The Eric Hentz–designed vestibule of Havana.

Think of your favorite restaurant or bar. What is it about that place? What keeps drawing you back? Food and drinks are a factor, for sure, and maybe a certain hospitable server has you charmed, but more often than not it’s another, less tangible allure: ambience.

This blurb comes from a recent article I wrote on Eric Hentz, a guy who’s all but mastered the art of atmosphere. (You might remember him from postings on Cure: he and his design-build firm Mallet were behind the bar-noshery toeing Cal Anderson Park.) Hentz and co. have imagined some of this city’s most transporting spaces—the Saint, the original Spinasse, Le Pichet —and soon we’ll see how two new projects, downtown’s hot-ticket RN74 and the overhaul of Campagne, measure up. Considering Hentz’s track record (in 13 years just one—one!—restaurant he’s worked with has closed), expect good things.

Which brings me to my point: So often it’s the chef, the owner, the bartender we credit for a successful night out—and they certainly deserve that recognition—but if it weren’t for designers like Hentz complementing their craftsmanship, a restaurant would never reach its ultimate objective: to transport us, to offer us an escape from life out there. Restaurants are magical, thanks largely to the ambience they imbue. As Hentz himself said, “We’re the little guy behind the curtain in The Wizard of Oz.”

Anyhow, for some interesting insight as to how a restaurant comes together and a look at Hentz’s work, take a spin through the article and its slideshow.

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