Decades ago, decadent mafia bars catered to intimate crowds by providing owners and friends a comfortable space to enjoy food and drink.
A similar concept has emerged in California, where a recently opened Mafioso-inspired restaurant, The Nice Guy, has quickly become a popular spot for guests looking for a warm experience away from prying eyes. Since opening in August, the reservation-only West Hollywood restaurant and lounge has been well received among high-profile guests.
“From the beginning, understanding the clientele and the environment we were creating allowed us to give the bar a unique shape,” says Sormeh Azad, creative director of design/build firm Built. “[Guests] see the whole room while engaging with the bar.”
The Nice Guy is the latest in a series of successful partnerships between Built and The h.wood group. Built designed each of The h.wood group’s popular night clubs, Bootsy Bellows (Los Angeles and Aspen), Hooray Henry’s, and SHOREbar. The Nice Guy is h.wood group’s first restaurant concept and is designed to be more than a restaurant but shy of a nightclub.
Built’s president and founder John Sofio says the company transformed the previously open space.
“We walled it in to make it more insular, where the room looks in on itself,” he says. “Each seat gives you a sense of protection.”
When entering the space, Azad says guests are instantly wrapped in warmth and comfort.
“It’s sensory overload in a good way,” she says. “Dark hues, dimly lit. It’s a very comfortable space with a lot of fabric. We stayed away from leather, vinyl, and cold surfaces.”
More than 12,000 linear feet of 1-inch cedar strips were added to the interior, adding to the warm, vintage feel, Sofio notes. The cedar was stained dark in stark contrast to the bone-white walls.
Nowhere is the feeling of intimacy more evident than at the chef’s table, which seats 12 and is integrated with the kitchen among racks of dry goods.
“We created a vignette of an FBI surveillance wall where we intermingled photographs of our clients with known mafia gangsters,” Sofio says. “It looks like an FBI surveillance room.”
Two outdoor patios offer additional seating options. The front patio, illuminated by candles and string lights, offers a relaxing alternative to the lounge inside, Azad says.
As both a restaurant and lounge, the designers needed a way to transition from dinner to nightlife without shutting down in between. Azad says the restaurant incorporated different types of furniture and loose furniture to aid in the transition process. Bar stools are removed after dinner hours to provide more standing space.
While the menu doesn’t necessarily speak to the mafia theme, it does fit with the lounge atmosphere, Azad says.
“It’s a lot of shared plates and small plates that are conducive to actively engaging in food and drink and the people you’re with,” she says.
The menu, crafted by Chef John-Carlos Kuramoto, is simple and comforting. The dinner menu includes entrées ranging from scallops to steak to pizza. It also offers several small plate options, some of which are served until 1 A.M., including salads, truffle fries, and mac n’ cheese. The Nice Guy Burger, which includes maple-glazed bacon and homemade American cheese, is also served late.
High-end cocktails also complement the lounge style, Sofio says.
The restaurant seats 90 to 110 guests, and both restaurant and lounge are reservation only. In order to preserve the intimacy of the space, guests and media are not allowed in from the street, Azad says. Reservations can be made online using OpenTable. Once inside, guests can revel in the warmth of another era.
By Sarah Niss