Allison Cooke helps DC restaurants find their aesthetic groove through smart design.
When guests make reservations for restaurants they’ve visited before, chances are an outstanding filet mignon or exquisite duck confit play a part in their return. After all, chefs and restaurateurs count on our long culinary memories. But these same people also understand the secret found in the talents of someone like Allison Cooke: The design of a restaurant space might matter just as much. As the director of hospitality design for CORE, the DC-based firm that has created iconic looks for the likes of Founding Farmers, Georgetown Cupcake and Pearl Dive Oyster Palace, Cooke knows our dining memories hinge on factors that complement the food. And if the design is off—whether it’s poor lighting or askew sight lines—the dining experience is marred. “We’re creating a space to generate a memory, whether it’s a mermaid detail on a bar top like the one we did at Pearl Dive or even the texture” of furniture or walls, says Cooke, whose next project includes Jose Garces’ Village Whiskey in Blagden Alley, among others.
When Cooke arrived in DC in 2001, design opulence and creativity were in short supply. Now, thanks to a restaurant boom and the foresight of industry entrepreneurs who understand the need to blend form and function, the mental snapshots of our eateries (CORE designed SweetGreen) and culinary palaces (José Andrés’ commissioned the firm for minibar) are strong. “There’s so much competition in DC now that design sets a restaurant apart,” she says. “Design is how you differentiate your brand and remain competitive here.” Cooke is particularly proud of her work on Centrolina and points to Amy Brandwein’s CityCenterDC venue as a prime example of trendsetting in action. “One big trend is blending restaurants with markets. This concept drives home the idea about the restaurant’s sourcing. Now you can take a piece of the restaurant home with you.” And those pieces (from housemade sauces to sea salt) become memories and brands worth savoring.
Baked & Wired Manly Quiche, low-rider dogs, gold Chromax golf balls, The Americans, Nats games on the radio, cooking classes,
Design by Pinterest, picky eaters, foraging, poor communication, waiting in line for dinner, stick-figure families on cars