The Palm is reaching back into history for a refresher.
The iconic New York steakhouse opened its doors in 1926 and soon became known for the cartoon drawings and caricatures that adorn its walls. The sketches were how local artists paid for their meals at the time.
There are now more than two dozen locations around the country. In addition to strategizing about where to open new outposts, the company is constantly looking at how to keep the brand fresh. An update of the dining rooms is being rolled out this year.
Bruce Bozzi, the great grandson of one of the restaurant's co-founders, says the goal is to give diners a greater sense of The Palm's storied past. That's while adding a few touches to update the mood. For example, candles were introduced into the dining rooms just this year.
Bozzi recently offered some insight into the real estate decisions of a national company — and some tips on where to find the choicest tables:
Q: The company now has 27 locations. How do you determine where to open a restaurant?
A: We're looking for densely populated bases — neighborhoods with affluent, well-educated foodies with incomes of $100,000 plus. We're also looking for a high-traffic daytime population, predominantly white collar workers so we can drive lunch.
That can transition into happy hour and dinner. So a wife might say to her husband, "Come downtown after work and we can get dinner."
In other cases, we look for neighborhoods with venues that generate significant traffic, like sports venues or theaters. In Los Angeles, for example, we're a block from the Staples Center.
Q: How critical is it that all the restaurants look the same?
A: That's the challenge. You have to be conscious of the uniqueness of the space. For example, we have a 15,000-square-foot space in Los Angeles and we need to be truthful to that. So the experience has to be open and airy. But you still have the signature design elements so you know you're in a Palm.
Across town in West Hollywood, by contrast, the room is much darker, and there's a much more beat-up feel, which reflects the fact that it's 35 years old.
We don't want to be cookie-cutter. We try to let a room create itself.
Q: What design trends have you noticed and liked in other restaurants?
A: What I love most are restaurants like The Lion and the Waverly Inn in New York City that incorporate a true history into the place. The Waverly Inn is in this gray, old building. When you walk in, you know you're walking in to New York history. I love the red plastic booths, the murals on the walls. The chairs seem kind of beat up and the tables don't all feel perfect. The lighting is perfect and low. Owner Graydon Carter does a great job with it.
The Palm needs to do more of that. I don't think we've been incorporating its rich history into the decor enough.
Q: Steakhouses all seem to have a particular ambience, with dark lighting. How is The Palm is trying to evolve from that?
A: The Palm is very classic and I think that's always appreciated in a steakhouse. But because there's such a rich history, there's so much more we can do.
We just finished this exploration of The Palm brand in the last year and we want to strip away some of the fixtures, paintings and furniture that were added over the years.
We want the bar to be more in the center of the room. We want it to be one of the first things you hit when you walk in — that energy from the bar. We're thinking of incorporating wrought iron, for a look from the 1920s and 1930s when The Palm first started. And more glass in the dining rooms to create openness.
We want to take the elements that are truly us, but start to integrate different textures.
Q: What have you done recently that's new?
A: We've incorporated music and candles in the dining room. The music started about three years ago. I met with a DJ who does music for restaurants. Right now, it's just me doing it. I'm the DJ. It's not the typical Sinatra, Tony Bennett music. I like contemporary singers who sing with that old school feel, like Harry Connick Jr. and Michael Buble.
Before that, we relied on the loudness of the dining room. But we found that music could be really nice at a set level.
Q: Diners are always obsessed with getting the best tables. Can you tell us where the choicest seats in the house are typically situated?
A: It's unique for every location. But in Los Angeles, the front seats are the prime tables — tables 1, 2, 39 and 40. Those are the first and last two tables, because the tables go in a kind of circle. So everyone has to walk past them. Over the years, they just became the power tables.
But not everyone wants to be seen. You have to be able to read your celebrity and whether they want to be seen or want to be more discreet. If they want to be seen, the table is usually booked by a publicist. Otherwise, it's usually a friend. It's nothing that's explicitly stated, but it's understood.
Candice Choi can be reached at www.twitter.com/candicechoi