When Glen Coben designed Carbone in New York City, he was taking us back to an Italian-American Mob sensibility that we’re all trying to find in the modern day. It’s harder to discover than you think. I know we here at TNP are constantly asking ourselves where no-muss-no-fuss authentic Italian cuisine can be found (at a spot just short of being Italian-mafia owned)! Obviously, Carbone is not a mafia spot (don’t worry, this isn’t a big reveal piece), but the aesthetic was executed so painstakingly that the design became the reality. The restaurant seems plucked out of a scene from The Godfather or Boardwalk Empire, which – according to Coben – was exactly what he was going for. We created a mood board inspired by Coben’s vision for Carbone, which he takes us through below…
What were the inspirations for the design and aesthetic of Carbone?
We were all over the board when we first started, from episodes of Boardwalk Empire, to The Godfather, to obscure books that had crime scene photos from the thirties and forties in New York, to icons of the New York scene – heroes and villains – in the forties and fifties (as long as they were Italian-Americans). [We looked at] everyone from Rocky Graziano to Joe Dimaggio! Finally, the inspiration was 1950’s Italian New York, and how first generation Italian-Americans got dressed up for Friday and Saturday night dinners on the town.
Where did you find most of this inspiration?
Books, movies, TV. We were mining all of our resources for this project! The final “look” came from three specific places: the back dining room is a mash-up of Preston’s from Boardwalk Empire and Julian Schnabel’s apartment (the floor), mixed with the blue velvet banquette and vintage police officer buttons as an homage to the “cops” versus “gangsters”! The front rooms were inspired by Louie’s Restaurant from The Godfather, where Michael Corleone goes to the bathroom to get a gun hidden behind the toilet…and the rest of the scene is history! Additional touches are the bar that was inspired by a pool table (if you looks closely, you can see diamond-shaped mother of pearl inlays like you’d find on the bumpers of a pool table).
What do love most about the restaurant?
I love that it “feels” like it has been there forever. The best compliments we get are, “You kept everything from the old Rocco’s restaurant space, but cleaned it up” and “You designed it? It doesn’t look like your work!” We certainly channeled the old red-sauce-joint vibe, so the restaurant succeeds aesthetically because it “feels” period but has certain modern predilections. I love the second statement because we strive to deliver to our clients what they are looking for, not what I think they should get. They wanted this vibe – we delivered!
The best compliment was by Pete Wells, the New York Times critic. He compared the restaurant to a Quentin Tarrantino movie. Although he didn’t mention me or my firm, and the hand we played in delivering this project, it is super cool to be compared to Mr. Tarrantino!
How does the food play into the design?
The story is the food. Classic red sauce dishes that get the Carbone/Torrisi twist! Rich Torrisi and Mario Carbone are amazing chefs who are interpreting the classics in their own way. Their partner Jeff Zalaznick brought a vision of service and art into the mix. The place looks the way it does because the food, service and management philosophies were clear from the beginning.
What five things, in your mind, most evoke the spirit and look of Carbone?
The spicy rigatoni, the meatballs, the amazing artwork curated by Vito Schnabel and sign outside the door (the original Rocco’s sign was left intact and a new neon was installed over the old sign).
Five things outside of the space that evoke the spirit are: Michael Corleone, Boardwalk Empire, Woody Allen’s movie Midnight in Paris and how it inspired us to embrace the past and be delighted by the moment, getting a shave with a straight razor in an old-school barbershop, and a perfect negroni. When made by Thomas at the bar, I can smile and remember how much fun I have doing what I do for a living!
*Carbone photos by Daniel Krieger