Two for the show

Photos by Janis Nicolay

A Figmint beyond imagination

By Erin Donnelly

The new restaurant at Vancouver’s Plaza 500, a springboard for the hotel’s planned revamp, provides an elegant new venue for meetings, whether business or pleasure.

The latest restaurant by Vancouver’s Evoke International Design is Figmint, newly opened in the former Remington’s, in the Plaza 500 Hotel. Well-known in Van-city for work with the Glowbal Restaurant Group on project’s like COAST, Afterglow and, of course, the Glowbal Grill & Satay Bar, the design firm’s name alone should be a huge attraction. But if it takes a little more name-dropping to fill the seats, no problem. How about Frank Gehry? Or Paul Smith? Let me fill you in…

With the upcoming Olympics, all of Vancouver is getting ready for company. The admittedly out-of-date Plaza 500, wanting to keep up with the Joneses, is planning a major makeover which began with a new restaurant.

The look of the new dining room was inspired by the former occupant’s clientele, explains designer David Nicolay. “The restaurant is located just kitty-corner to city hall, and the worn out old space was frequently used as a spot for business lunches.” The suits that characterized this lunchtime crowd sparked a tailored look for Figmint.

A slight departure from the firm’s other work, the palette is mainly monochromatic and grey, with punches of bright colour used sparingly throughout. Two brightly striped fabrics, designed by British fashion and furnishings designer Paul Smith, for Maharam, were selected early in the design process, dictating the rest of the look. Fabrics from Smith’s Stripes collection are used on the built-in seating in both the main room and in the lounge. A pinstriped charcoal grey with multicoloured vertical striping is on the long banquette in the bar, while a thicker, brighter horizontal stripe is featured on the booth seating in the main dining room. Smith-designed uniforms were also selected for the staff to achieve a cohesive look.

“One of the biggest challenges of this project was to create a restaurant that would understand both the current and future clientele,” Nicolay says. The hotel is, at present, far from high-end, but the new restaurant is only the first of planned upgrades and improvements, and as more and more changes come, so will changes in patrons. Evoke delivered with a flexible design that can comfortably cater to a variety of situations and clientele.

Figmint is divided into three separate areas, creating what feel like very intimate spaces in what is actually a very large restaurant. Through the hotel, patrons can enter into the lounge, which features an impressive bar, made from a 30-foot slab of solid white quartz. The long banquette is paired with low, square tables in smoked grey glass and steel, and square red lounge chairs, all of which create a very rectilinear room.

The middle section is a combination of bar and dining room, designed for more social dining experiences. Grey ottoman-like cube seating and low tables offer a relaxed environment for casual meetings or meals.

The Bespoke Stripes fabric is the dominant feature of the main dining room, with the rest of the materials kept simple. Glance up above the tables to check out some of the restaurant’s other special touches including the Frank Gehry-designed paper Cloud lamps from Vitra. Special attention was paid to lighting in this project, with black glass Vistosi fixtures and Random pendant lamps from Moooi also used.

Figmint can also be entered from Cambie Street into the main dining area, which showcases what Nicolay mentions as the project’s biggest success, the solid oak trellis, built to hide a large and unattractive atrium that visually dominated the space. Bad enough to begin with, and extra unpleasant during grey, rainy Vancouver winters, the atrium had to go, but actually removing it was out of the question with the modest budget and tight timeline. “We had a really, really low budget, and the project was fast tracked as well,” explains Nicolay. The trellis provides perfect cover, and puts the focus on the views of Cambie and West 12th Streets, great for people watching when the business meetings wear thin.

Arabian nights

By Janet Collins

Just as Evoke began working on Figmint last summer, the firm was also opening Sanafir, the latest addition to the Glowbal family of restaurants.

Even though the entertainment strip along Vancouver’s popular Granville Street is slowly shedding its seedier side, an unsavory element remains. So it surprised many when the Glowbal Restaurant Group opened its latest bar/restaurant in this location. After all, the group’s other hugely popular ventures are all located in the heart of the hip Yaletown district.

“People are telling us we’re taking a chance by putting Sanafir on Granville Street,” admits Jack Lamont, director of operations for the Glowbal Group. “But we see it as a catalyst for this up-and-coming area.” He points to another restaurant, Wild Rice (not part of the Glowbal group), which sparked the gentrification of Pender Street in the Chinatown district.

Not only is Sanafir’s location out of the ordinary, so is the dcor. David Nicolay and Robert Edmonds of Evoke International Design (designers of the other Glowbal Group eateries) offered up a design that is a radical departure from anything else currently on the Vancouver restaurant scene.

“Since the view to the street isn’t always the most desirable, we opted to create an introverted space,” says Nicolay. As a result, the massive 25-foot glass front is mostly frosted, with only the most subtle of signage included in the surface pattern.

“[Glowbal Group president/owner Emad Yacoub] wanted us to address his heritage through the design,” says Nicolay. “We’re staunch modernists, so knew we didn’t want to go with anything literal. Instead, we concentrated on the colours and esthetics of the Arab world.” The challenge then became keeping to a minimal palette of materials and colours.

Sanafir is comprised of 3,400 square feet, broken into smaller spaces. On the ground floor, the plan centres around a 40-foot-long marble bar, lined by 12 bar stools. Custom oak benches provide the rest of the seating downstairs. Eastern opulence accents the space by way of ornate hand-crafted light fixtures made from Egyptian urns. Five fixtures, each measuring more than six feet long, dominate the back wall of the bar. Three hand-painted papyrus hanging wall panels with Islamic-inspired motifs provide a dramatic backdrop on the 25-foot-high walls.

Stairs near the kitchen lead patrons to the mezzanine level, which challenges the Western idea of how to eat. This level has two distinct spaces. One has a Moroccan-inspired theme with low solid-oak tables and large floor cushions on which to sit. Six-foot-tall woven floor lamps contain this area without the use of walls.

Across the aisle are four private beds surrounded by harem-inspired draperies. Upholstered headboards and pillows add to the lushness and provide an added hit of rich colour. Bronze-coloured mirrors and more custom light fixtures complete the look. This set-up allows for more relaxed – and considerably more intimate – dining experiences. Hometown celeb Pamela Anderson gave her approval during a recent visit to Vancouver.