Hell hath no fury like a restaurant patron wronged, but usually customers have the decency to suffer rotten food or wretched service before they blow their tops. Tweed hasn’t had to wait that long. Merely walking through the door of this beloved building, formerly John Mims’s Les Bon Temps, has been enough to set some would-be diners off. One look at the sleek steel and glass surfaces that have replaced the weathered wood paneling and swooping fantail staircase of old, and the tirades begin.
“People have actually walked into the restaurant and said that we desecrated the space,” says Sam Shaaban, whose architectural firm Urban Space Development is responsible for the sacrilege. “They’ve come in and said things like, ‘This is a monstrosity!’”
Or they don’t come in at all. Before Tweed even opened for business in June, Shaaban was standing outside when a passerby peered in at the renovated space. The man turned to his companions, Shaaban recalls, and announced, “These people are criminals.”
There’s nothing like living in a city that’s demolished more than a dozen Frank Furness buildings to stoke preservationist ire. But it turns out the staircase zealots can count Tweed’s owner on their side. That Gone With the Wind-style charm is what sold Edward Bianchini, who spent the past 28 years running a hotel and restaurant in Southern France, on the space. Then he peeled back the paint. The floor was rotting, and the stairs were structurally unsound, as were the mezzanine balconies that flared out from either side.
After an abortive effort to extricate himself from the lease, Bianchini and chef David Cunningham pivoted toward Sam and Tim Shaaban, whose firm played midwife to a whole different concept. They’ve rewritten the space with a vocabulary of exposed steel beams and glass balustrades, punctuated it in a postmodern style, and traded antique charisma for contemporary cool. The namesake fabric upholsters the banquettes, and doubles as an allegory for the restaurant’s farm-to-table culinary concept. Tweed (the cloth) has transcended its rustic origins and is now a symbol of urban sophistication. Tweed (the restaurant) wants to do the same thing for local food: take it out of its rural element and showcase it in a modern space. It’s an admirable concept, but does it translate?
Dipping into a quenching gazpacho on a hot night in July, or parting a tangle of exquisite arugula to cut a lemoned-and-capered bite of veal scallopini as a serene Frank Sinatra lilted over the sound system, I had one delicious answer to that question.