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Restaurateur Eric Schwimmer approached us to create a brand for a new upscale restaurant that he was opening in Downtown Manhattan, just two blocks from the revitalized World Trade Center area. We spent some time with Eric on tours around Manhattan and in work sessions to understand his ambitions for the brand and the type of service he planned to offer. We knew he needed a great brand backed by great food and service to stand out and be sustainable in New York City. Through our conversations, we uncovered a great story. Eric’s parents had owned a stall in the old Washington Market, which used to exist in the area of New York where the restaurant was being located. New York City had been home to many markets back in the day and Washington Market was the largest, having occupied a significant portion of the lower part of the island.
During our research, we came across a great book on the old markets of that era. It was actually a finance book, written in a documentary or journalistic style, which told the financial story of New York through its markets using information gleaned from various pieces of evidence, such as transaction records, contracts, and other documents. The book presented in fine detail the various narratives of market storeowners, who were not necessarily connected. Using the information that was available—the storeowners’ narratives, their records, some biographical information, and who they transacted with—the book painted a portrait of market life in NYC.
We loved this form of presenting the lives and livelihood of different people, whose connection was the market, and adopted it as the idea behind the brand and the campaign of the new restaurant. The brand imagery revolved around the concept of a state of becoming—of being in between something that has already occurred and something that is about to happen. It is essentially the idea of an open-ended narrative, or a moment in time.
In our discussions with Eric, we determined that the atmosphere of the restaurant, which was to be called Washington Market Tavern, had to be upscale, yet comfortable and familiar at the same time. The point was to create a place that could appeal to both the after-work Wall Street crowd as well as to construction workers (there was a lot of construction going on in the area at the time), who might be looking for a more dressed-up experience. The becoming narrative fit perfectly with this vision of different people from different walks of life finding common ground in the Tavern.
We intended for the imagery to have both a daytime and nighttime look, to play to the different scenarios—congenial lunches and evening celebrations—that would take place in the Tavern. One key image consisted of a young girl wearing a gold mask, a version of which included the addition of a hand depicting the moment of placing, or removing, her mask. We used gold as the brand’s signature color, incorporating it into imagery as gold objects and in the uniforms of the staff
A Day at the Market
Washington Market was one of New York City’s largest markets, a place where small vendors sold their wares. The market attracted everyone—from the farmer who worked his crops from seed to fresh produce, to the cattleman who fattened his herds from calf to hearty beef, to the businessman who managed the logistics and risk of transporting items across sea to his market stand. In the market, the workers became salesmen, enlisting the help of agents or speculators. These speculators helped farmers and other product suppliers mediate ownership and retail in the marketplace. They were the early incarnation of futures traders, today’s Wall Street elite. The economics of the market brought together a broad range of people to participate in an everyday choreography, moving product from sea and field to basket.
Washington Market Tavern stands in the footprint of stall number 23 of the old Washington Market. This location is just a short walk to stall number 31, where Eric’s grandparents sold the paper that was used by vendors for wrapping fish, cheese, and beef for customers. Eric purchased this building—at 41 Murray Street—with a nod to his grandparents and a desire to continue to provide the hardworking people of New York City with high-quality food. The Washington Market Tavern experience includes the freshest beef, fish, and produce—just as the old market used to offer—and welcomes builders, traders, and speculators alike to a dining experience deserving of their palettes. At Washington Market Tavern, all are welcome to enjoy a great evening out.
The old market was an exciting arena, the physical incarnation of the great many activities that, in our current day, have been replaced with intangible digital transactions. The market was real-time, personal commerce—the place where a seller greeted you with a smile and a cheater defrauded you before your very eyes, where the weak were trampled, the powerful dominated, and the swindlers preyed on all. The market was also democratic: everyone was welcome, anyone could participate, and everyone paid to eat and drink.
Our brand concept for the Tavern is a day at the Washington Market, where all are welcome and anything can happen. It may seem normal on the surface, but at any one time, someone tastes something they’ve never tried before, meets someone who captures their attention, or catches up with friends for a great evening out. At the market, anything can—and will—happen.