of March, that’s when all the windows and doors will open again.”
Louie Louie is the Eater Philly Restaurant Design of the Year winner for 2018. Over the next few months, we’ll be publishing a feature story on each of the Eater Awards winners. Read about 2018 Restaurant of the Year Suraya here.