In celebration of Harlem Week, MarcusSamuelsson.com is bringing you a special series on our Harlem restaurant, Red Rooster. Every week, we’ll feature a different employee of our great restaurant or an item of decor that will introduce you to the real feel and essence of the Rooster as well as give you a behind-the-scene view of how our cherished restaurant functions.
When we opened Red Rooster, we wanted to not only create a destination restaurant in Harlem but also to integrate it into the great community of Harlem. We hope that through this series and our many community events, we can build the legacy of Red Rooster and one day make it a historic site like the many we’re featuring this month on our site.
Red Rooster’s Concept
The original concept behind Red Rooster was to not build a restaurant in some random location but instead to provide a service and new environment for an entire neighborhood. Because of its historical connection to the original Red Rooster, the natural location to our new version of the restaurant was Harlem. But simply bringing the restaurant to Harlem was not enough; we also wanted to bring Harlem into the space as well. We wanted to bridge the old feel of Harlem and incorporate into a new contemporary space. Throughout the decorating process, the theme always went back to mixing the old with the new.
Red Rooster’s decor is reminiscent of classic Harlem, both its homes and commercial buildings. Some elements that are essential in classic Harlem construction are mahogany wood, brass, and copper. Since these are all common in Harlem architecture, we took note and wanted to incorporate them throughout our restaurant.
Our bar base and shelving are made from red and chocolate mahogany as well as white oak; our antique lighting fixtures are made from copper and brass. Not only did we use these elements throughout the restaurant but we also went a step further and reclaimed actual wood from old Harlem commercial spaces. All of the wood on our walls and our shelves holding our Harlem relics consists of reclaimed wood from old warehouses or businesses. Our antique mirrors and lighting fixtures are reminiscent of Harlem brownstones; and finally our French-style bistro chairs recall on the connection between Paris and Harlem.
The chandeliers and ornate mirrors in the washrooms, as well as the panels throughout the restaurant give an old parlor feel to the space, yet the tile stretches that old feeling into a contemporary aesthetic. Lining the side of the Rooster is a wall of copper bars instead of a flat wall. This copper wall allows the space to breathe in a transparent way while drawing the eye towards it, like a piece of art that moves.
This is not the only art throughout the restaurant; guests at Red Rooster will notice different forms of art at every corner upon entering. Our reclaimed wooden shelves are filled with book, relics, albums, and many other types of items that either represent Marcus Samuelsson and his culinary journey or Harlem and its past. They draw on the overall American experience and the classic aesthetic of Harlem life. The items on the famous Rooster Wall constantly change or are added to, to refresh the feel of the space, but all have some significance to the area and even individual employees of the restaurant. Also hanging on our walls are works of art from local artists and the Studio Museum that not only represent Harlem, but also speak to and about Harlem through their art.
Finally, we leave the most important element of Red Rooster for last: our kitchen. At the back of Red Rooster stands our open kitchen that invites guests to peak at our talent at work. We wanted an open kitchen to portray a feeling of warmth to our guests and create a sense of direct connection to our patrons. Our kitchen is where are feeling of “home” comes from the most, and this ultimately is reflected in the comfort food that we serve at the Rooster. We want to create a family experience through every aspect of Red Rooster: our decor, our staff, and of course our food.
We hope this gives readers a better insight into the meaning behind Red Rooster and solidifies how we’re trying to bring our restaurant into the community. Stay tuned for the rest of our series, as we look at individual pieces of the decor and art as well as our incredible staff.
Photos: Cyndi Amaya