The Commander’s family of restaurants returns to the French Quarter in New Orleans with a “spirited” restaurant called SoBou that offers Louisiana street food-inspired cuisine.
The adage, “Too many cooks spoil the broth” does not apply here at SoBou (which stands for South of Bourbon Street) restaurant. Nestled inside the W Hotel – French Quarter, it brings together an all-star team including “Cocktail Chick” Ti Adelaide Martin of the company’s flagship Commander’s Palace, Alex Brennan-Martin of Brennan’s of Houston, cousin Brad Brennan, and Commander’s Palace team members executive chef Tory McPhail, general manager Steve Woodruff, corporate bar chef Lu Brow, and sommelier Dan Davis.
The latest addition to the famous culinary family is about as far from ordinary as it is close to its New Orleans roots. With a restaurant offering starters such as Butternut Squash Beignets (foie gras fondue, duck debris & chicory coffee ganache) and Crispy Oyster Tacos (compressed pineapple ceviche, mirliton & Cajun ghost pepper caviar) or entrees such as Cracklin’ Crusted Yellowfin Tuna (crawfish macque choux, crab boiled lentils, chili roasted garlic & lemon confit) and Chargrilled Shrimp Salad (hearts of romaine lettuce tossed in a crab boiled egg & anchovy sauce gribiche served with chili roasted garlic croustades and manchego ribbons), the atmosphere had to match the local eclecticism of the food.
Spicing Up the Interior
In homage to mixology, Reveal Design Group of New York City – together with Nema Workshop – brought the theme of a “spirited restaurant” to life with their modern interpretation of a saloon in the heart of the French Quarter. Tools of mixology (loaned by the Museum of the American Cocktail in New Orleans) are displayed, along with abstract symbols of the city’s musical history, to generate an immersive and dazzling environment.
Since exterior lighting was kept to a minimum (due to strict French Quarter ordinances), devising an interior “bottle wall” gave the restaurant a strong street presence, allowing it to glow from within like a lantern.
Inside, the décor is evocative of an apothecary, back in the era when cocktails originated. The main mixology bar features a frosted oval table – reserved for special tastings – that is illuminated from within, transmitting light through the stemware and highlighting each colorful drink. Adjustable shielded recessed lights accent the tables and highlight the mixology areas. Custom-designed brass lighting fixtures that resemble the bell of a trumpet offer ambient illumination while giving a nod to the city’s Jazz culture.
Visible from all of the dining spaces is a gently curving brass bar, the back of which is wrapped with a band of crisp white light to help feature a myriad of ingredients. The top glass rack and bar top are accented with shielded downlights to help showcase the mixology “heart” of the restaurant.
Underscoring that theme are the apothecary tables that are internally illuminated to dramatize the mixology tools found within. A series of infinity boxes showcasing illuminated frosted and clear bottles serves as artwork, adjacent to exposed brick walls and luminescent tunnels. Walls lined with shelves of bottles in varying translucencies are uplit with linear LED strips, creating a sparkling glass curtain that envelops diners. while ceiling slots and banquette backs are illuminated with linear xenon lighting strips that provide a warm glow along the perimeter.
The banquette seating is carefully nested into the “bottle wall” to create an intimate environment for guests. Adjustable 20-watt MR16s illuminate the tabletops, and each is lensed with solite and soft peach dichroic glass to reduce glare and highlight the food and drinks.
Coordinating these major lighting elements on a conservative budget was a challenge that was met by developing cost-effective and easily implemented lighting details to create an alluring space that marks a new beginning in New Orleans’ sparkling history.
PROJECT AT A GLANCE
Design Team: Reveal Design Group, New York City, comprised of Ken Ventry, Courtney Mark, and Levia Lew
Project: SoBou, W Hotel, French Quarter, New Orleans
Lighting Products Used: RSA, IRiS and Lumière
Photography: Nema Workshop, Michael Kleinberg
Creativity Award of Recognition: Professional Commercial category, Cooper Lighting’s 36th annual SOURCE Awards