TAO Group and Chef Chris Santos Debut VANDAL in New York City
This past weekend, TAO Group founders Marc Packer and Rich Wolf, along with Chef/Owner Chris Santos opened VANDAL in New York City, a bi-level restaurant, bar and lounge showcasing the work of world-renowned street artists alongside globally inspired street food from destinations as varied as Peru, Vietnam, and Barcelona. Collaborating with the award-winning design firm Rockwell Group, the partners’ third project together boasts 360 seats and aims to capture the spirit of creativity, leaving a truly distinctive mark on a historic stretch of the Bowery.
“There are few things more telling about a culture’s cuisine than street food,” says Chef Chris Santos, who is credited with turning the Lower East Side into a premier dining, nightlife and cultural destination over the last decade with his establishments Beauty & Essex and The Stanton Social. For his latest project, Santos and his executive chef Jonathan Kavourakis toured 14 countries, including Italy, Argentina, and Singapore to sample street food, and the resulting menu encompasses both this research as well as a lifetime of travels.
VANDAL’s bi-level, 22,000-square-foot space references both the gritty and lush moments found in outdoor urban locales. Designed to be playful and labyrinthine, guests will discover a series of private rooms, secret catacombs, and art installations. Entering through a minimalist flower shop/botanical gallery designed by renowned creative floral studio Ovando in collaboration with Rockwell Group, guests arrive at a long, vaulted brick tunnel where they are greeted by an 11-foot tall, breakdancing “Icy Grape” lacquered bunny rabbit—a custom sculpture by Rockwell Group. (The bunny’s Icy Grape color is a reference to the now discontinued Krylon spray paint color Icy Grape, which is still coveted by the street artist community). Once entering the space, each room boasts the work by seven “vandals” who have achieved world renown for their distinctive styles of street art.
“The idea of bringing street food and street art together under one roof struck me like a bolt of lightning,” TAO Group founder Rich Wolf says. “The experience of VANDAL will not be just of great food, drinks, and warm hospitality but also of a love affair of Chris’ extraordinary talent and world-class artists.”
Plush design elements, from leather sofas to delicate glass globe lights, are set against materials like concrete and exposed brick. VANDAL features a secret garden, an intimate dining area inspired by natural elements and enclosed by glass garage doors; a bar/lounge with a sculptural blue granite and lacquered wood bar sitting under the glow of pendants made from antique crystal decanters; three dining rooms with dramatic site-specific artwork; and a cellar-level lounge featuring a serpentine bar that allows guests to sit in groups surrounded by luxurious seating upholstered in a mix of neutral and saturated colors.
“The experience of VANDAL unfolds through a series of unique dining rooms each supporting site specific art installations,” Rockwell Group founder and president David Rockwell says. “It’s almost like the street turned inside out.”
To bring the allure and energy of street art to VANDAL, TAO Group commissioned the U.K.-based artist HUSH to curate the restaurant’s wallscape. Celebrated for his own work as a street artist, HUSH organized seven massive site-specific murals throughout the restaurant, each reflecting the range and dynamism of contemporary, global street art, while paying homage to the Bowery’s rich artistic history. In addition to HUSH, famed artists like Shepard Fairey, Apexer, Tristan Eaton, Eelus, Vhils, and Will Barras all contributed the other six massive murals to the project.
“I wanted to bring the outside inside,” HUSH says. “I wanted to represent street aesthetics and show how artists take over spaces. Each artist has a signature style, which also establishes the different techniques defining street art. Together, we created a cohesive space to complement the eclectic street food-inspired menu Chef Santos has prepared.”
In VANDAL’s Secret Garden, Fairey wheat-pasted two large walls using his famed, propaganda-style posters. Along the back bar, Barras painted a mural depicting hands walking across a globe. Between the lounge and rickshaw room, Apexer drew cream-colored, New York-inspired lyrics.
Eaton painted smiling women and the words “Fantastic Fantasy” over four custom bookshelves. Vhils hand-chiseled two plaster niches to reveal a layer of brick anchor. HUSH created a monumental, multi-media painting of three, semi-nude women, which spans a 35- by 16-foot wall.
Inspired by street fare from around the world, VANDAL’s menu is a culmination of Chef Santos’ personal travels and reflects his signature style of multi-ethnic small plates that are ideal for tasting and sharing. The resulting menu is a collaboration between Chef Santos and VANDAL’s Chef Kavourakis and includes nods to global street culture of locales from Chile to Thailand, Greece to Amsterdam, and beyond. VANDAL’s signature dishes include Pressed New York Hot Pretzel(American Kobe tartare, smoked aioli, pickled mustard seeds), Crunchy Jicama Shell Tostadas(butternut squash, avocado, crispy kale, salsa verde), Chicken Katsu & Hong Kong Egg Waffles(with braised collard greens), and Greek Donuts (honey ice cream, candied pistachio).
“The menu shows off the essence of the cultures in each location we visited and their respective cuisines that we were were inspired by,” Kavourakis adds.
VANDAL will feature an evolving beverage program featuring cocktails falling into three categories: Sweet, Savory, and Barrel-Aged. The Sweetsection consists of crafted-to-order cocktails and easy drinking spins on classics such as the Miss. Demeanor (Bacardi 8 rum, lime juice, Angostura bitters, allspice tincture, grated nutmeg). Savory drink offerings, which feature spicy and vegetal notes, include the La Palmitas (Thai-spiced Illegal Mezcal, lemon nectar, Thai basil, grapefruit bitters, Schöfferhoffer grapefruit beer). The spirit-forward Barrel-Aged section boasts cocktails that have been carefully blended and aged in whiskey barrels for weeks, adding softness and complexity that guests will want to savor. The Trigger Finger (Woodford Reserve, amaro, Cocchi Americano, raspberry, grapefruit bitters, Angostura bitters) is one of three inaugural barrel-aged drinks. The three-part cocktail list will also be complemented by a diverse wine program, an extensive bottle list with an assortment of native Spanish and Italian wines, French varietals largely focused on the Burgundy and Rhône regions, as well as a robust Austrian assortment, including two selections from Nikolaihof, the first biodynamic wine estate in Europe. Guests will find a wonderful array of options by the glass, from the California coast to the Canary Islands.