From Oaxaca with Love

Arcsine delivers an authentic Oaxacan experience to Oakland with the opening of Agave Uptown.

01/27/2017 By Robert Nieminen

If there’s an overarching theme that has characterized both the food and design industries lately, it’s summed in one word: authenticity. Both crafts came together seamlessly in the design of the recently opened Agave Uptown restaurant in Oakland, Calif., named in homage to the agave plant—the central ingredient in mescal production. Designed in partnership between local architecture and design firm Arcsine and Chef Octavio Diaz, the 4,000-square-foot oasis is filled with thoughtful design references that bring the culture, history, and diverse energy of Oaxaca, Mexico to Oakland.

Housed on the ground floor of the Kapor Center for Social Impact, Agave Uptown promises to become an integral part of the Oakland dining scene while joining with the Kapor Center in its mission to narrow gaps in opportunity and access for underrepresented communities, according to Arcsine.

Upon entering, guests are welcomed by a sophisticated yet approachable color palette of cool blues punctuated by earthy reds, yellows, and oranges. A handsome teak floor sets the foundation for wood, copper, porcelain, and brown-braided leather details that add warmth and depth to the space.

The main dining area is defined by a curved wall separating the restaurant from the Kapor Center. Lapiztola, an Oaxaca-based art collective, worked with the design team to create a compelling mural that speaks to Agave Uptown’s dedication to authentic cuisine, the creation of mescal, social empowerment, and community.

i+s recently had a chance to speak with the design team at Arcsine, including Daniel Scovill, founding principal; Irene Yu, architectural designer; and Britney Gildea, interior designer, about what influenced the creation of this inspiring new eatery.

i+s: What were the objectives for the project, and what role did artwork play in helping to create a cohesive narrative?

Daniel Scovill: As it began, it was supposed to be just a small cafe. The other parts of the ground were going to be event space, retail space, and other [areas]. Fairly quickly, the charts changed to being a full-service bar and restaurant, and a private dining room kind of facility—a place that has all of that under one roof. The program changed pretty drastically right off the bat.

The sense of the agave plant, the process of creating mescal, washed with the tastes and smells and sounds of Oaxaca, and specifically, the mole [sauce]—those three things jumped out right from the beginning, and became our guiding light for the rest of the project.

Irene Yu: Octavio [Diaz], who’s the chef of the restaurant, wanted to bring an authentic Oaxacan experience to Oakland, and that’s really what drove the space, as well as the artwork.

i+s: What was the process for working with the Oaxaca-based art collective, Lapiztola, to design the mural?

IY: It was interesting because Lapiztola is Spanish-speaking [only]. It was a little bit difficult. I would be sending e-mails using Google Translate, so that was new in our arsenal. We started with a concept. We gave them an overview of what we were thinking, what our design inspiration was for the space. We sent them our materials palate, so they had all different colors that were going to be in the space.

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