Photo © Kristine Larsen


Berman Horn Studio

New York City

By Linda C. Lentz

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More than 600 miles separate Maysville, Kentucky, from its New York City namesake, a trendy watering hole west of Madison Square Park. Yet the year-old whiskey bar and restaurant evokes the flavor of the old Ohio River port with urbane country fare in a tavernlike setting that celebrates one of the town’s first commodities: bourbon.

Maysville owner Sean Josephs opened another homage to the American spirit in Brooklyn five years ago, naming it Char No. 4 for the smokiest level to which oak barrels are charred to age bourbon. Inspired by this process, architects Maria Berman and Bradley Horn, of the New York City–based Berman Horn Studio, suspended large barrel-shaped pendants above the bar (RECORD, August 2009, page 103)—a bold move that helped put the tiny establishment on the map.

Josephs returned to Berman and Horn when he decided to test the waters of the Manhattan dining scene. His new place, in a historic 12-story steel-frame and brick building by Buchman & Fox (circa 1911), is larger. However, the 2,500-square-foot ground-floor space, which had been a wholesale T-shirt shop for years, was devoid of character. It also lacked sufficient daylight for pleasant brunch and lunchtime dining, as the original storefront had been modified and closed off.

The architects worked with the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission, consulting archival photographs to restore the original Neo-Gothic facade. Now generous expanses of glass allow sunlight to stream into the interior and provide views of a landmarked church by Richard Upjohn (circa 1855) across the street. Additionally, the newly installed storefront reveals a convivial dining room wrapped in a rich grass cloth and topped by a luminous ceiling that reflects the firm’s evocative approach to lighting.

“We wanted to take what is most successful about Char, which is the beautiful light and ceiling installation,” says Berman. Again, bourbon was their muse. But this time the partners developed an overhead lighting system based on the grid formed by the fields of corn used to make the liquor—an idea that came to them on an airplane while looking down at the patterns of Kentucky farmscape below.

Berman and Horn designed ninety steel-framed 18-inch-high shades, in formats drawn from the aerial plan and made, by a local fabricator, of the same oiled Mylar-backed craft paper they used for the Brooklyn project. Unlike the earlier fixtures, which each house a single incandescent bulb, the new ones conceal dimmable 2,700 Kelvin LED PAR lamps that emit a warm, even glow. For sparkle, the architects perched sconce-like fixtures with traditional candelabra lamps on the banquettes and tucked LED strips under a diffuser along oak shelves behind the bar—a brilliant effect that lets the amber hues of the liquor bottles radiate from their gold-leaf niche.

A treat is in store for anyone observant enough to note the rear wall lined with what look like gilt-framed mirrors. While some do reflect the bar scene out front, others offer peek-a-boo glimpses into the private dining room beyond. Here Berman and Horn recall the origins of their scheme by filling the rustic cork-lined space with replicas of Char No. 4’s barrel shades, now lit by LEDs. This quiet yet illuminating gesture, like Maysville, transcends intracity and state lines.

Architect: Berman Horn Studio (BHS) — Maria Berman, Bradley Horn, partners

Engineers: Mottola Rini (m/e/p)

Client: Sean Josephs

Contractor: Birdrock Construction

Consultants: Broome Lampshades (fabrication of BHS ceiling fixtures); O’Lampia Studio (fabrication of BHS sconces)

Size: 2,500 square feet

Completion date: November 2012

November 2013
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