At the Urban Outfitters-owned Space Ninety 8, a newly opened retail hub in Brooklyn, New York, Urban’s brand of pop-culture progressivism and comical-ironical kitsch blends with chef Ilan Hall’s tongue-in cheek menu at The Gorbals BK, located on the space’s third-floor mezzanine and rooftop. In the new concept’s flagship Urban Outfitters store, one can buy a Hilary Clinton coloring book, which pokes fun at the candidate’s famously monochrome pantsuits, while upstairs at The Gorbal’s, customers can sit down to a meal of Hall’s now-famous, playfully mismatched bacon-wrapped matzoh balls. One could say this retail and restaurant combination is particularly “on-brand.”
The new location represents a much bigger undertaking for Hall than the original Gorbals in Los Angeles, which is in the process of moving from its Alexandria Hotel spot to a free-standing location in the downtown area. At Space Ninety 8, The Gorbals is finally getting some wiggle room with three separate dining spaces, including a rooftop bar (which Hall says more than makes up for the lack of street-front space).
Hall has long been connected to the Urban Outfitters brand through his wife, who works as a visual director for the retail company. Initially, Urban came to ask Hall for his advice on how best to incorporate a café concept into the space. As it turned out, the company took his off-the-cuff “this would be a great place for a restaurant” comment seriously, and the tale of The Gorbals take-two began. Hall had a hand in the design of every part of the restaurant—from the rooftop bar’s modern-treehouse vibe, to the warm and bright glass-paneled main dining area. Hall had free reign to imbue both the space and the menu with his own creative vision—part of the reason he says the partnership was ideal for both parties.
“Urban seeks out buildings that are more interesting and have heritage and they try to capitalize off of the beauty of that—which is really unique for such a large company,” he says. This sense of place [filtered through his own quirky aesthetic, of course] is a big part of the original concept of The Gorbals as well, and Space Ninety 8 provides plenty of opportunities for Hall to keep cooking up his rare blend of Israeli (in homage to his mother’s hometown of Jerusalem) and Scottish food (for his father’s native Glasgow), while pushing himself to adapt to a new clientele and to design a brand-new aesthetic.
For Hall, this doesn’t only represent a strategic partnership, or just a chance to test out his chops once more as a restaurant designer. More meaningfully, the move means that Hall can reconnect to one of his strongest influences—his Williamsburg hometown.
“New York is a huge inspiration,” Hall says. “It’s where I started cooking, and it’s where I think people are pushing the boundaries, and I get inspired and excited by how people are doing that but still keeping their soul.”
In a stroke of luck for both high-brow gastronomes and pleasantly surprised shoppers, Hall has certainly kept his own unique culinary “soul” in this new iteration of The Gorbals, which, like its hipster clientele, never seeks to take itself or its food too seriously.
Ilan Hall is the owner and chef of both The Gorbals LA and the Gorbals BK. Hall was the winner of the second season of the Bravo television network’s reality series, Top Chef. He is currently hosting a cooking competition show called Knife Fight on the Esquire Network.
By Emily Byrd