Great Restaurant Design: Fat Louie's

4th March 2017 – Sarah Micallef

Described as New York Best’s “alcoholic older cousin”, Fat Louie’s – the latest eatery from the brothers behind the successful New York Best franchise, Tommy and Nick Diacono – threw open its metal doors a few months ago, and it’s not just the unique menu, comprised of interest-piquing items like bone marrow and 12-hour smoked ribs, that caught our attention.

The eclectic décor of the smokehouse is difficult to pin down, but echoes old-school taverns in downtown New York mixed in with a distinct European flair – a reflection of the brothers’ tastes and travels. “We like to follow international brands, and saw a trend for Texas-style smokehouses with a European influence – like Pitt Cue Co in London and Big Easy,” says Tommy, speaking of how the idea for Fat Louie’s came about.

The cosy eatery, nestled just next door to New York Best in Paceville, started its life as the seating area of an Italian restaurant before work started on its transformation. While the Diaconos didn’t have a set brief in mind, they wanted Fat Louie’s to be a reflection of themselves first and foremost. “It’s a space for us to experiment with things we can’t do at New York Best. It’s really a manifestation of our passion. While NYB has more of a franchise feel, we opened Fat Louie’s for us,” Tommy says, referring to their edgy choices in both décor and menu.

From the cracked butcher tiles on the wall to the industrial flooring, antique bistro chairs and naked neon bones on the ceiling – which have become somewhat of an icon – every aspect is intentioned, and has its own story. “Having done up four restaurants before Fat Louie’s, we learnt a lot – about lighting, space and flow of kitchen. When I travel, I study the foot flow and mise en place of different spaces, and it teaches you a lot,” Tommy says, adding that they found inspiration from a variety of places around the world, like Minetta Tavern in New York. “We wanted something old-school that looks like it’s been there forever, which I feel we managed to achieve.”

In fact, among the restaurant’s most defining features are the broken tiles adorning the walls – an idea that came to Tommy while dining at Anahi, in Paris. “They had taken over an old place, and the walls were covered with old, broken tiles which had pieces missing, and were filled with gold leaf. I loved how they turned a ruined wall into a feature, and decided to do something similar. We found old butcher tiles and emulated the effect with turquoise grouting,” he says, noting that tiles often get broken when hanging shelves and picture frames anyway. “It was quite difficult to explain that we wanted the tiles to be broken to the tilers!”

Apart from collecting ideas and inspiration, the brothers were also very involved when it came to setting the place up and sourcing the different elements they needed. The turquoise grout for the tiles, for example, which Tommy wanted to match the turquoise neon, was nowhere to be found locally, so he sourced it from Sicily. The counter, meanwhile, is a 200-year-old relic he stumbled upon in Gozo, while working on a different project. “I was actually going to buy it three or four years ago when my brother and I were planning to open a ‘fish and pig’ concept shop. We were about to close on a shop in San Gwann when I found this counter, but that’s when the Sliema property came up for NYB and we couldn’t do both,” he recalls. Years down the line, Tommy tracked it down for Fat Louie’s. “It was an old bar counter and still has a drawer with a hole for coins. It was then restored by my father,” he says.

Indeed, the brothers have come a long way since setting up their first restaurant – a journey that is evident in every aspect of Fat Louie’s, and celebrated on its walls. “When we started NYB, I was 25. The learning process since then, and the amount we’ve invested to learn about the industry is huge. The photos displayed on the walls really tell that story,” Tommy continues.

And while experience teaches, that’s not to say it came without its challenges, as tight budgets forced the brothers to employ their creativity. “The biggest challenge was definitely financing,” Tommy says, explaining that with NYB growing so fast, financing became an issue so as not to miss out on the opportunities that came up. “It wasn’t easy, but it’s good because it corners you and makes you get creative” – and judging by the results, it’s certainly paid off.

This is a snippet. Read the full feature on the latest issue of Commercial Courier.

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