Making Light of Dark Spirits - Design Bureau


Making Light of Dark Spirits

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014

Photos by Dale Tan and Ryan Hughes 

Featured Company: Lundberg Design

Location: San Francisco, CA

Project Type: Bar

Project Name: Hard Water

When San Francisco restaurateur Charles Phan set out to envision the way his new bar would look, he posed a few simple questions to design principal Olle Lundberg to spark the flames of creativity:

“Though whiskey is aged in charred oak barrels, why do we have to drink it in an environment that recalls that? Why is everything always so dark—full of oak and leather and sawdust? How can we make a modern space that works for drinking with friends?”

Tasked with redefining the American whiskey bar, Lundberg says that he needed to acknowledge the history of the space and city while rethinking the typical bar atmosphere for Hard Water.

To start, Lundberg left the proportions of the former Embarcadero warehouse intact and resisted the urge to fill the space with seating and clutter. Instead of focusing on dark materials and heavy wood elements, he lifted the ambiance with a light-colored marble horseshoe bar (an ode to the Grand Central Oyster Bar, where his father took him to eat oysters for the first time) and soft, strategic lighting choices.

Everyone’s favorite design element, Lundberg says, is the central light that looms over the bar, which is actually half of an old steel ship’s buoy that still has some oysters attached. “It harkens back to the history of the pier and its maritime use, it contrasts new and old, and it is a great use of a beautiful found object,” he says.

The other main source of light emanates from behind the bar itself. The “bourbon wall” takes the concept of an average back bar and enlarges the structure ten times what would be considered normal. Back-lighting the bottles “makes that collection shine, literally,” Lundberg says, “and in doing so, it highlights that incredible amber color that great bourbons always have, and the subtle differences between bottles.”

With strategic lighting and an uncluttered space, Hard Water welcomes guests to drink without feeling like they’re trapped inside a whiskey barrel. Lundberg says that it’s the kind of place where you’d want to take a friend visiting from out of town. “You’d want to buy him/her a glass of whiskey that they would remember the rest of their life—in part because of the quality of whiskey that we can offer, and in part because of the feeling that we’d created.”

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