Gentile Pizza Parlour: Hot and Fresh

Atelier Zébulon Perron delivers slices of modern retro in a new pizzeria project.

Who doesn’t love pizza? Can you name another food that for so many of us serves as a starting point for gastronomic journeys and to which we have such strong emotional associations? It is the intense memories that only pizza can deliver that was a driving force behind Atelier Zébulon Perron’s approach to the new Gentile Pizza Parlour in Montréal.

Gentile Pizza Parlour serves New York-style pizza (in a city that many food critics say is awash in Neapolitan-style pies), so naturally part of the new restaurant’s concept is to pay homage to classic pizzerias of 1970s and ‘80s New York City.

After originally tapped by the owner, Anthony Gentile, to design the Westmount location of Café Gentile in 2016, Atelier Zébulon Perron was brought back to create a new adjacent 3,000-sq.-ft. pizzeria. The design team drew heavily on a concept of nostalgia inspired by the family’s history, with tributes to the flagship Café Gentile first opened in 1959 in Montréal’s Garment District by Ignazio Gentile, as well as to a family arcade where the current owner spent much of his youth.

“Many of the settings and design elements that Anthony referenced reflected a memorable past,” says Zébulon Perron. “We wanted to honour aspects of those cherished memories as much as possible, without being too cliché.” Therein lies a key word: working nostalgia into any project is difficult, but particularly for restaurants, where the fallback approach is to just plaster the walls in replica pieces of tin-stamped advertising and servers dressed in costumes. Whereas here, the character of the original space offered some naturally vintage qualities that the designers embraced, including an existing ceiling of rhythmic metal slats, designed for signage purposes, that the firm restored to its 1980s architectural sheen.

A materials palette is dominated by marble, walnut, vinyl, pewter, leather, prefinished wood paneling and amber glass. Some of the old sign devices were maintained for their diffusion of rosy, subdued mood lighting.

To break down the existing space’s natural linearity, the team developed a continuous diagonal tile pattern that covers the floors, walls and the bar. This strong and deliberate gesture is one of the most striking aspects of the final design. A juxtaposition of old and new materials includes a mix of marble and vinyl tabletops, layered, prefinished wood panelled walls with backlit mirrors, amber glass dividers, and old-fashioned vertical blinds. Vintage objects, including light fixtures, chairs, stools, and even an old Pac Man arcade machine, were acquired through personal collections and classified ads. “People are comforted by the familiarity of places that they recognize in visual and emotional ways,” says Perron.

And comfort will go a long way in the post-virus hospitality landscape. Although this project was completed during the coronavirus pandemic in September 2020, the concept for the Parlour was mapped out and work begun well before anyone had even heard of COVID-19. However, since then, the design firm has been addressing related questions from several of their clients. “Of course, a number of measures can be taken to adapt a restaurant to the current situation such as reducing total seating, creating more space between tables, or placing separators between them,” says Perron. “Restaurants can be adapted with some lighter interventions, however most restaurateurs see these as temporary since their business model is based on a minimum number of clients per square foot. If these types of sanitary measures were to be made permanent, I believe the business model of the whole restaurant industry will need to change, be it much higher prices to make up for loss of traffic or integrating more take-out or boutique areas within the space.

The design team, together with Planit Construction, overcame a series of technical challenges to update the concept, applying a metallic champagne paint finish and installing backlit screens to emit a soft pink glow.

“These questions are definitely present in our current project discussions, and we are looking into adopting new strategies to create more intimate pods and seamlessly integrating dividing features within the architecture of the projects. That said, with vaccination campaigns going well, most people we engage with are cautiously optimistic about the prospect of getting back to a semblance of normalcy.”

Photography by Jean-Sébastien Senécal