A bar is so much more than its bar program, glassware or even regulars. Much of the experience of a bar comes from the design—the architecture of the space and the interior design. So every decision from the bar top to the bathroom tile matters. It builds the story of a place where customers are invited to enjoy a round or three.
Architect and bar owner Gregorio Lubroth, a partner at architecture firm Tzou Lubroth, has faced the challenge of designing a cocktail bar in his home city of Vienna, an Austrian city that has an intimidating architectural and drinking history. The group’s second bar, Miranda Bar, is an oasis the firm transformed from its first office space into a wildly creative cocktail spot with modern, tropical undertones. Although its vibrant pastel colors may give the impression that the bar is an outlier within the city, one visit to Miranda reveals how warmly the tiny bar has been received by the surrounding neighborhood, the city of Vienna and cocktail nerds from far and wide.
Below, Lubroth talks about the the process of designing such a creative location and what about the architectural process has made Miranda so successful.
Know Thy Neighborhood
“In the last several years, the cocktail scene [in Vienna] has blossomed, boomed even. Vienna has many good bars, and some of the older bars have become much better, upping their game as the culture changes. Vienna is wonderful place, but let there be no doubt: Changes happen slowly here. When we decided to open Miranda, the landscape had finally changed. We knew we had to create something different. We also knew that we were not alone in this desire. New places keep on popping up, each with a specific slant, making Viennese nightlife more varied and fun. We wanted to present ourselves as a neighborhood bar with an interesting design identity.”
Find Design Inspiration and Stick To It
“As architects and bar owners, our aims are always multifaceted. Like any of our projects, there were design ambitions and aesthetic impulses. With Miranda, we knew that we wanted to create a total contrast to the other bars in town. Our goal was to make a place that referenced the tropics (Miami, Havana, Rio) without being literal, kitschy or sleazy. We wanted to bring in color and light and a close connection to the street and the neighborhood. From the beginning, the design was connected to an idea of street life and public space.
“The look and feel are decidedly tropical from the color palette, which includes the green, Brazilian granite counter. But the space is largely unadorned and minimally articulated. People have told us that it’s a Scandinavian place, dipped in pink. There are planes of color: pink, indigo blue, jade green and a few areas or gray. The lighting is reduced to lines in space. The only ‘decoration’ to be seen is a large print of a jungle scene, illustrated by another co-owner (Maria Prieto-Barea) who is a graphic designer and illustrator. Despite the minimal approach, the space does not feel cold or barren. In fact, the colors and natural materials (stone, wood), as well as the plush leather stools, create an almost cozy feeling.”
“In a city, few places combine the communal and the intimate more successfully than restaurants and bars, both being places where people gather to engage in a very sensual act—eating, drinking. The bar is small, basically one room. But in this one small room, there are no barriers. The bar counter and seating area consist of a single slab of green stone. One has the sense of being in a large kitchen.
“As an architect, I spend most of my time designing things I like for other people. When designing for myself, I have the luxury (and the pressure) of having to deal with the consequences of my decisions. Good design should be universal, universally accessible. Sometimes it’s understated. Sometimes it’s bold. But what makes it good is that it responds to the needs and character of a particular place. When our office occupied the storefront, we added something to the neighborhood. I remember little kids every day from school looking at our models through the windows. With Miranda, we have another opportunity to add something else to that neighborhood conversation. Our bar is a meeting point, a colorful little oasis. It should be bold.”
A Great Bar Has a Great Relationship with the Neighborhood
“Being a storefront keeps the space in constant conversation with the street. In summer, we set up a large garden outside, allowing the bar to spill outward. Floor-to-ceiling glass doors along the façade keep that conversation going all year round. Again, for us it’s about finding that balance between the communal and the intimate. We also like creating situations where people are forced to interact. Nooks and crannies and private VIP booths have no place in our bars. We prefer for people to engage with each other. We spend enough time in our bubbles, on our phones. Most of the bar is custommade. As designers, we like to keep the authorship as close to us as possible.”
Let the Architecture Influence the Bar Program
“Due to the limitations in space and the barrier-free relationship between guest and barkeeper, Miranda was always conceived as cocktail lab/kitchen. Our menu is seasonal, alternating between cold- and warm-month menus. The bar program reflects this seasonality: In the warmer months, we have drinks with homemade strawberry and black pepper syrup, cardamom, lime and honey; in the cold months, we have spiced rums and apples, aquavit and Swedish punch.
“A lot of our recipes depend on the availability of ingredients as we try to limit ourselves to local produce, with a few unavoidable exceptions. The menu is small and accessible, and although some of our drinks are somewhat ornate, some challenging even (our Kerala Express featured aged rum, mango and masala curry), a guest can feel equally comfortable ordering a beer or a Gin & Tonic.”
“Again, the cocktails are at the service of an atmosphere of openness. It just so happens that the drinks are some of the best in town, largely due to the inventiveness of our barkeepers and our general attention to ingredients. If there are any direct correlations between the design and the bar program, I would simply say that the playful colors allow us to venture to far-off places, often Tiki-inspired, but the clean, strict lines also keeps our playfulness from getting out of hand, overworked or baroque.”
Let the Menu Help Tell The Story, Too
“One of the co-owners happens to be a talented illustrator [and designed the cocktail menu].... We thought that the search for a cocktail should be fun. Again, the key is that the menu stays small. I hate feeling overwhelmed at a bar. Everything ends up feeling like a compromise when there are too many things on the menu. I think we found a good balance. The cartoonish images personalize the journey and make it more fun.”