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Interview: Why Batali is banking on the bar at La Sirena

mario batali

According to chef and restaurateur Mario Batali, there are two design elements that every guest entering La Sirena notices: the floor and the bar. At the new all-day spot—his first restaurant in a decade in NYC—the backlit bar stretches 38 feet. And it’s slinging what Batali calls his most extensive cocktail program yet.

The drink menu features a number of riffs on Italian cocktails as well as some large-format drinks that Batali says New Yorkers will recognize. But it’s also got a list of booze-free options. “Diners sitting at the bar who are not interested in an alcoholic cocktail now have a drink option,” he says. Why? “Our restaurant experiences are about making people feel comfortable.”

Part of that has to do with the location: La Sirena is inside the Maritime Hotel, a hotel also occupied by high-revenue, cocktail-slinging nightclub Tao. And to cater to those hotel guests looking for a drink, the bar is the only place in La Sirena that doesn’t serve the full menu. “That space is sacrosanct,” Batali says.

Here’s the celebrity chef’s explanation of other signature features of La Sirena:

Q: There are lots of distinctive design elements in La Sirena. What do you want customers to talk about and take away? What do you think they’re going to say about this restaurant?

There are two design elements that nearly every guest noticed and mentions: the floor and the bar. The floor is a custom design inspired by the pavers omnipresent in Portugal. At La Sirena, they stretch from the sidewalk up the plaza level to the bar. The bar itself is nearly 40 feet long and made of quartz by Caesarstone. It’s hard to miss.

Somewhat more subtly beautiful is the way that the Caesarstone is echoed throughout the restaurant: on the walls of the dining rooms, on the banquettes, on either end of the grand bar.

Q: The space seems to have a lot going on, but you really seem to be drawing attention back to the plate with a focus on the details. From the tableware to the service, what did you have to build into the design and operation to make that happen?

At all of our restaurants, the focus is ultimately on the table and the plate. By that I don’t mean the linens and the flatware. I mean the people seated on either end of the table and the aroma and flavor of the food consumed.

In the design of the space, we aspire for beauty, but ultimately we’re choosing for function. The Sambonet forks and knives are beautiful, but we tried a dozen equally beautiful forks before we settled on the ones that worked best in service, for cleaning and for storage.

Q: The space seems very large, but we noticed the set of red double doors right off the bar. How/when do you open those? Why have the option to keep it open or closed at different times?

The plaza level of the restaurant is comprised of three distinct spaces: the bar, the north dining room and the south dining room. The look of each space is similar, but the feel is slightly different.

Whereas at the bar area you might hear Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Ring,” in the dining rooms, you’d hear Chet Faker’s “Talk is Cheap.” The red doorways are a physical separation which tips a hat to the different experience that one may enjoy in either space.

Q: You’re on top of Tao and in one of the hottest hotels in the city. Are you expecting all-day traffic/Is that something you took into account when designing La Sirena? What kind of flow do you expect throughout the day?
La Sirena is my first restaurant where we serve breakfast. Granted, we do not serve breakfast in all three dining spaces, but we’re looking to serve visitors and locals alike, starting at 7 a.m. daily. The restaurant remains open from that moment until after midnight, and we’re hoping to have butts in seats the whole time.

Q: Being that close to Tao and also seeing how prominent the bar is in your space, what role do you expect the bar and cocktail program to play in the overall dynamic of the restaurant?

The bar proper is the only place in the restaurant where we don’t serve the full menu. Guests at the Maritime Hotel will want a place where they can sit for a cocktail where they’re not taking up space that would otherwise be filled by diners interested in sitting for a meal. So that space is sacrosanct.

The cocktail program is more extensive than any other we’ve offered before. We start with riffs on traditional Italian cocktails—think a section of a menu dedicated to the spritz—but also a few large-format cocktails that New Yorkers will recognize.

Q: Can you tell me a little about why you added nonalcoholic cocktails right on the cocktail menu?

Our restaurant experiences are about making people feel comfortable. Diners sitting at the bar who are not interested in an alcoholic cocktail now have a drink option. Plus, the nonalcoholic cocktails are supremely delicious.

Q: What’s your relationship with the hotel La Sirena is in? Do you provide room service? What percent of your guests are hotel guests? Did the design of the hotel play at all into the design of La Sirena?

The hotel is our landlord and our partner. We offer room service nearly all day long. The iconic design of the hotel inspired both the design and the concept of the restaurant. But they are distinct spaces and feels.

Q: Why wait 10 years to open a new restaurant in NYC? What has changed since the previous one? What have you built into the design that uniquely reflects the market today?

Over the last 10 years, we’ve opened restaurants in California, Nevada, Connecticut, Hong Kong and Singapore. We opened again in New York because we couldn’t pass up on this space. It has just as much if not more outdoor space than any other restaurant in Manhattan. And it’s a floor above street level.

There are 8 million people in New York. And even more tourists. We had a chef, Josh Laurano, who was ready to start a new project, and there are mouths to feed!

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