La Belle Époque – Le Rock by Workstead
Le Rock, an indulgently grand recreation of the timeless French brasserie, sees Workstead pay homage to the larger-than-life vitality of New York City. The design of the new restaurant, in Rockefeller Center’s International Building, pays tribute to its art nouveau milieu and a building that set a new benchmark for what architecture could accomplish when it was built in 1935.
From Lee Hanson and Riad Nasr, the established Francophiles behind the iconic Frenchette in Tribeca and Le Veau d’Or on the Upper East Side, Le Rock is an authentic synthesis of the grandiose scale of New York’s interwar architectural boom and the humbly democratic French brasseries, which have provided simple yet satisfying fare and a space for passionate discourse since La Belle Epoque. Workstead’s expansive design entwines the two threads into an impressively opulent yet approachable eatery.
Elements of the space are distilled from Raymond Hood’s original design for the building, and colours throughout employ the palette of The Story of Mankind, Lee Lawrie’s limestone sculpture that greets guests outside the restaurant’s entrance. Rich reds are expressed in the sumptuous mahogany that adorns most surfaces. African mahogany veneer panelling coats the wall panels; solid burl mahogany furniture is used throughout, and a mix of solid and veneer wraps the waiters’ stations and sequoia Milan leather banquettes, instantly transporting the diner to opulent interwar New York. Stone is employed across most surfaces, with mixed tones of terrazzo flooring, inlaid with brass strips, embodying the complex expressions of Hood’s design. Metalwork is used extensively to elevate the margins and touchpoints, from brass rails, hooks and fixtures to the cast bronze bar, heated and air-gunned to create the textured finish. Vertical metal screens loosely demarcate discrete sections of the dining room, reducing the overburdening volume of the space without crowding guests.
The screen is salt-packed brass, purposely patinaed to a potent verdigris, imbuing a sense of time and history into the space and echoing the maturity of other NYC landmarks such as the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty. The design prodigiously blurs the lines between past and present, creating an authentic distillation of Hood’s original design, and invoking essential art nouveau elements from Hood’s contemporaries. The authenticity is more than skin deep, with vintage pieces sought to complete the effect, such as 1950s Joamin Baumann chairs for the dining room. Such faithfulness goes beyond mere nostalgia; the design is paying tribute to these heavyweights of American design, an expression of gratitude for the groundbreaking designs that invigorated American life at the time.
Incorporating the welcoming timelessness of the French brasserie into the art deco institution of the Rockefeller Center, Le Rock captures the essential elements of New York City life. With a characteristic reverence for the past and a welcoming of different cultures, as Workstead describes, the space has “reimagined one of the world’s most egalitarian dining formats for one of its most democratic addresses.”