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In June, after eleven successful years of culinary expertise and elevated ambiance, Eleven Madison Park (EMP) closed for an extensive renovation by Allied Works—a dedicated 40-person practice, founded in 1994 by Brad Cloepfil, notably known for its cultural, creative, public, and private projects with brands like Clyfford Still Museum, National Music Centre of Canada, Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, and Uniqlo City. The revamp led to an anticipated re-opening on October 8, which showed striking new details that wowed regulars and beckoned new.
“The project draws inspiration from neighboring Madison Square Park through the quality and color of light, the textures and patterns of foliage, the shifts of form, line and shadow through the seasons,” said Cloepfil. “The space builds anticipation, and exudes a sense of invitation and welcome for one to come together with friends and associates. It is a space that expands time in its calm, color and craftsmanship, and offers time to sit and enjoy one of the world’s most extraordinary culinary experiences. It is a room for both the art and theater of dining.”
Today’s EMP features an array of stunning new design details—including a reimagined bar with leather, velvet, and light bronze; terrazzo flooring; banquettes lining the restaurant’s walls; the room’s central promenade now with two raised dining levels; a new 18-piece tableware suite designed by Allied Works; and commissioned artworks by artists like Rita Ackermann, Olympia Scarry, and Daniel Turner—that were important to the restaurant.
For this occasion, the restaurant also debuted a new menu (while keeping its iconic black-and-white cookies), which is dramatically full of bold flavors. It features new dishes and concepts like marinated clams with fennel, tilefish with parsnip and crème fraîche, and smoked-sturgeon cheesecake with caviar.
“I’m so excited to have been able to work with Brad and the team at Allied because their approach to architecture is so similar to mine in the kitchen—it’s not about adding more, but finding ways to strip things away, to keep it elemental,” said Co-Owner and Chef Daniel Humm. “From the onset of this relationship we’ve seen eye-to-eye on what we all want Eleven Madison Park to become, and through the process it was really comforting to know that we were all working towards a shared goal. And for me, as the chef, the idea of serving the food in a room that is designed with the same philosophies that are applied in the kitchen is very special. It will bring a wonderful sense of harmony to a guest’s experience.”
To learn more about the re-design—of the restaurant, the menu, and even the wardrobe—Whitewall spoke with Cloepfil, and EMP Co-Owner and Manager Will Guidara.
WHITEWALL: Brad, you led EMP’s complete renovation from beginning to end. What was the starting point?
BRAD CLOEPFIL: We began with the gorgeous historic room, and the desire to strengthen its presence. In addition to the light and connection to the park, the design was conceived to amplify the rich elemental character of Daniel’s food—to set the stage for his art—as well as elevate Will’s deep belief in the concept of an invitation and taking care of you.
I also had a personal desire to update the idea of a classic NYC dining room—a restaurant type that has been lost with the past 40-year trend of “casualizing” our culture. The sense of ceremony is being lost—the idea of going somewhere special, an experience decidedly not in your everyday life. That food and service is definitely above and beyond‑transcendent without being formal, fussy, or over-produced.
WW: What did Allied Works specifically do to preserve and enhance the character and beauty of the historic space, and celebrate the ritual of dining?
BC: We re-conceived the East side of the room, creating the mirrored glass windows that reflect the light and views into the park to the west. We also changed the color and electric lighting, while leaving the historic pendants. For dining, we made an elemental, elegant, and calm space with rich material, such as mohair, and walnut and bronze metals. Ornament and pattern inspired by the leaf “skeletons” found in the winter in the park in the metal screens, rugs, and chairs. Lighting at each banquet to create a sphere of warmth. The desire to invite people to spend time, dwell in that gorgeous room, with the amazing food and service. As in my art museums, the art (or in this case, the food) is the focus. The architecture and objects sets the stage.
WW: You met Will in 2008, and watched his and Humm’s vision for the restaurant come to fruition. What do you enjoy most about EMP as an outsider? What about now?
BC: I’ve been going to restaurant for almost 20 years. My first museum design, the St. Louis Contemporary Art Museum, had its press preview there. I celebrated getting the commission for the Museum of Arts and Design there with my team. And courted my wife Lisa Strausfeld (then a design partner at Pentagram across the park) there. It has always been a beautiful warm and inviting room. With the staff reflecting those qualities as well. Now I feel the room is more refined and present, and the design matches their concept of service and conception of food. At once simple and complex, comfortable yet refined. I love the bar!
WW: You also designed an 18-piece tableware suite in raw porcelain and white glaze, tailored to the restaurant’s culinary vision. There are 100 limited-edition sets of eight five-piece place settings, now available for purchase on your website. Can you tell us a bit about working with Portland-based Mudshark Studios for this?
BC: We had six months to design and produce the dinnerware—something I had never done before. I am a student of clay and decorative arts, so I was thrilled to have the opportunity. I had a sense of what was right for them. Porcelain as a material expressed, but elegant in proportion and detailed just enough to delight the eye. Mudshark (from my hometown of Portland, Oregon) was amazing to work with—jumping into the challenge with no warning and little time to deliver, with a demand of quality as high as possible. The learning myself and my team went through was extraordinary. I am thrilled with the design, and want to do more!
WHITEWALL: Will, when did you realize it was time for a renovation?
WILL GUIDARA: It was kind of a phased realization. At first, we only intended to renovate the kitchen—it was no longer suited to the way we cooked and the way service was orchestrated. But when we realized that the kitchen closure would mean the whole restaurant would be closed for an extended period of time we thought it would be a good opportunity to freshen things up in the dining room as well. Granted, we didn’t expect that the path would result in a full on renovation, that wasn’t realized until we brought on Brad from Allied Works and he presented his initial design. It was then that we realized we were embarking on a very different path than initially intended, but we couldn’t be happier with the results.
WW: The redesign features an array of new details. Why were these details something that were necessary?
WILL GUIDARA: We’re meticulous when it comes to the details in the restaurant—from the experience to the physical space, to the lighting and the food—every details is considered. When we approached the renovation we did so with the same level of intensity and passion. We weren’t just aiming to refurbish the space, but reinvent it and in order to do so we had to look at everything and see how everything came together to create a new look for our dining room and for our kitchen. Everything was also done with intention, we didn’t just change something because it needed to change, but we had a reason for that change. Our goal was to transform the restaurant and create a space that is both timeless and relevant, a restaurant that matches the experience we offer our guests, and will set us up for the next 20 years of our lease.
WW: EMP also has new suits for the staff made by Todd Snyder. Why was he someone the restaurant wanted to work with for this?
WG: The timing of working with Todd was pretty fortuitous. They’d just opened their flagship up the street and we’d worked together on some early campaigns of theirs around the launch. We connected over a shared approach to our work and attention to detail, and to be honest their style meshes pretty well with my own. Collaborating with them on the new suiting made sense from there. They’re a more contemporary brand, but still rooted in the classics, and with a real appreciation for detail and heritage designs.