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Trimming the Fat

Sometimes an architectural marvel can prove too marvelous for its own good

Author Jolyon Helterman


The recently debuted steakhouse Boston Chops (Andy Ryan photo)

WHEN BOSTON CHOPS co-owner Brian Piccini signed the lease for his new South End steakhouse last year, he inherited an architectural sensation. The original 1917 Classical Revival structure on Washington Street was grand enough, but it was the lavish multimillion-dollar overhaul in 2008 (for the launch of short-lived upscale restaurant Banq) that had design scribes swooning. Architecture journals extolled the “intrepid spirit” of the interior’s undulating curves and swoops. Wallpaper crowned it the year’s best restaurant design, noting that it “sets the senses swirling with its banyan tree–inspired aesthetic.”

That is, it used to—until Piccini and his partners spent $10,000 to rip out the renovation, right down to the last award-winning scrap of CNC-milled Baltic birch plywood. “The previous space was all about form,” Piccini says. “It looked beautiful, but in terms of operating a busy restaurant, it made zero functional sense.” The “flow” was off, as were the acoustics, he says. “It was basically an echo chamber, a loud space that was uncomfortable to hold a conversation in.”

The revamped space’s dramatically pared-down décor—a funky study in steel, leather and brick—not only pairs nicely with chef Christopher Coombs’ casual-modern steakhouse fare, but also fits in more convincingly with the South End’s prevailing aesthetic, which skews gritty rather than sleek.

What’s more, nothing beats a clean slate for exorcising ghosts of failed restaurants past. “I didn’t want any trace of the previous concepts lingering as a gloomy cloud,” admits Piccini. “Nobody returns to a restaurant that looks cool but tastes bad.”

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