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No one has designed more high-profile Atlanta restaurants than architect Bill Johnson. Some of his early projects from the late 1970s and the early 1980s—including Peachtree Cafe, where Buckhead learned to love Chardonnay at the pastel-colored fern bar—predate the creation in 1988 of the Johnson Studio, the Downtown architectural firm responsible for the atmospheres of upscale titans of the 1990s and 2000s, including Seeger’s, Joël, Bluepointe, Nava, Ciboulette, Dick and Harry’s in Roswell, and MidCity Cuisine.
Bill Johnson and his firm, the Johnson Studio, have designed high-profile restaurants around the country, but recently the company tackled one of its most challenging projects: Red, the 10,000-square-foot, 250-seat eaterie that replaced Headline Bar and Grill inside of Downtown’s Philips Arena. I recently caught up with Johnson to chat about Red, The Spence and some of his upcoming Atlanta projects. Q: Red is somewhat different from many of your other Atlanta projects because of its location inside Philips Arena. What types of challenges did the location present and how are you planning to address them?BJ: Access, for one: No one really knew the restaurant existed before this. Now they will, as the restaurant will be visible from the bowl of the arena into the restaurant’s interior. Several rows of seating and structural concrete were removed to make this visibility possible.Another challenge was the destination: Previously it was not easy for the arena patrons to locate, and now with a new entrance it will be obvious. A stair inside the arena will be painted red, leading guests to the restaurant providing a “red carpet” type of entry effect.A third challenge was to create a line of visibility or “sightline” within the restaurant so that patrons dining or at the bar can see the activity of the game or event. Several individuals will be able to see the action, while others will see the energy of the reactions from the attendees and view the scoreboards while watching it all unfold on TV. Nearly every seat has a view of the floor now. Tiered seating and “stadium” booths were added to give guests a great view of the performance on the arena floor as well as the action at the bar and expo kitchen. Dramatic lighting effects and live action cooking will be a prominent feature and will help to counter the energy inside the bowl. Q: Can you provide an update on the Spence, your project with Concentrics Restaurants and Richard Blais?BJ: It was very slow moving at first because Bob [Amick, President of Concentrics] was focused on Prato opening in Orlando, Winter Park. We are currently working on the look and feel of the interior decor. We will be featuring materials like natural heart pine, raw zinc and brick. It looks like the middle of May before it will be open. Q: Over the last five years you have had some nationally lauded projects in cities like Dallas (Fearing’s) and Royce in The Langham Hotel (Pasadena, California). What have you learned from those projects that we might see in your future Atlanta projects?BJ: New York City, at Rockefeller Center, is getting the newest concept from the Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group, called Del Frisco’s Grille, a grille that is also proposed for the Atlanta area. The positive reaction to the more casual comfortable atmosphere and varied menu with small plates appears to be a concept that will be well suited for Atlanta. NEWS AND NOTES:The Cook’s Warehouse won About.com’s 2012 Reader’s Choice poll for Best Kitchenware Retailer, according a presser issued April,23rd.The contest, conducted online, included Cook’s as well as King Arthur Flour, Bed Bath and Beyond, Sur La Table and Chef’s Catalog.Atlanta’s Sweetwater Brewery was ranked 24th among the Top 50 craft breweries, by sales volume, in 20011 by the Brewers Association. The more than 1,0
ATL Food Chatter: July 10, 2009Bill Johnson, whose architectural alchemy has elevated Atlanta’s dining scene with numerous projects, has lately been moonlighting in other cities. His Johnson Studio recently designed three projects for Chicago’s Wit hotel, and the spaces have captured the attention of the national trade magazines, the local press and the New York Times.