Restaurants of the Recession: Robert, New York City

Recession? What recession? Some brave restaurateurs are defying the economic gloom and doom and opening new places. We take a look at the design behind a select few. High atop the Museum of Arts and Design, New York's Robert commands a million dollar view.


With a wall of windows overlooking Central Park, and cocktail tables by one of Zaha Hadid's pet designers, Robert--the restaurant atop the new Museum of Arts and Design--starts with both enviable design cred and a million dollar view.

The first serious restaurant by owners Brian Seltzer, whose day job is as an internist, and Michael Weinstein, chairman of Ark Restaurants, this venue is a tribute to Robert Isabell, Manhattan's top shelf wedding designer, who died last year. Pronunciation note to the pretentious: That's "Robert" as in the Duluth native Isabell was, not a Frenchified Ro-ber, as in The Colbert Report.

On Thursday through Saturday nights, the neon-hued space becomes a piano bar, attracting the crowd spilling out of Lincoln Center, up the street, and other party folk looking for a place to ogle the view, listen to music, and sip cocktails.

If Robert were on Facebook, here's what its profile page might look like:

Name: Robert

Location: Museum of Art and Design, 9th floor

2 Columbus Circle, New York

Opened: December 2009

Chef and Cuisine: Brady Duhane, formerly of Union Prime./American-Mediterranean

Design Brief: A curated environment of contemporary design and art, commissioned specifically for the restaurant, in keeping with its art-focused location

Previous Incarnation: When it was Huntington Hartford's Gallery of Modern Art, the 9th floor housed a Polynesian restaurant, The Gauguin Room. It was totally gutted when the building was renovated.

Design Challenges: The building's small footprint and lack of storage space made designing the small kitchen to be hyper-efficient even more critical.

Design Highlights: London-based designer Phiip Michael Wolfson, who worked with Zaha Hadid early in her career, and has since gone on to establish a thriving art furniture career of his own, designed the room's most dramatic furniture. The most striking pieces are a 15-foot sculptural steel Sound Wave communal table and a flock of brass and polished aluminum cocktail tables called Lollipop Variations--doubtless a reference to the famous lollipop windows on the Edward Durell Stone-designed original building.

Pink plexiglas mobiles in the center of the room, and orange plexiglas boxes on the periphery, all lit by LED lights, were designed by Johanna Grawunder. A large, flat-screen TV on the back wall features a flower-patterned video installation.

Philip Michael Wolfson designed an undulating communal table with a nod to Zaha Hadid's swoopy design vernacular.

Wolfson's cocktail tables have mirror-finished legs, which reflect the ceiling's neon for extra dazzle.

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