by Lauren Jones
Photographs by Holly Cowart, Galdones Photography, Matt Harington and Julia Keim
When it comes to eating out, many Austin restaurants have changed the playing field with unique menus, five-star wine lists and James Beard-nominated chefs. But a select few, such as Launderette, Jeffrey’s, Justine’s, Ciclo and Fonda San Miguel, have gone above and beyond by curating art-driven spaces that not only appeal to patrons, but make the entire dining experience that much more memorable. From a wall full of Warhols to paintings inspired by ancient Pompeii, these restaurants perfectly blend what Austinites seem to love most: food and art.
Since opening four years ago, Launderette has been lauded by the likes of both Texas Monthly and Food & Wine, gaining national recognition for its fast-casual Texas menu and stellar pastry program led by James Beard semifinalist Laura Sawicki, yet nothing about this East Austin hot spot is stuffy. When it came to choosing artwork for the space, the team looked to painter Bradley Kerl, an artist they had been following since 2013 and whose work appeals to all ages. Kerl’s series, which adorns the eastern wall, is playful and comical, and for co-owner Margaret Vera, who is a collector of Kerl’s work herself, it’s the nonobvious details, the clear intention behind the pieces and the almost amateur style of painting that perfectly match Launderette’s comfortable and casual atmosphere.
An Austin establishment since 1975, Jeffrey’s does fine dining like no other restaurant in the city. It exudes sophistication, and its dishes have always been praised, yet by 2018, the artwork in the main dining room was in need of a refresh. That is where multimedia artist Alexandra Valenti, whose work can also be seen at the LINE hotel, came in. Now eight of Valenti’s paintings, which were inspired by the ancient city of Pompeii and classical Italian architecture, make a stunning contrast to the restaurant’s dark-green walls and leather booths. Valenti’s paintings are also meant to evoke a sense of connectivity with viewers, as well as pay homage to nature and her Italian roots.
Fonda San Miguel, an old Austin favorite, has been praised in years past by Eater Austin and Zagat for its authentic Mexican menu, but it’s the artwork that really sets the space apart. Owner Tom Gilliland has spent years curating his collection of museum-quality pieces, which he rotates out regularly. Gilliland has also relied on his friend, interior designer Bill Luft, to source pieces from the interior of Mexico, which, along with the vibrant works of art that hang throughout the restaurant’s multiple dining rooms, give Fonda San Miguel a notable hacienda feel.
The seductive brasserie on East 5th Street gets its cool-girl vibe from owner Justine Gilcrease’s impressive art collection. Gilcrease, who says finding art for the space is a constant obsession, collected pieces from art auctions, like Christie’s and Sotheby’s, as well as from galleries. With Justine’s, she wanted to “call to mind the comfort and conviviality of a French café.” From Brassaï’s “La Môme Bijou, Bar de la Lune, Paris,” to the Chagall lithograph “Le Petit L’Âne Equilibrist,” to a photograph of Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin by fashion photographer Patrick Bertrand shot in the Bois de Boulogne in 1969, she feels each adds to the restaurant’s ambiance. In the Secret House, a New Orleans-style home off East 7th Street, Gilcrease looked to the famed Andy Warhol, choosing two of his polaroids, “Champagne Glasses, Committee 2000” and “Bananas.”
The Four Seasons sits on one of the most enviable locations in downtown Austin, and thus the team at Whitespace Interiors, a design firm out of Chicago, felt it was important to bring the outside in when it came to the hotel’s newly redesigned restaurant, Ciclo. The four large panels in Ciclo’s main dining room were painted by Christiaan Pretorius and inspired by abstract expressionist Franz Kline, with each depicting the live oak and pecan trees that can be seen outside. A portrait of Western actor Lee Van Cleef, which Whitespace principal Michael Dalton refers to as tongue-in-cheek and showcasing Texan strength, also hangs in the restaurant.