Vespaio- Downtown, Los Angeles, CA
Agostino Sciandri’s Vespaio (“the hornet nest” in Italian) is an homage to the fun and sexy energy of the Mediterranean coastal lifestyle. As the fourth Ago restaurant designed by Ralph Gentile Architects (Ago-Los Angeles, Toscanova, and Ago-Las Vegas), the challenge was to give this downtown location a fresh, new attitude - to stir up the hornet’s nest so to speak.
A departure from the dark wood and dim lighting usually associated with Tuscan eateries, RGA’s expresses the spirit of Sciandri’s menu with an unmistakably Italian flair in a lighter, younger voice. Reminiscent of Italian yachts and the glorious Riva Aquarama speedboats of the 60’s, Vespaio features a ‘mix-match’ of eclectic styles and furnishings -- a clever mash-up of Gio Ponti, Italian Mid-Century men’s fashion and timeless Italian materials such as white marble, rich millwork and antique brass. Oceanic hues and metallic finishes are carried through the space with fabric and patterns reminiscent of clever tailored men’s pocket squares of the 1980s.
“Ago wanted a space that could be enjoyed day and night, inside and out.” explains Ralph Gentile. “By creating five distinct areas in the restaurant guests can enjoy a leisurely cappuccino in the morning, brisk business lunch, lazy Campari aperitivo on the patio or a fine meal followed by a nightcap, or a pastry and coffee after a concert or art opening. Of course Italian fine dining is what Ago is best known for which makes this restaurant such a draw.”
“The Vespaio design process also benefited greatly from Sandro’s insights from his years at the Ago in Miami,” added Ralph, referring to Ago’s son, Sandro Sciandri. “He really understand the younger crowd and how to make a patio and bar appeal to everyone. He has great taste, like his father, which resulted in a very tailored, authentic Italian feel which is so appealing to everyone.”
“The most visible feature from the street is 1200 square foot patio,” adds Sergio Osorio, RGA project architect. “ We actually designed in layers: on top, we have four vaulted awnings concealed above, which retract by nesting to allow for year-round dining. Next, we have the structure and from that, a dozen or so permanent hexagon shade screens, which protect the patio from direct sun as well as conceal lighting and heaters. Below that, we have hung our ceiling fans and a fire feature. It’s that “sandwich” that makes Vespaio’s patio flexible and why it works so well. “
It is clear that Vespaio is destined to become one of the most desirable exterior dining experiences on Grand, if not in not all of Los Angeles and a special event location likely to be in high demand.
The Vespaio interior dining experience features a variety of comfortable seating areas with primary views to the Broad Museum and the beautifully landscaped plaza with majestic olive trees. The floor to ceiling glass is cleverly shaded with full height wood shutters which can be raised or opened to a variety of day and night time options. The dining room, bar and café all interconnect with the concealed lighting on the columns and sconces on the shutter system.
“Our approach to lighting design is to anticipate the guest experience throughout the day and make the scenes match the mood” says lighting designer Betty Ann Castaneda of the Ruzika Company. “It becomes theatrical without it feeling forced.”
Perhaps the most unique feature of the restaurant is the ribbed plaster ceiling. “Creating a ground floor restaurant in a residential tower has its challenges,” explains designer Candice Goodwin. “The plaster is doing two big jobs for us: first, controlling the sound from traveling to the apartments above and second, providing a interesting visual pattern like no other. Some people call them ribs, some people call them noodles, I just think people will really enjoy how pleasing the sound in this room is, and may even not know that the ceiling is why.”
The RGA design team created custom chairs and tailored booths in the dining areas including a sleek Italian version of the wing back chair and comfortable sectionals in the lounge. The attention to crisp tailoring and guest comfort is evident throughout.
“We took cues from vintage Italian leather luggage for the piping and closures. There are so many great choices as to where to sit, guests will want to come back again and again to try them all,” says designer Kristin Carlblom Boyle. “That goes for the bar and patio seating too!
Vespaio occupies most of the front ground floor of The Emerson, (225 S Grand Ave.) Bunker Hill’s newest luxury apartment building. Enviously situated steps away from the new Broad Museum, across the street from MOCA and Colburn School and a stroll from the Los Angeles Music Center, Vespaio is in the center of DTLA’s cultural hub and the natural gathering place on what has become a sort of Architects Row.