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Bavel Has the 2018 Restaurant Design of the Year

With transportive plants, cool textures, and simple good taste, the LA hotspot is a stone-cold stunner

Hillary Dixler Canavan is Eater's restaurant editor and the author of the publication's debut book, Eater: 100 Essential Restaurant Recipes From the Authority on Where to Eat and Why It Matters (Abrams, September 2023). Her work focuses on dining trends and the people changing the industry — and scouting the next hot restaurant you need to try on Eater's annual Best New Restaurant list.

The first thing anyone walking into white-hot LA dining destination Bavel will notice is the plants. Vines of pothos cascade from a hanging steel structure, an explosion of greenery that fills the large ceiling space and creeps down, tendril by tendril, over the guests and staff moving throughout the room. As a lover of houseplants and a noticer of dead ones, I was struck — and totally won over — by the beauty, vitality, and sheer scale of it.

The Bavel design, a collaboration between the restaurant’s pastry chef and co-owner Genevieve Gergis and the design firm Studio UNLTD, is a master class in 2018 trends. There are the aforementioned plants (the work of landscape designer Steve Siegrist), a color palette hits a particularly of-the-moment shade of blue and chic burnt yellows, and a mix of seating includes a rose-gold take on the Bend Goods wire-backed bar stool that’s a classic in the making. The restaurant might feel perfectly now, but Gergis and Greg Bleier, who led the Studio UNLTD team on the project, started working on the design together in 2016 — a few years after their successful design collaboration on perennial LA hotspot Bestia, also owned by Gergis and her husband, chef Ori Menashe.

“My side is more directive on atmosphere and the feeling we wanted. And Greg takes it to his team and makes it come to fruition,” says Gergis.

As a designer, Bleier finds those restrictions creatively freeing. “I find it more refreshing than someone giving you a blank canvas. I like to have problems to solve, and Genevieve and Ori are great at making problems,” he quips.

Everyone’s goal from the get-go was to create a space that evokes the restaurants of the Middle Eastern coast, without even glancing toward cliche. On the food side, that meant a menu showcasing deeply layered flavors in dishes like a slow-roasted lamb neck shawarma and impossibly good duck ’nduja-topped hummus that ended up landing the restaurant on several best-new-restaurants lists, including Eater’s. On the design side, it meant transforming a former clothing warehouse into an a breezy yet opulent showpiece.

To create a more open, airier feel, Bleier and architectural designer Osvaldo Maiozzi added a skylight. Leaving the concrete floors of the patio unglossed helped maintain a sense of history and age. Kitchen designer Alec Bauer kept the open kitchen totally modern. Bleier and Studio UNTLD senior interior designer Ania Bown pulled blues from the photos Gergis would send from her travels to Morocco and Israel — the water in particular — while the yellows were a necessary counterbalance. Bleier also wanted to be smart about incorporating the visual touchstones of the region: The curves of the back bar nod to the iconic arches of Islamic architecture; instead of recreating Moroccan inlay floor details, Bleier sized it way up, creating a colorful, asymmetrical, oversized fish-scale pattern with custom California-made tiles; instead of relying on chandeliers to cast familiar geometric patterns on the walls, the plants (“our own hanging garden of Babylon,” Beier jokes) achieve the same effect.

Other features are more subtle still. The various white tiles that comprise the bar area express different textures. A mix of brass and rose gold throughout the space keeps things feeling both luxe and lived in. The brick walls inside the restaurant were treated by a scenic painter who added layers of texture after white-washing to evoke a sense of history. And the entire scheme embraces where the restaurant actually is — not on a Mediterranean coast, but in the heart of Los Angeles’s burgeoning Arts District, where materials like brick, steel, and concrete floors are the norm and, at Bavel, celebrated.

In a year of Instagram trend chasing, a design as expansive and well executed as Bavel’s is worth celebrating. It’s a stone-cold stunner.


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