Occupying the ground floor and basement level of an iconic corner landmark building originally designed by William Hardenbergh (architect of such New York City masterpieces as the Plaza Hotel, the Dakota and the Waldorf Astoria), Lafayette will be a light-filled restaurant, which, in the tradition of France’s Grand Cafés, will be both urbane and earthy, romantic and comfortable. Open from early morning until late at night and serving a range of food from the casual to the luxurious, Lafayette’s design reflects this energy and spectrum.
The bakery is the first space that greets you with a classic French palette in deep blue and white. A floor of custom-patterned concrete tiles defines the space as you look through the massive arched windows of the landmark storefront. The bakery is bright with a large veined-white marble island and marble counters with homemade bread on simple but classic glass and zinc shelving separating you from the bar beyond. The lighting is bright and feminine, as if in someone’s kitchen.
The space overall is large but not cluttered with a rambling dark oak floor and plenty of light. It is grand, open and bright, yet rich in palette and pattern. On each mahogany table is a bunch of wild flowers, reminding the patron of the humble power of nature and fresh food in this French restaurant that is somewhere between a Grand Café and a glorious market. It is this combination that makes Lafayette so special. It is classic but with a unique story.
Lafayette is playful and rich. The arched windows that march up both Lafayette and Great Jones Street are framed with an Eiffel-like armature dotted with lights traveling around the arch to engage the street and warm the room. Roman and Williams felt these custom lights were a signature to connect the outside with the inside. The interior space is defined by massive tile columns that organize the different quadrants of the restaurant. They are tall and rectangular with a glossy reflective vertical tile pattern in caramel and cream with a blue line traveling up the columns’ sixteen feet. Contrastingly, the gridded earthy cork ceiling is warm and has a deep coloration for all the reflective light of the custom moderne fixtures.
Looking deeper through the grand space is another counter, this one zinc, which hosts seats where you can eat and watch the meat cooking. It is grounded by a massive zinc hood to bring the customer as close to the food preparation as possible. This is the rotisserie and meat counter. The rotisserie is electric blue with brass detailing under the zinc hood. There is no hesitation about mixing metals here. The brass and zinc suggest a spirit of confidence and a design sensibility that is not too precious.
The restaurant itself is both cinematic and down to earth. Blue leather banquettes and black Thonet chairs with blue seats throughout are comfortable and familiar. The massive zinc drinking and eating bar, which is built in the French tradition, is backed by fluted amber glass that glows at all times of day and night. This glass surrounds a large clock reminiscent of the Musee D’Orsay that is the centerpiece of the restaurant. It adds an element of theatricality to the bar, which reflects both Roman and Williams and Andrew Carmellini’s desire for a lighter atmosphere. As in a movie, the back bar reveals a private dining room that allows you, from behind the mechanism of the clock, to see through to the grand dining room and to the street. The sight lines strive to make you feel comfortable but a part of the city at the same time.
The private dining room downstairs is dark and candlelit, like a cave in a French chateau – the perfect counterpoint to the large rambling space above.
There are so many experiences to have at Lafayette. Its palette in caramel, blue and cream is traditional yet fresh. It is rich and full of smells and energy. It reinvigorates the all-day all-night grand cafe that Lafayette, as well as the building, deserves.