I’m designing a couple joints down on Orchard Street; both are restaurants, and both are looking to cater to a high-end clientele that “slum” in the area on the weekends. Both are also gearing up to service a slew of tourists being brought to the area by Jason Pomeranc’s new LES Thompson Hotel (which will also feed the locals who continue to gentrify the LES). So there I was on Allen Street looking for a cab when I get waylaid by my pal Julie Ex of La Esquina. Julie Ex, of everywhere-I-ever-wanted-to-hang-out, standing on the corner with her Cheshire smile. She asked me if I’d seen the new hotel and dragged me kicking and screaming to the Thompson.
Twisted arm aside, I was dying to get a sneak peek at the place. My boy Jim Walrod designed the interiors — Jim and I are neighbors and old friends, and I’m used to seeing him every day, but he’s been so absorbed by this project and his other work for Jason that I haven’t seen him around. For my money, he’s the best hospitality designer in the business — no AvroKos about it, not Rockwell, not Stark, not Jeffrey Beers. Incredible as they all are, none are nearly as hip and now as Jim. If you don’t believe me, just pop by the Thompson LES and check it out. When your jaw gets off the floor, have something to eat (at Shang). I’ve been told that the stunning restaurant serves serious grub.
I shook Jason Pomeranc’s hand and was directed to Jim, who took some of his crunch-time time to give me a tour. He showed me Andy Warhol’s image engraved into the bottom of the pool staring up at me through new water. The place was swarming with models, photogs, stylists, and assistants gathered for a Vogue shoot. Jim showed me another room, and I saw a sad Manhattan in an optimistic light. I’m building. Jason and Jim are building. There are ventures going on out there. I stared down at a city that hasn’t stopped worrying for weeks amidst the wondrously innovative furnishings of the new hotel, and I was able to take a deep, maybe-it-will-be-all-right kind of breath. Jim and I talked about how optimism is becoming so much a part of our design philosophy; modern and inspiring are what the public wants to embrace. At the two little joints I’m building on Orchard Street, color and vibrancy are design intent. Jim and Jason’s achievement towers over my little spots, but they all mean jobs, creative vigor, tourist dollars — and more importantly, they bring “new” to a neighborhood and a downtown overwhelmed and obsessed with making ends meet.