Hungry for Design’s authors are Susan Battista and Fritz Klaetke—partners in both work and life. By day they run Visual Dialogue, a branding and design firm where Susan leads strategy and Fritz leads creative. By night, they can be found sharing meals (and opinions) at restaurants all over Boston and beyond.
Life imitates art
Restaurant? Gallery space? Both.
Ever wonder what it would’ve been like to be Isabella Stewart Gardner, living surrounded by works of art? Well there’s a restaurant in Boston that lets you find out—at least for a few hours.
The buzz around the new restaurant-slash-gallery with the odd name Liquid Art House caught our attention. For us an exceptional dining-out experience is one where everything is considered—where all the senses are engaged, not just the taste buds. So we decided to see if Liquid Art House had the “taste” to meet our standards.
Of course, the first thing we did was go to their website which described the concept as “an interactive ‘art hospitality’ experience.” The site provides insight into the intent—“an interactive journey for guests between the visual arts, design, and the epicurean tradition of the pure pleasure of food”—as well as the current art installation. We also learned that Liquid Art House was the brainchild of a former Wall Street banker so we were anticipating that no expense had been spared. It was clear they had invested in branding—the teardrop logo (a literal depiction of “liquid” and “art”) is carried through all the touchpoints. Given the fair amount of chatter online and off, we made a reservation (not knowing for sure but hoping we wouldn’t be required to participate in a performance art piece while dining there).
We arrived at the busy corner of Arlington and Stuart Streets (also home to Smith & Wollensky and Davio’s) where Liquid Art House occupies the first floor of a newly renovated building that originally housed the offices of Boston Consolidated Gas Company. But where exactly is the entrance to the restaurant? A subtle sign on Arlington Street serves as the marker—although a number of patrons tried the Stuart Street door first to no avail (and there’s always an audience to see you when that happens.)
The entry area is devoted to an attractive circular marble bar and you are greeted with ART—everywhere. A large, street art-inspired mural fills the back wall of the bar area and above that, a trio of engaging digital projections play on a loop (so much better than the ubiquitous TV showing sports seen in most every restaurant in town). The other prominent feature in this double-height space is a large purple glass chandelier that reminded us of the Dale Chihuly “Lime Green Icicle Tower” in the MFA. But this blown-glass piece is for sale (starting at $18,500). You see, everything is for sale here. You can purchase jewelry, T-shirts, posters, plates, coffee mugs and even the log and glass communal table where we had our drinks. You can also pick up the colorful chairs and couch and set up your own version of the Liquid Art House lounge in your home. If you order soon, you may be able to get delivery by the holidays.
About half of the 10,000 square foot space is dedicated to the main dining area. It appears that the majority of their overall design budget was spent on the chandelier and bar area because the dining room is fairly nondescript but for floor-to-ceiling windows. The overall palette in the room is neutral with the only color (except for the art on the walls) being the long, red, upholstered banquette against the back wall. Going with a white-walled SOHO gallery chic aesthetic might have been more fitting to display the art.
As we were seated in the corner, we were given four menus by a somewhat unengaged waiter. We were expecting a more enthusiastic server who would guide us through the art and food experience. Perhaps this is intended to be more like a museum experience and we’ll need to rent an audio guide or download an app for to learn more about the art. Along with the standard drinks, wine, and food menus, we did get a “gallery guide”—a floor plan that corresponds to the position of each piece of art in the room and identifies the artist, title, and price of the piece (some 34 works of art in all). While you may be thinking you’ve seen this before in neighborhood restaurants where amateur artists post rotating shows, at Liquid Art House it’s a curated collection of notable artists that included Dana Woulfe, Resa Blatman, and Vytas Sakalas when we were there. The art even extended to our order. While most Bostonians aren’t accustomed to the art of plating, Chef Rachael Klein and her kitchen crew arranged their food masterfully using each plate as a canvas.
As we dined and talked about the art, we overheard other guests doing the same thing. The chatter in the room was about the art rather than the usual “What are you having?” or “How ‘bout those Sox?” A stroll around the room in between courses to peruse what’s on the walls adds a new dimension to the evening. You may even bump into someone else examining a piece you’re viewing. Dialogue ensues. Are people in Boston actually talking to strangers?
Whether you love or hate the work you see, it leads to interesting conversations either way. Definitely ask for a tour by the charming curator Silvi Naci during or after your meal. She’ll tell you about the current exhibition (changing every couple months) and the ideas behind her selections. Her enthusiasm is so infectious you may even want to make room for her at your table.
Dining amongst works of art is an interesting way of experiencing it. If you’re looking to make a purchase for your home, you’d most likely go to a gallery or an open studio. In either case, the evaluation time is relatively short and contrived. By spending a few hours with the art while dining and discussing it, you can get a better idea if you actually want to live with it.
So, the big question: is Liquid Art House worth a visit? While there are definitely a few kinks to work out (for example, the music could sure use a curator) it’s great to see a new restaurant in Boston taking a big chance and trying a fresh concept in a big way. In the end, your opinion of Liquid Art House may reflect your preferences in art. Are you interested in seeing the latest cutting-edge contemporary show at the ICA or do you prefer the tried and true classics at the MFA? For those of us looking for an entertaining and inventive dining experience, Liquid Art House is worth a trip (and we think Isabella Stewart Gardner would agree.)