Peter Marino Revisits His Past to Transform a Landmark New York Hotspot into the Lobster Club
The Lobster Club had big shoes to fill. The New York restaurant is located in the landmarked Seagram Building, and occupies the lower level that was formerly Brasserie. Designed by Philip Johnson, it was the late-night spot for the glitterati leaving Studio 54 back in its 1970’s heyday. However, selecting a designer for the 4,500-square-foot space might not have taken long. Imagine the want ad: Seeking someone who knew Johnson, was friends with Andy Warhol, and who used to dine at Brasserie. Apply within.
There’s likely only one architect of such rarified credentials: Peter Marino. But the Interior Design Hall of Fame member was skeptical about taking on the project at first. “Restaurants aren’t always great venues for architects,” he says. Nevertheless Marino, well-known for designing the high-end stores where the glitterati shop—Chanel, Dior, and Bulgari, to name a few—took the gig, making it his first North American restaurant. “If you’re going to have a restaurant designed by an architect, this is the place to do it,” he says of the 1958 Ludwig Mies van der Rohe building.
The client is Major Food Group, which just rebooted the Four Seasons, the restaurant upstairs also designed by Johnson, as the Grill and the Pool. The Lobster Club built on Marino’s familiarity with Johnson, who advised Warhol when Marino was working on the latter’s town house. It didn’t hurt that Marino was one of the those who stopped into Brasserie for a bite after late nights at Studio 54. As such, he sought to retain a sense of youthful mischief distinct from the grown-up spaces above.
So Peter Marino Architect set to work on an interior scheme that is typically elaborate for the firm: There are six different flooring materials and over 20 different chair upholsteries. Even the restrooms got glam, their cork wall covering partially gilded. “It looks expensive, but isn’t!” Marino states.
But first, he had to attend to elements of the Diller Scofidio + Renfro renovation of Brasserie from 1999. Centering on a large staircase, “All you could see was people’s feet coming down at your face,” he notes. “I made little black steps that descend quietly,” he says of the new terrazzo stairway.
The architect talks offhandedly about the project—“I take a little Mies soup stock and throw in a little me”—but that belies the strict architectural geometry underneath the plan. This wasn’t bisque thrown at the wall. Some of the organization of the Lobster Club is based on the layout of the restaurant upstairs, specifically the pool in the Pool Room, which Johnson famously designed as a square within a square. The footprint of the Lobster Club’s lounge exactly mirrors it. “It’s a little architect-y of me,” Marino admits.
The lounge is bordered on one side by the cocktail bar, topped in an onyx that emits a flattering honey-colored glow. Along another side are two-tops and booths, the latter’s chartreuse banquettes separated by bronze screens that nod to the building’s mullions outside. Marino elevated the banquettes—visitors often need to step on the brass foot rails to get onto the seats—to provide sight lines across the lounge to the entry, ideal for seeing who’s arriving. Toward the back is the dining room, where the ceiling is lower, creating a more sequestered ambience. This is where he ties into the restaurant’s name. Dubbed the red room, its banquettes are not only rose-colored but also arrayed in a zigzag that recalls a lobster claw. As for the floor, “There is no real red marble,” Marino notes, so he went ahead and created one from cement resin and Venetian glass. A wall of ebony panels coordinates with the chairs’ cerused oak frames, adding a rustic touch to the glossy crimson landscape.
Marino festooned all the spaces with mid-century art references, channeling the Miesian moment of the Seagram’s debut. At the time, it was all about drip paintings, so the architect commissioned his old Cornell University classmate, painter Laura Bergman, to adorn the lounge’s inset square floor. He told her, “I’ve got 150 tiles ready for the Jackson Pollock treatment, go nuts.” Marino, who started as a fine artist, also contributed his own pop art collages to the scheme.
The co-owner of the building, mega collector Aby Rosen, is loaning artworks to the restaurant on a rotating basis, notably a series of Pablo Picasso plates adorning the shelves behind the bar. Marino continued the Picasso theme with six sculptures that look like they’re by the master but were actually designed and fabricated by PMA.
What has been the response to the Lobster Club so far? “I like that people don’t say, It’s so beautiful,” Marino says. “Instead, they say Oh, it’s so much fun. Frankly, that was my goal.” Accomplished.
Project Team: Trent Davies; Osamu Mochizuki; Jennifer Fitzgerald; Carly Silver; Paola Pretto; Trish Fleming; James Sweeney; Mary MacArthur Chandeysson; Lorenzo Ottaviani: Peter Marino Architect. L’Observatoire International: Lighting Consultant. Gilsanz Murray Steficek; Severud Associates: Structural Engineers. MG Engineering: MEP. Tri-Star Construction Corp: General Contractor.