Barrio is only one of many new restaurants and bars drawing people to formerly forbidding neighborhoods on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Open 24 hours a day and serving a progressive American menu, it draws a clientele combining locals with the hip young crowd perpetually in pursuit of the next big thing. Interestingly, Barrio's LDs have applied a kind of Off Broadway aesthetic to this downtown dining venue (which was once the House of Candles performance space).
LDs Frank DenDanto III and Charles Cameron are principals in the Luce Group, a new firm, with a third partner, Tracy Klainer. In designing the lighting for Barrio, DenDanto and Cameron worked closely with the interior's brick, metal, and glass concept; the result is a space that sustains a glamorous 3am look at all times.
The LDs created this look through the skillful application of indirect lighting built into the interior's architecture. Plexiglas light boxes placed behind the bar (in orange) and on the wall that divides the kitchen and dining area (in white) create large pools of softly diffused illumination. The under bar is illuminated in white and steel-blue neon. Above, two skylights are lined in orange neon (orange is the main color in DenDanto and Cameron's design scheme). These elements work together to create a soft, nighttime feeling that works well with the space's industrial quality. In addition, the restaurant's glass facade features strips of blue neon.
Upstairs is a private lounge area, reached by a stairway illuminated with fiber optics. While the downstairs decor is in Southwestern style, upstairs the tone is Asian, thanks to some Thai furniture supplied by the restaurant's owner. To blend with this concept, the LDs had wall sconces constructed to match the furniture; these are lit with 70W metal-halides housed in etched tin shades. Hanging from the ceiling are batik-dyed cloth-covered pendants. A hand-carved bar, which appears to be supported by two elephants, is uplit at both ends by two floor-mounted MR-16s, with amber dichroic filters.
Both of the restaurant's bathrooms feature distinctive looks as well. Upstairs, an Islamic screen placed over flame-shaped A-lamps creates an evocative pattern of light. Downstairs, the men's room is lit only by a warm-colored fluorescent unit placed in a fish tank. Excessively shy patrons needn't worry, however; the tank is populated only by toy fish.
It's a deliberately eclectic approach, but then DenDanto and Cameron make an eclectic pair. DenDanto is resident LD at P.S. 122, a downtown performance space. Cameron is an associate at the architectural firm Focus Lighting. (Klainer is a theatre LD, who works as an associate on Broadway shows.) The goal, says DenDanto, is to “bring tools from one discipline to another.” Their work method? “Everybody does everything.”
Barrio, which opened early in 2000, has attracted the favorable attention of the city's often contentious food writers. Says DenDanto, “The owner has two other restaurants, in storefronts. Here, he wanted a more elegant, refined space.” Thanks to the efforts of Luce, that's just what he has.