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Designers for Nolita Hall were tasked with marrying comfort, community, and ready access to San Diego’s beautiful weather.

Nolita Hall Brings Modern Italian Style to San Diego

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Mass appeal is on the menu at this European beer hall in San Diego’s Little Italy.
By Liz Barrett Foster February 2019 Sapore

Walking through the enormous 12-foot doors into the open-format space at Nolita Hall in San Diego, guests are faced with several enticing options. There’s a lounge with televisions, a shuffleboard court, and a U-shaped bar with a 60-foot skylight and custom-built split flap display announcing real-time flight information. It’s clear that Nolita Hall was designed to stand apart from its neighbors in Little Italy.

Douglas Hamm, founder of Black Swan Hospitality and owner of Nolita Hall, says that his original vision was that he would create a best-in-class, highly designed and curated restaurant and bar that evoked the atmosphere of a European beer hall updated for the 21st century. “We recently won an architecture and design award [from the San Diego Architectural Foundation] in addition to being named among the hottest restaurants and bars in San Diego every month since opening,” Hamm says. “It's absolutely living up to the original vision I had in mind.”

Studio Maha
Nolita Hall features a U-shaped bar with a 60-foot skylight.

Designers for Nolita Hall were tasked with marrying comfort, community, and ready access to San Diego’s beautiful weather. “The inspiration behind the design was to create a unique and very social environment that would stand out from the other restaurants and bars within the area,” says David Michael, principal at Tecture Design & Fabrication in San Diego. “Inviting in the beautiful San Diego weather and activities is a big part of our overall concept.”

In addition to the large, open concept and floor-to-ceiling roll-up windows, one of the design elements getting the most attention at Nolita Hall is its split flap display over the bar. Custom-built by Philadelphia-based Oat Foundry, the board took 12 weeks to create and pulls real-time flight tracker data from the San Diego Airport, says Oat Foundry cofounder and CEO Mark Kuhn.

In addition to aggregated flight schedules, managers can change messaging anytime that’s convenient. “Split-flap messaging can be accessed from any device with a web browser, including smartphones, tablets, and PCs,” Kuhn says. “A manager on-site can use the web app to send instant, one-off messages such as, ‘Happy birthday, Sarah,’ with the ease of sending a text message. The web app can also be used to program scheduled messages, at any time of day.”

Several venues under one roof

Nolita Hall offers an expansive space that can accommodate several dining goals and activities, from family gatherings to viewing sports events and more. Michael says the design team wasn’t held to any theme or motif, and the result is a merging of Italian comfort and community, German beer hall–like interactions and Southern Californian openness. “Inspiration came from a number of different avenues, from old beer halls to open family-style patios,” Michael says. “We bridged many ideas and guided them through a more modern perspective to get the final result.”

And the design seems to be working. Hamm says Nolita Hall is the new hot spot in San Diego. “Young people come to mingle, hang out, eat, play shuffleboard, and enjoy the space,” Hamm says. “We have a vast number of guests who come in multiple times a week.”

Oat Foundry
Custom-built by Philadelphia-based Oat Foundry, the board took 12 weeks to create and pulls real-time flight tracker data from the San Diego Airport.

Italian is in the details

Wondering how an Italian restaurant works in a European beer hall? “We provide elevated cocktails and a select menu of gourmet pizzas and salads,” Hamm says. “We pair old-school Italian classics, like pizza and charcuterie, with fresh dishes, including vegetables like cauliflower and squash.” Hamm adds that Nolita Hall’s menu is an elevated Italian twist great for both a small bite at the bar or a full meal.

For Michael, the wood-fired pizza oven is the centerpiece of the kitchen. “There’s a large viewing window so that people can see the chefs working and get a good feel for that natural and original fashion of cooking,” he says. “Food is key to the communal and social environment that we want guests to feel when they enter the restaurant.”