Brains for Booze

RDC crafts (pun intended) a clever, uber-functional spin on a typical tasting venue.

Prohibition-era history and the technical challenges of creating a single-building venue that houses a tasting room and the titular gin and vodka distillery pushed RDC to create more than just a pretty SoCal drinking spot. “There was the story of the local rumrunners—being forced to use whatever materials were available—and a legacy to represent beyond distilling,” says RDC principal Jackson Thilenius.  The team also had to incorporate retail into Portuguese Bend Distillery, Long Beach, California.

Portuguese Bend Distillery

The basics (but not the glam part) were, firstly, to solve the technical issues of production facilities and consumer space side-by-side. “The distilling space itself is definitely a high humidity area as a result of the distilling process, and we used industrial grade, durable materials in the operations area,” says Thilenius.  “We were able to control the high moisture content by utilizing a glass wall system that separates the F&B functions from the manufacturing areas, placing the equipment on center stage as the main characters of the play.”

Portuguese Bend Distillery

In the main dining/drinking area, the team had to think clearly: the distillery specializes in gin and vodka, so the big design decisions had to make sense through the literal lens of a glass of spirits (note the grammar here; not make sense after the consumption of said beverages).”We wanted to introduce warm tones to help personalize the experience, and give complexity to the visual connection of the raw, clear product. This in turn, set the strategy for the lighting selections and placement,” says Thilenius. A palette of pastels, more usual in a restaurant or hotel than a Prohibition-era-influenced craft spirit spot, marries the SoCal sunniness of PB’s locale with its DNA. It also helps facilitate that Cali design must-have: a connection between indoor and outdoor spaces. In this case, that includes a patio and the need to capitalize on the distillery’s corner positioning.

Thilenius turned to the seating to help make all those things happen, plus cater to different-size groups. “The occupancy dynamic for any bar/restaurant can change throughout the course of a day; so, we were deliberate in our design to build-in flexibility that could accommodate multiple seating requests,” he says. “Since PB commands a dynamic corner location, there is also a very strong visual connection to the street and patio. We were careful to design the seating so that the view from the street wasn’t the back of peoples’ heads. We accomplished this by positioning the main banquette seating in a way that provides a view across the tables so that the interaction between guests sitting at those tables could be enjoyed from the patio. This is a key component of tying the interior and exterior together as a singular experience.”

One last job? Making the product for sale within the space irresistible. “Seduction is key in this environment,” says Thilenius. He used soft lighting and deliberate shadowing to tantalize guests. We can all drink to that!