Campy Maximalism, Please: How the Trash-Glam Aesthetic is Making Bay Area Restaurants Fun Again
Bright parrot. Succulent green. Golden flame. These are the paint colors that drape the walls of Shuggie’s Trash Pie & Natural Wine in San Francisco, creating an eclectic, monochromatic experience designed to go hand-in-hand with the food and the restaurant. sustainability mission. From top to bottom, the Shuggie’s rooms are covered in color, from the shades of yellow in the front room that take over the walls, tables, chairs and floor to the green room filled with viridescent marbled table tops to the shimmering cubicles and patterned floors that dominate the space. (Even the plates are fun, with dips served in mouth shaped bowls.) Descriptive phrases from the press release announcing that Shuggie has gone from “trashy-glam” to “Hollywood Regency meets roller disco”; on one recent occasion, owners Kayla Abe and David Murphy called the decor – which the couple designed together – more “70s diner in the future”.
“We just didn’t want the same aesthetic that four or five design companies in San Francisco seem to be doing, which is really clean spaces with white marble tops and bamboo floors and all the Nordic stuff that’s been around for 15 year. “, Murphy says. “So it was really the idea of maximalism, and more is more.” Whatever you want to call it, it’s just plain fun.
This sense of maximalism seems primed for the long march out of the pandemic – an anti-Marie Kondo approach to decor, if you will – that has developed outside the houses and in the restaurant world. Rather than the measured, spa-like places that permeated much of hospitality before 2020, restaurants and bars now seem to be exploring more playful and joyful expressions in their spaces. Alison Cooke, director of architectural design firm Core, links this aesthetic to the pandemic, saying some restaurants are now expanding their spaces in near experiential overload. “I’ve described this to a few clients recently in the past; it’s like you’re in it The Wizard of Oz and there’s the black and white scenes, and then all of a sudden you’re in Oz and it’s all in this crazy Technicolor,” Cooke says. “And I think people are just here for that right now with restaurant dinners, like ‘Pick me up and haul me’ even more than before.”
For Murphy and Abe, the restaurant scene has taken itself too seriously for too long, losing sight of the fact that when people go out, they want to have a good time. The couple wanted a wild, extravagant and funky space. “I think the pandemic has given me the perspective of, what’s the most important thing in a restaurant? What is the most important thing about the gathering? Murphy said. “It’s like, let’s have fun again. We’ve been cooped up in our homes for two years, turn it up and party.
Along these style lines is the camp aesthetic at Hi Felicia in Oakland. There, chef-owner Imana, who only goes by her first name, bucks restaurant decorating trends, especially the stark, stark white linens of the foodie world she once worked in. , which she describes as “dark and not fun”. Given that in fine dining, you can spend three to four hours in a space, Imana says she wants a place where diners feel “energized everywhere,” whether it’s great music, the cool attire of a server or something visually pleasing in the space.
At Hi Felicia, Imana wanted to do “the opposite of what you’d expect when you go out to a fine-dining restaurant”, designing her space instead with a high-energy, bright green exterior, which gives way to an all-black interior. decorated in what Imana calls camp: quirky ceramic vases, eye-catching white bubble graffiti on dark walls, paintings of thrifty clowns, dripping candles, and more. “The camp is really fun and it reflects my personal style a lot too,” says Imana. “I love peacock, I love crazy patterns and things that clash but still go together – that’s always really cool to me. I think I have a really good eye, so I feel really good to have executed it the way I wanted.
This sense of empowerment is another contributor to the spread of in-your-face design, notes Cooke. While restaurant owners have always been interested in telling their personal stories through restaurant design, Cooke says it’s “really intensified” since 2020, especially after dealing with the demands of keeping their businesses open. “Everyone during the pandemic was like, ‘What’s important to me fundamentally? What are my values?’” Cooke says. [now] saying, “I’ve learned that I just need to do what I do well, and a customer just has to accept that or not, I’m tired of trying to satisfy [to others].’ And so even with the design of the restaurant, they put forward, “This is who I am.” While Cooke acknowledges a return to quiet, spa-like spots in some restaurants, she sees it alongside these wackier, more colorful spaces.
