Renee Erickson is expanding to Los Angeles, yes, but also to a brand new biosphere. Those enormous glass orbs, quickly becoming the focal point of Amazon's campus along Lenora between Sixth and Seventh avenues, will house both a bar and an Italian restaurant from the esteemed local chef.
Erickson’s fond of vintage buildings and old-brick neighborhoods; her airy aesthetic is 180 degrees removed from the gleaming minimalist structures the mega-company keeps adding to Seattle’s skyline. Thus she seemed an unlikely chef to join the wave of Amazon-driven new restaurants in South Lake Union and the Denny Regrade area. She also swore she was done opening restaurants for a while.
But then she and business partner Jeremy Price toured the future site of what's officially known as the Amazon Spheres, a streetscape-altering statement conceived to give employees a chance to "think disruptive thoughts" amid nature. A space where staircases rise amidst mature foliage, meeting areas look like nests, trees are so large they have names, a dedicated horticulturist tends to 3,000 species of plants, and the tropical climate mimics Costa Rica’s not-too-humid Central Valley. “That kind of opportunity won’t come around again,” says Erickson of these charmed environs—though her establishments will be regular old Seattle climate.
Erickson and her business partner Jeremy Price haven’t settled on names for either spot. But the restaurant’s informal Italian fare is based on the time Erickson spent living in Rome during college, a sojourn she says sparked her awareness of good food. Given the Amazonian location, it will cater to lunch crowds with things like oblong pizza bianca, salads, and lots of salumi.
At night, a Wood Stone oven contributes to a dinnertime menu full of influences from Rome south to the bright flavors of Sicily. You might find the occasional pan of lasagna bubbling inside that oven, says Erickson, but her restaurant won’t be a pasta house. The chef knows how seriously this neighborhood takes happy hour; she’s ready with a fritti menu of small fried bites and plenty of sparkling wine and spritzes.
The bar project, tucked in one of the smaller spheres, takes inspiration not from Italy, but from high-end hotel bars of a bygone Manhattan. Food will lean toward careful midcentury snacks and elegant favorites that don’t require a knife and fork, like smoked oysters with housemade crackers or beef carpaccio. Erickson adores Bemelmans Bar in New York’s Carlyle hotel; it’s named for the man who created (and illustrated) the Madeline children’s books, plus the fanciful murals of Central Park that gambol over the bar’s tufted leather booths.
What her own bar lacks in nostalgic murals, it will more than make up for with a collection of “beautiful objects, rarities, and curiosities” from local curator extraordinaire Curtis Steiner. Such cool flourishes are a perk to working with a big-name landlord, says Erickson—“it’s essentially an art installation in our bar, and not something we could have done on our own.”
The vibe here will be dark and moody; Price likes to tease his partner that “It’s our first restaurant that’s not mostly white.”
The spheres will also have three other Erickson spots only for Amazon employees: A General Porpoise coffee and doughnut shop, plus salad and sandwich counters known collectively as Rana e Rospo—that’s “frog and toad” in Italian. (Mental note: Figure out how to counterfeit an Amazon badge.) These should be open by late January; the bar and restaurant will follow in spring or early summer.