Inspirational memories, nostalgia: Café artwork reflects the philosophy of the new restaurant | Daily news alerts


WEST РDan King stood inside the Caf̩ on Canal Street one recent morning, near a black and white framed photograph of Muhammad Ali, which hung on a large brick wall just below a photo of Sardi Рthe famous New York theater. Рneighborhood restaurant Рand near photos of Sophia Loren, Lucille Ball, Dean Martin and John Wayne.

The Café, a soon-to-be-opened restaurant connected to the United Theater, has garnered quite a bit of attention lately, King said with a chuckle, pointing to the pithy words that appeared one by one on the exterior windows. Sayings like “Fancy Dress Welcome”, “Stories Welcome”, “Free Computer Coffee” and “Mess here … sooner and later”.

King, executive director of the Royce Family Fund, the charity that has contributed millions of dollars to renovation efforts at Westerly, said the sayings on the outside – as well as the artwork inside that cover almost every inch of every wall – provides a glimpse of the philosophy behind the restaurant, which is slated to open in early November. This philosophy is the one he created and developed with his in-laws, Chuck and Deborah Royce.

“We knew we wanted to inspire memories and nostalgia,” said King, who once ran two memorable downtown Westerly restaurants, Señor Flacos and the Up River Café, “but we also knew we didn’t want to. not take us too seriously. “

Therefore, King said with a smile, “there’s a sort of ironic wit about everything we do… a little bit of taunting going on.”

King, who attended the Culinary Institute of America in New York City, said they all agreed on the overall idea for the restaurant, which occupies the space that once housed The Twisted Vine. They knew they wanted everyone to feel welcome, whether it was having an espresso, meeting a friend for a glass of wine, having a memorable family celebration, a quick salad for the have lunch or wait for one of their children to finish a music lesson. next door in the United States.

They knew they wanted to create an atmosphere where “locals are treated like stars and stars are treated like locals”. They knew they wanted to pay homage to the Golden Age of Hollywood and classic American coffee, and they knew they wanted to offer a menu that combined classic dishes with newly imagined dishes that would feature “ingredients. meticulously selected and diligent technique ”.

“We also wanted to have ties to theater and cinema,” he added, noting the proximity to the recently renovated United Theater. “And we wanted to inspire the conversation… for people to talk and ask questions.”

So they enlisted the help of Hilary Pierce Hatfield, president and chief curator of Art Collector’s Athenaeum, a Philadelphia-area company that provides fine art curatorial services and digital cataloging services to private collectors, for private collectors. help create an art collection that would articulate, complement and showcase their vision.

Hatfield, founding curator of the Petrucci Collection of African American Art, which hosted the collection’s inaugural exhibitions at the African American Museum in Philadelphia and the Schmucker Gallery at Gettysburg College, applauded the Royces for loaning out pieces from their own collection of art for the walls of the Café, and King for his “constant guidance”.

The project, Hatfield said, “like all Royce Fund projects”, from Ocean House to the United Theater, was developed “with great care and sensitivity.”

“I took a museum approach,” said Hatfield who decided to focus on works of art from the early 20th century to the 1950s, art that celebrated “passion, productivity, creativity and culture. In America at a time when this country was teeming with immigrants.

It was a time, she said, when “old world ideas were cast into the American melting pot, seasoned with new technology and imbued with limitless American motivation and imagination.”

Works by artists such as cartoonist Barbara Shermund, James Yoko, Ludwig Bemelmans of “Madeline” fame, Ervine Metzl, James Montgomery Flagg (who created the WWI recruiting poster “I Want You for the US Army ”representing the fictional character of Uncle Sam,) Georges Goursat (also known as“ SEM ”), Reginald Marsh and Eduardo Oliva are part of the Café collection.

“Our artistic ideas as a nation have developed from the best of our training and traditions imported from Europe and other parts of the world,” Hatfield writes in his “Curatorial Note,” which is part of the ” Guide to the “Café” art collection.

Regarding the connection to The United Theater, she said, the theater “found its first audience with the vaudeville show,” which was quickly followed by “the advent of talking movies and Hollywood Golden Age “.

What better way to pay homage to this region than by looking at what the most iconic American restaurants of the day served to theatergoers back then, restaurants like Brown Derby – the home of the original Cobb Salad – or Romanoff’s or Musso & Frank’s.

The restaurants were “smart, quirky, eclectic and classic places that served their ‘regulars’ alongside stage and movie celebrities,” Hatfield said, the same kind of vibe The Café hopes to create.

“Chuck really wanted to get a feel for places like Sardi’s and Brown Derby and give a feel for what was literally on the plate,” she said, noting that many famous restaurant menus hang in various places. around the Café.

“I hope this restaurant is a joy for the community,” Hatfield said, noting that hardcover copies of “A Guide to the Art Collection” will be available to patrons.

On the wall above what’s known as the “Captain’s Booth” – a bench seat that can seat more than 10 guests at a time – King pointed out one of Shermund’s many rooms.

Shermund was one of the New Yorker’s first female cartoonists, he explained, and was known for her whimsical, edgy, and feminist cartoons.

“We wanted to make sure we highlight the diversity of genders and races,” he said, “and make sure we showcase the work of women.”

Other cartoons of Shermund’s New Yorker hang on the wall next to the long wooden bar, King pointed out, near images of Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman looking at a large framed “Casablanca” movie poster. On the cornflower blue “Art Wall” at the back of the restaurant, near the large Balthazar-inspired open kitchen, hangs an original painting by James Yoko entitled “Two of a Kind”, just above a large living room. SEM, the French cartoonist and satirist who rose to fame during the Belle Époque for openly mocking the appearance and lifestyle of the Rothschilds and other elites of French society.

King pointed out that everything about the restaurant – from artwork to the enormous bar with its 20 foot mirror, to the cafe ramp, to the seating arrangements that span the gamut from comfy nooks for two, to a place to see and be seen; and an intimate table resembling a sweatshop hidden by a giant fern, theater seats by the front window, table settings, handmade pottery vases, wooden bowls and cutting boards locally made – is designed to make guests feel comfortable and welcome.

Basically King said, “We want people to feel better when they leave here than when they arrive.”

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