Designer Spotlight: AvroKO

In many design fields, two heads are better than one, and in the case of New York–based design and concept firm AvroKO, four minds are even better. Comprised of partners Adam Farmerie, William Harris, Greg Bradshaw and Kristina O’Neal, AvroKO is the creative force behind hundreds of bar and restaurant designs around the country, tailoring everything from interior design to art installations at places including Faith & Flower in Los Angeles and Saxon + Parole in New York City. The most recent bar concept, Genuine Liquorette, has turned heads for its genre-bending concept since opening in New York City last fall. We caught up with the creative quartet to learn more about the bar and their approach to creating beautiful drinking spaces.

Imbibe: Every element of each of AvroKO’s projects seems to tie back to a narrative or story idea. Why is this central to your designs?
Kristina O’Neal: Strong design requires discipline and a clear road map. Design connectivity is important to us, and when a guest is in an environment where all elements are in a cohesive, humming dialogue, things just feel (and even taste!) better. Design connectivity leads to emotional connectivity, and when done right, the psychological benefits (whether conscious or not) start to become apparent, and in the end, it just leads to a better all-around experience.

What sources of inspiration do you draw from when taking that narrative from concept to final design?
Adam Farmerie: Inspiration is everywhere, and our interests vary from project to project. We typically lean toward the history and context of the project to begin with, followed by art, fashion, or a literary character, prominent figure or fictional muse. Finding inspiration is usually never the problem. Editing it down, however, is always the real challenge.

With so many minds working on each project, is it hard to stay focused and true to an original vision?
Greg Bradshaw: The central narrative helps everyone stay on track and working toward a common goal. This is the road map, and it’s constantly re-referenced through the life of a project. Every design decision has to filter down through those three conceptual pillars we define early on, so whether we have industrial designers creating furniture pieces or our interiors team picking out finishes and conjuring up a layout, everyone has the same look/feel/goal in mind.

What kinds of things do you take into consideration for bar projects that might not
come into play on a hotel or residential project?
Kristina O’Neal: Bars usually require more sensitivity when it comes to the energy or sexiness of a space. To that end, sight lines, flow and flexibility, incredibly malleable lighting, and moments of fun and delight are pushed a tad further in bars. There’s a bit more freedom, and even necessity, to push the envelope a touch further in bar design. We love for people to say, “Wow, I can’t believe they did that,” or “I’ve never seen that before” in our bars. In the end, we need to make it super-functional and super-memorable.

Liquorette’s design is a significant departure from the current “cocktail bar” look. Where did the idea come from? Why shake up the paradigm?
William Harris: We wanted to have fun! While so many of our restaurants and bars have serious cocktail programs, we’re always trying to make sure we inject some element of fun into them, whether it’s a Michelin-starred restaurant or a basement drinking den. In the case of Liquorette, we were working with a basement space that was functioning already as a liquor storeroom for the upstairs fast-fine restaurant Genuine Superette, so we thought, “Why not totally blow this idea out and turn liquor storage into some strange version of a bodega-style liquor-store bar fantasy?” The time was right to do something really innovative and fresh, and we all just got very excited about that prospect. Cocktail culture has become extremely serious and labored over the last few years, and we wanted to do something slightly more whimsical and irreverent, while still creating a legitimate drinking experience.

What are some of the design moments that you think make Liquorette memorable?
Adam Farmerie: The entrance-stair corridor is lined with classic ’80s liquor-store ads and ephemera—think Joe Piscopo and Billy Dee Williams and lots of ladies with big teased hair, hawking whatever liquor would sponsor them back in the day. It’s a very enveloping experience. We found some of the cheapest liquor-store, Chinatown LED signage and modified it to read “beer, wine and liquorette,” pointing the way. The entrance into the actual bar is through an old cold-storage vinyl flap—á la your dad’s favorite ’70s beer distributor. The room is completely lined with liquor shelves, and every bottle is priced per gram and available to guests. We have selfservice coolers for mixers, beer and wine, and most notably, our modified Arbor press, which we have now christened as the Cha-Chunker, sits tall and proud at the bar and belts out Cha-Chunker cocktails by the score.

If you had to pick one bar that you didn’t design to be a regular at due to its atmosphere, what would it be and why?
Adam Farmerie: The Broken Shaker in Miami would probably top the list. Super-fun, super-relaxed, with some real talent behind the bar. It’s just easy and comfortable and the music is usually on point as well. Any place that makes our head bob and smile is usually a good bet.