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June 16, 2011

RN74 Seattle design draws on the romance of trains and wine

Journal Staff Reporter

Photos courtesy of Mina Group [enlarge]
The bar is in the center of the restaurant, like the information booth in a train station. Wine prices are listed on a board similar to those once used to note train arrivals and departures.

If a lot of stuff in RN74 Seattle, a new restaurant and wine bar, looks old that's because the architect planned it that way.

Not just old, but a particular kind of old. The look draws heavily on the romance of late 19th century-early 20th century train travel, but with some modern touches. Chef Michael Mina and his wine director and sommelier, Rajat Parr, this week are opening the 5,500-square-foot restaurant in the historic Joshua Green Building at Fourth Avenue and Pike Street.

The name RN74 is short for Route National 74, the major thoroughfare through the Burgundy region of France. So what do trains have to do with wine and RN74?

Burgundy was generally landlocked in pre-industrial times so little of its wine left the area, according to the restaurant's design architect, Manhattan-based AvroKO. It wasn't until the advent of the steam locomotive during the Industrial Revolution that those wines became widely available.

“Instead of talking about a road, we decided to tie into a more nostalgic sense of transportation as almost a method of tying into what the romance of wine is to us as a consumer,” said Adam Farmerie, the AvroKO principal in charge of the project.

The 5,500-square-foot restaurant and wine bar has opened in the historic Joshua Green Building at Fourth Avenue and Pike Street.

So how did they make the elements in the restaurant look old? Well, some of them are, like oil lanterns used by train signalmen that were purchased at flea markets in Paris, London and, strangely enough, Brookfield, Mass. Farmerie said French street lamps were salvaged and “found” chairs were reupholstered in the style of 19th-century English banking chairs.

Dark maroon and burgundy leather diamond-tufted couches with late 1900s Victorian features were designed by AvroKO for the restaurant, as were deep cerulean blue U-shaped banquettes and dining chairs with backrests that pivot like old office chairs.

The bar is located in the center of the restaurant to mimic information booths in the hub of train stations, and wine prices are listed on a board similar to those once used to note train arrivals and departures.

The project team also installed a classic European-style ceiling with plaster medallions between the Joshua Green's concrete beams and columns.

American black walnut shutters framed in blackened cold-rolled steel are drawn from images of the metal venting systems used in old train engines.

“It almost felt as if there was speed implied by having such a linear movement, such a linear architectural movement,” Farmerie said.

Seattle-based Mallet was the contractor for the project, and built the shutters in conjunction with Argent Fabrication and O.B. Williams Co.

The restaurant's design elements are “historically driven,” said Mallet owner Eric Hentz, “but executed in a way that has a certain existence in the present.”

RN74 Seattle is the second urban wine bar Parr and Mina have launched. The other is RN74 in San Francisco.

Hentz said it was a balancing act to fashion RN74 Seattle while staying within a strict budget and working with a “fantastic” design team that happened to be outside Seattle. “The whole thing was a challenge ... but I think we pulled it off.”

Renovation of the 99-year-old Joshua Green was completed in 2009. The owners did a great job of restoring its historical integrity, Hentz said, and the terra cotta exterior meshes with the “Old World-meets-a-modern-restaurant.”

Mallet designed and built Le Pichet restaurant in downtown Seattle, the Columbia City and Issaquah Tutta Bella pizza locations, and the Saint and Havana bars on Capitol Hill.

Some big-name restaurants have come to town, Hentz said, “and they always feel out of place.” He said he doesn't expect the same reception for RN74 Seattle.

“I think it's got to be the most interesting restaurant that's popped up in Seattle from an aesthetic viewpoint and an operational viewpoint. It's got a very unique aesthetic perspective,” he said. “I am going to be very interested in how Seattle internalizes it.”


Lynn Porter can be reached by email or by phone at (206) 622-8272.

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