The monochrome style returns inside Thee Stork Club, the live music venue and bar opening in Oakland in July, with part of the space wrapped in a blood-red design and a green room that will be a true green room . Already, ties have been forged with all things camp, thanks to Stork Club co-owner Marc Ribak’s friendship with director John Waters, known for his camp-and-trash sensibility. Ribak runs the annual Mosswood Meltdown Waters music festival hosts, and Ribak says his wife Amy Carver’s style for Thee Stork Club is partly inspired by how they run Mosswood. “I have a similar approach to club design as we do at concerts in the park: it’s really whimsical and everything is over the top and outrageous,” says Ribak. “It’s just about having a wow factor. It’s almost like, why do people go to places like Egypt or New York or Las Vegas or Hearst Castle or Madonna Inn? People go to these places because they are places of intrigue.
The Stork Club’s blood-red walls stretch from floor to ceiling, with red upholstered booths and heavy red velvet curtains on stage; it is partly a tribute to Waters and the camp, but rather an expression of two areas of Ribak’s life. Both he and Carver are fans of 1960s and 1970s horror films and directors like Herschell Gordon Lewis and Kenneth Anger, but, for Ribak, the play is also inspired by a sense of nostalgia. Her grandmother had a keen eye for design – she was a lampshade designer at one point in her life, Ribak shares – and decorated her 1950s living room in a dramatic, all-red design. “Just completely outrageous,” he says. In fact, one of the items he rescued from his home was a high-backed chair he dubbed the Vampire Chair: Transported from Southern California, it’s used at every Mosswood Meltdown show and will find its place in the green room of Thee Stork Club (despite the fact that nowadays the much-loved chair is now upholstered in black patent leather).
Beyond the all-red room, there will be other fun design elements: showy gold oil lamps “in the style of Liberace”; a dollhouse renovated by artist friend Ali Rose, who decorated each room with horror movie badges with items like six-inch figurines of Elvira and John Waters; an overflow mirror installation; woodwork; rock walls; a golden disco ball; and a back patio meant to look like “the Beverly Hills Hotel in the 1960s.” Stork co-owner Billy Agan recently described the club’s aesthetic in a Berkeleyside article like “part “proto fern bar”, part “1970s dive bar” and part “the trash of Madonna Inn.’”
“It’s meant to be ridiculous on purpose,” Ribak said via text message, sharing the first photos of the unfinished space. “It’s just more fun that way, but it has to be done with a bit of class in mind. Otherwise it would just look crazy.
Another commonality of these spaces is an underlying DIY aesthetic. All are designed by the owners and have a personalized feel, whether painting each mural and wall like Abe did at Shuggie, Imana’s antiques, or Ribak delving into his own history. It doesn’t sound like a design company or a specific aesthetic; it is rather the style and taste of each person. Abe says the Shuggie’s space comes from the fact that she and Murphy are so involved in all aspects of the restaurant. “I think each of us alone couldn’t have created this space, but together we just built and built,” she says. “It’s always a ‘yes and’ situation where it evolves and evolves – and it really feels like that space is what we spewed out of our brains.”
Because of this do-it-yourself aspect, Shuggie’s and Hi Felicia will continue to be a moving, changing, living work of art. When asked, Abe and Murphy acknowledged that they felt like the space was never finished, that there was always something to tweak, update or modify, each naming projects that remained on their to-do lists. Imana feels the same, but she looks forward to updates as she (and her restaurant) continues to grow.
“This is Hi Felicia’s first form and I just want her to grow and evolve with me over time,” Imana says. “That’s all the fun of it; it’s really changing forever and there’s just no box for me. I literally do whatever I want.