Designing away the movie set, while leaving a few reminders.
By Elizabeth Ingram as told to Lia Picard
First-time restaurateur Mike Stamatelos needed to turn a movie set into Porcelain, his new cafe in New York. He had the location—a room meant to be a working-class Irish bar in South Philadelphia called the “Friendly Lounge” in Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman. But the “lounge”—actually in Ridgewood, Queens—wasn’t even a real bar, let alone the contemporary cafe Stamatelos had in mind. So he hired Atlanta-based restaurant designer Elizabeth Ingram to update the space while holding over a few interesting pieces from the movie. Her work includes Joyface in Manhattan’s East Village, as well as Atlanta’s BeetleCat, Golden Eagle, and Muchaho.
I met Mike after he went to Joyface, a bar I did in New York. He loved it, and he got right away that the design was telling a story and the drama was there. He obsessed over every detail, because he’s that kind of guy. He wanted that same level of detail for whatever story we told for Porcelain.
The first thing Mike told me was that Porcelain had been a filming location for The Irishman. You can see it in the movie. The filmmakers used a lot of the neighborhood, and while I had never been there before, I’ve since gotten to know it a little bit. I immediately liked the corner space of the building. It had this beautiful light coming in. I was just intrigued with the space and the challenge of tying all these different elements together.
There were several design elements at the Porcelain space left behind from the film set. There was a bar, and to build this bar it would’ve been probably $90,000. There was a rust or caramel-color and white-and-light-green checkered linoleum floor. It would not have been my first choice, and it’s funny because they put some effort into the floor, but you never see the floor in the movie. There were some mirrored panels that were probably acrylic—like antique mirrors that looked like years of smoke had built up on them. And then these wooden banquettes, which didn’t really make sense but we kept them anyway.
When we started thinking about a Viennese-style coffeehouse, I began looking at an Austrian style from the 1910s called Jugendstil, which is kind of right alongside Art Nouveau. The French Art Nouveau is swirly and pretty, but Jugendstil is a little bit more angular, a little more graphic. The stencil pattern on the wall was in an Austrian book. I took that pattern and I tweaked it a little bit and then pumped the colors up to make it prettier.
The wall color that The Irishman had left on the wall was this minty green. I detest that color. I can’t stand mint green. We roughed it up so it looked like it had been there a while. I brought in that stencil, which is very clearly a strong graphic element. I felt the bar needed that. It makes this really beautiful. It’s bringing the new into the old. It’s a wink.
I trucked a lot of stuff up from Atlanta, like this old, ratty chandelier from my secret source that I’d been looking to buy for two years. It was just hanging there, and no one was buying it, and it’s missing some crystals. I was like, “Perfect.”
And then there’s a mixture of wood and marble tables. We could only afford so many marble tables, so we mixed in wood. We went vintage shopping and found some vintage chairs and artwork. I found this Austrian credenza thing, which is the coffee station.
For the bathroom, we did crazy Ottoman Empire-style wallpaper and a really horribly funky old vintage chandelier that’s also missing a crystal or two. There’s really bad, weird, freaky angel art over the toilets. The bathroom is starting to get renowned, people have come in and said, “I’ve got to see this bathroom.” I try to throw some secret surprise moments like that.
I’m really proud of Porcelain. It’s a coffee shop, so when I go a lot of people are just doing their thing. I’m proud of the budget, I’m proud that people really do feel like it’s been there for 80 years. When Mike tells me that people honestly thought that it had been here for that long, that’s victory to me. That really feels good to me. I think it’s a really sweet little jewel box sort of spot.