A noticeable trend has begun to brew in Philadelphia’s restaurant scene—one luxuriously playing upon the intimacy of a dimly-lit, cozy atmosphere with curated cocktails and tasty small plates.
In Bella Vista, that includes the sparkling Grace & Proper, at 941 S. 8th Street (from the Hawthorne Restaurant Group), and in Rittenhouse with the dramatic NoChe at 1901 Chestnut Street (from FCM Hospitality).
At Grace & Proper, opulence comes through simplicity – the sparseness of stripping down the one-time Italian Market apothecary to its origin story of exposed brick, high tin ceilings and hexagonal mosaic tile.
“The staff’s warm dispositions and the building’s natural aesthetic has much to do with the feel of the interior,” says co-owner Heather Annechiarico. ”We did light demo, pulled off drywall and were left with beautifully plastered pock marked walls with multiple layers of wallpaper from the early 1900’s. The original light fixtures were rescued and placed exactly where they hung when this was a drugstore.”
G&P co-owner Chris Fetfatzes, who dedicated this space to the memory of his mother during opening night, says the glass windows pouring in natural light is one of the space’s greatest design gifts, one where its food preparation can be witnessed by guests at the bar.
“Keeping things very natural and bare bones, we wanted to do a lot with disturbing things as little as possible. This is our approach to the design as well as the food and beverage program at G&P.”
Grace & Proper’s curated cocktail list marries well crafted, yet underutilized Portuguese ingredients with the singularly American culinary tradition that is mixology.
“Like Madeira, ginjinha, brandies, port and Carcavelos meet clear ice, saffron infusions, emulsion syrups, ‘regal shakes,’ and house bitters,” says G&P beverage director Scott Rodriguez. “Like the space itself, our cocktails strive to be both rustic and elegant; steeped in tradition yet imbued with the excitement of something new.”
While Grace & Proper is an open-air, floor-to-ceiling windowed bar with room for al fresco dining and drinking, NoChe is equally theatrical, but more mysterious and cloistered.
NoChe requires walking up a speakeasy’s set of hidden steps off the corner of 19th and Chestnut and into the darkness of plush velvet seating and low-glowing crystal chandeliers. Once your eyes are adjusted to the dim, you’ll spy vintage tchotchkes and paintings in NoChe’s nooks and along the walls of its plush seating areas. All of the seating and table options at NoChe are built for intimacy and close proximity with its music set to low, rumbling volume.
Avram Hornik, longtime owner of NoChe as well as its interior designer, said of its décor, “The intent of the design at NoChe, along with the choice of food and beverage, is in order to make an atmosphere where people can socialize together. So many spaces in Philly where you can socialize are centered around food and eating. NoChe is a place where you can socialize and have something to drink and eat.”
Aiding in NoChe’s intimate social process is a share-heavy menu of richly appointed items such as two Osetra caviars and Steelhead trout roe served with crispy potatoes, crème freche and egg yolk; cool tins of Yellowfin tuna belly with grilled bread, pickles and olives; and sweet and spicy lamb meatballs.
Shareable as an experience for the table – though singular to each drinker – is NoChe’s cocktail board creation showpiece, one where a bar’s representative server comes to you and interactively works with the imbiber to mix the cocktail (or set it aflame) table-side.
“The cocktail board creation isn’t really about the design of the restaurant, but more so the feel,” says Matt Deutsch, the beverage director at NoChe/FCM. “Creating an immersive element within the beverage program, to round out the full experience when you visit our lounge. Every libation on our expansive list has been thought out, tested, and tweaked to ensure whatever you order is the best version it can be.”