In 2017, Avroko, the global design firm and hospitality brand with dozens of credits to its name, is sort of like the Yankees of restaurant design. I'm not really a sports person, so in case that metaphor is wrong, what I mean to say is: This design firm, one of the most famous in the industry, is who you who expect to knock it out of the park. Every time.
Eight Tables, in San Francisco, is a case in point.
The restaurant has a groundbreaking culinary concept: Owned by local industry figure George Chen, it’s the first in America to showcase Chinese private chateau cuisine, which it does in a high-end, high-cost tasting menu format with major award ambitions. The design had to rise to the occasion.
Avroko’s principal Greg Bradshaw and its SF design director Andrew Lieberman took lead. They wanted to make the most of the restaurant’s Chinatown setting and the second-floor space it occupies at Chen’s multifaceted China Live project (Avroko designed the entire project). “One of the design stories behind the space was [channeling the tastes of a] second-generation family” rooted in Chinatown, says Lieberman. “But now the family’s a little more prosperous. They’ve been here awhile, they’ve remodeled, but now that remodel is a little bit of another era. We were really inspired by midcentury designs, but with a lot of Chinese influences in it.”
To create this homey environment, Avroko designed distinct rooms, rather than a large open space. The designers also traded a traditional bar layout for a bar cart. There’s a “reception room,” which features Chen’s family portraits, reprinted and made into art. “In a more stylized or slightly more minimalized way, [Eight Tables] still has all of those elements that you might find in someone’s apartment that they lived in for a number of years,” Bradshaw says.
One of Lieberman’s favorite touches, a midcentury record player cabinet in the reception room, speaks volumes about how to make a restaurant feel like a home. “Because the scale of this project was so small, we were able to source a few vintage pieces,” he says. “I really love the experience of walking through that front door… with that scratchy jazz record playing in the background. It’s such an amazing transformation from the cacophony of Chinatown. It adds a lot of ambience to that entry moment. It’s not just visual; it’s auditory, and I think that brings back a lot of memories for people."
The “design story” also helped guide the space’s materials. Bradshaw says they envisioned the second-generation family as being merchants, perhaps in the textile industry. That inspired custom wall treatments that recall details on Chinese wedding dresses; the treatments were made by impressing lace into plaster.
But the key was to make Eight Tables look and feel residential, while also setting the scene for a high-end restaurant experience. The original concept called for nothing but private dining rooms, but Avroko ended up creating semi-private spaces so the diner wouldn’t “lose out on the fact you’re still part of a social experience in San Francisco,” Lieberman says. The team wanted to make sure the restaurant “still had a level of energy, still had a level of social buzz without having any type of bar. That’s quite unusual.”
Where midcentury design has been the defining restaurant trend of the past few years, Eight Tables feels like a new way of looking it at it. It’s not literal, it’s in the realm of fantasy. And the end result befits a dining experience many will have to save up for: It’s transportive. And it’s a stone-cold stunner.