First Course: A Multicultural and Modern Mexican CantinaAuthor:Elysa Hill
The effervescent design and culinary flavors of Mexico are infused throughout San Francisco restaurant newcomer La Urbana from its earthy, reclaimed materials to the traditional, iconic design motifs.
The recent addition on Divisadero at Grove opened early September. The design was spearheaded by Juan Garduño of Garduño Arquitectos, a firm with offices in both Mexico and San Francisco. Garduño is also one of the owners, alongside Eduardo Rallo and Alessandra Bonisolli. Starting on the outside and working his way in, Garduño reimagined the chic and contemporary Mexico City woman – otherwise known as “La Urbana”- into a recurring element. The exterior of the building features a large three-dimensional wood portrait of the multicultural, well-accessorized lady. To the tired, the famished, and the thirsty, “La Urbana” is a beacon of light – quite literally, as her silhouette is adorned with color-changing LEDs
Once wanderers rejoice in their discovery of this new haven, they enter through double glass doors that are more awe-inspiring than intimidating (once you get over the cool but eerie skull-emblazoned door handles). Crafted from reclaimed glass found in a junkyard in Mexico City and refurbished into a glistening work of art, the arched door panels cast an iridescent glow inside the restaurant.
Organizational junkies and mess makers alike will appreciate the beautifully mismatched bar cabinetry that guests first lay eyes on as they enter the restaurant. Reclaimed furniture like nightstands and bookshelves brought in from tienditas (small shops) in Mexico were painted and distressed. They assume their new purpose as cubbies and display cabinets for La Urbana’s top-notch mezcal collection – it’s actually one of the largest on the West Coast.
The dark interior allows vibrant accents to pop; black floors were handmade by a family of fourth-generation tile makers in the town of Mérida, Mexico. Using an intricate process involving cement instead of porcelain or clay, these tiles were designed to be durable – and look so sophisticated. Notice the bright turquoise wheel art against the black wall? Fernando Llanos and Hector Falcon, contemporary artists from Mexico City, purchased bicycle rims from the café next door and encased them in Mexican plastic typically used on chairs.
Let your eyes wander from the artfully constructed bar to the skylights overhead, where exposed beams (discovered when the design team removed the dry wall during construction) add to the rustic, organic atmosphere. Look closer and to discover a semi-hidden painted graphic. You wonder what other pictorial secrets are hidden in plain sight, as you zero in on plastic chairs that have been screen-printed with the face of – who else – the omniscient “La Urbana.” A mix of these cultural, iconic seats and leather hand-woven chairs marries the contemporary and organic forms of the watering hole. Even the eats, garnished with smoked goat cheddar, cucumber Serrano froth, and elder flowers, are cantina-style works of art in themselves, utilizing the best in local, organic Northern California produce.
The accident-prone will seek refuge in this urban-modern retreat purely for the tricked-out tables that, quite frankly, I’m surprised haven’t caught on elsewhere. Garduño attached cup holders to each table leg to cradle drinks while guests play classic cantina games or to keep klutzes from knocking over a glass after one too many Mezcal Juleps.
And if you do, don’t worry. “La Urbana” won’t tell.
La Urbana, 661 Divisadero, San Francisco. Open 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. every day.
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