Eating in a local restaurant surrounded by local artists’ work is not a new concept, but watching the artist work while you eat at a restaurant? We haven’t seen that here before.
The concept of combining a restaurant and art studio may be new to our area, but the team behind Palette 22 in Shirlington—David Nicholas, Scott Shaw and David Clapp—has seen the idea through successfully at Café Tu Tu Tango, a similar venue in Florida started in 1991. Patrons can watch as local artists create different mediums of art and can buy pieces right off the walls. But this is no art gallery. “We don’t even use the word ‘gallery.’ It’s not just art plus food. We [wanted it to be like] you were at a party in an artist’s loft,” Shaw says.
An open floor plan and industrial vibe lend themselves to the owners’ vision of enjoying a bite while in an artist’s workspace. Exposed pipes and generous spaces lead your eyes to bare wood walls covered with murals and pieces of art in this space that evolved from the loft idea. “You don’t want to overdesign your restaurant,” Shaw says. “Let the food [and] art speak for itself, so provide a great backdrop for both. And if you were in an artist’s studio, it’s not going to be an expensive-looking place. There’s going to be plywood and easels.”
The artist-in-residence program, led by the restaurant’s art director, Cara Leepson, offers local talent a place to work with an interactive environment. But creating art with people watching, the smells of food and the loud music isn’t for everyone. Jennifer Schmidt, a local paper collage artist, says: “I was concerned at first, but I figured [I should] try it out. It’s actually an atmosphere that’s conducive to getting a lot done because you feel like you’re on show a little bit, so you want to focus and work so people can see what you’re doing.” She adds: “People come by and make comments and ask questions. It does interrupt you, but it’s encouraging because they’re saying positive stuff. It’s fun.”
Those feelings were mirrored by fellow artist Jennifer Lillis, a painter and printmaker from Rockville. “At first it was a little overwhelming [with] so many people coming in and out,” she says. “But it’s actually nice. People come up to me and say they’ve been watching me for hours; they think it’s very therapeutic. It also gives me a chance to introduce myself to people that have never come to my studio and expose my art to new people.” // 4053 Campbell Ave., Arlington