Far too many hotels and restaurants are, these days, slapping up a bunch of art on the walls, with no particular reason or aesthetic ideology behind it. But Gramercy’s punky new Street Taco had a plan – to make the art an essential part of the experience. And so artists Simon Robin and Nicole Salgar, as well as tattoo virtuoso Mike Rubendall, were engaged for the task – resulting in a holistic melding of food, drink and space.
Of course, this is a place where even the taco menu plays it a bit rebellious. Some of our faves? Blackened portobello, lamb barbacoa, ceviche…and lengua, which actually means “beef tongue.” But they also make a wicked guacamole and a killer margarita. It’s a genuinely iconoclastic update of the classic taqueria.
In between bites and sips, we chatted with the artists themselves about how they came to create the works that now grace Street Taco’s strikingly original walls.
I was motivated to work with the Street Taco team because I had a clear understanding of the direction they were heading in – which gave me the right inspiration to transform their vision into a work of art. The have creative sensibilities that separate them from the rest, and they aren’t afraid to think outside the box, take risks and push boundaries in order to create a new and exciting dining experience.
With that in mind, I was able to lay a strong foundation against my design and feel that my final creation embodied these traits and fit the nontraditional, edgy theme of the restaurant. I mixed together a few different styles and cultures and created a one-of-a-kind design that I feel really enhanced the space. I topped off the piece with an Aztec inspired border to coincide with the overall theme of Street Taco.
As a tattoo artist, this project gave me the opportunity to highlight how prevalent tattooing is in street culture, while showcasing how it can be considered a form of art. Having my creation be a focal point behind the bar is very exciting to me, and I’ll be encouraging my friends (and clients) to visit the space for years to come.
Xochiquetzal is the name of the piece I created for Street Taco and I’m obsessed with her location within the space. When you’re inside, you kind of have to seek her out; but from the street, she’s one of the first things you see, drawing people in to see what the place is all about.
I chose to paint this particular goddess because she is, by connotation, representative of human desire, pleasure and excess. Street Taco has a philosophy of indulgence and acceptance/freedom in the atmosphere of the restaurant and it just felt like an appropriate fit. Although there is a darker theme to the decor of the space, it is all done in a pleasure-seeking spirit.
With that being said, Xochiquetzal was also heavily associated with the concept of female sexual power. This is a subject which is more relevant now than ever, and her spirit belongs in the space, and in the city for all to acknowledge.
This was an incredibly exciting project for me. Street Taco is authentic – it’s not pretentious or trying to be something that it’s not. When thinking about what I could bring to the overall taqueria experience, and best compliment true Mexican street food, I decided to create several meaningful and distinct pieces showcasing my interpretation of ‘street art.’
The first, and possibly my favorite, piece is a full, floor-to-ceiling representation of a #BadHombre. He’s edgy and cool, and his tattoos and rings show that he’s spent some actual time on the ‘streets’. He’s positioned across from the restroom entrances, giving guests a moment of pause and reflection before heading back to their tacos and margs.
One of my favorite seats in the house – a comfy corner booth near the entrance of the taqueria – showcases a girl with a beautiful skull face, gripping roses and seemingly lusting after something out of sight. It has a very ‘Day of the Dead’ vibe, felt by the elusiveness of the beautiful lover passing into the after love.
There’s also a very symbolic skull showcasing the relationship between love (symbolized by the rose) and the sinister /forbidden (represented by the skull itself).