Monument to an ego

Why is multimillionaire Scott Ginsburg building one of the world's most expensive restaurants in Dallas? Because he can.

But Daboub says he could never get a clear picture of the concept from Ginsburg. "The only mission statement was that he wanted it to be one of the top restaurants in the country," he says. And when he submitted plans and sketches to Ginsburg for approval, Ginsburg voiced his disapproval by refusing to pay him. So Daboub slapped a lien on the property.

Ginsburg, in turn, slapped him with a lawsuit, charging that Daboub submitted faulty engineering plans and did not complete the work specified in the contract. Daboub has countersued, claiming he is owed some $92,330 for services rendered on the project. The case is set to go before a jury on October 4.

In the midst of the dispute, Ginsburg hooked up with renowned Dallas restaurant designer Paul Draper. Their thinking immediately clicked. Draper had executed distinctive designs for such restaurants as Lombardi Mare, Seventeen Seventeen, the Crescent Club, Anzu, and Sevy's. But Ginsburg gave him little concrete direction initially, Draper says, except that he wanted an innovative design to reflect the uniqueness of the food.

Dallas restaurant consultant Matthew Mabel says he wouldn't bet on Voltaire's breakaway success.
Judy Walgren
Dallas restaurant consultant Matthew Mabel says he wouldn't bet on Voltaire's breakaway success.
Ginsburg had little trouble recruiting noted Manhattan chef George Papadopolous, who is designing Voltaire's million-dollar kitchen.
Judy Walgren
Ginsburg had little trouble recruiting noted Manhattan chef George Papadopolous, who is designing Voltaire's million-dollar kitchen.

"Give me something no one else has ever had," Ginsburg recalls telling him. "We started out with an idea and said, 'This will not be stereotyped.'"

Draper says the space confronted him with a variety of challenges, the most significant of which was how to create a profound sense of comfort without diluting the energy level. He encased the exterior in huge limestone panels with steel accents, giving it a warm but striking look. He broke the dining room into four distinct dining spaces plus an immense bar.

Using a variety of materials, Draper strove to integrate the various spaces while providing them with distinct focal points to make each room a desirable dining location. The rooms will be filled with custom-made Italian seating. Floors alternate between stone, wood, and carpeting. The wine cellar is clad in cherry-wood panels.

The central dining space, which features a skylight-framed 28-foot ceiling, has a large, stone fireplace. Anchoring the space is an exhibition kitchen, partitioned from the dining area by an array of etched glass panels, in front of which sits a "chef's table." Just outside a row of windows shielding a raised dining space on the east wall is a 30-foot-long, 10-foot-high water wall crusted in black granite.

But perhaps Voltaire's most striking elements are what some consider symbols of Ginsburg's egotism. The entrance, separated from the dining rooms with sheer screen sculpted out of fabric and wood, is topped with a soaring tower, from which drops a large white doughnut. From the hole of the doughnut will dangle a specially commissioned chandelier by famed lighting designer Ingo Maurer, whose designs illuminate the Munich subway system and the Tel Aviv Opera House. The piece is an explosion of broken dishes with rays of light escaping through the shattered crockery. It's said to express Maurer's love of slow-motion implosions captured on film.

"I would call him the rock star of lighting design right now," says Draper. "I would hope that our use of it, coupled with the difficulty and cost of getting it...will create something of a signature for this restaurant."

Draper was struck by the piece after he came across a photo of an identical Mauler design featured in the Museum of Modern Art in New York. With Ginsburg's blessing, he immediately sought to acquire it.

Before Maurer would consent to crafting a duplicate, Draper had to present him with detailed plans of the restaurant. Once he was assured that the spot was a suitable setting, Maurer agreed and began to build the piece in his lighting factory in Germany. The chandelier is so expensive, neither Ginsburg nor Draper will comment on its cost.

The dining space, hooded in copper mesh, features another striking focal point: Ginsburg's 17-piece collection of glass sculptures by artist Dale Chihuly, regarded as the world's premier glass artist. "That would be, I believe, the largest private [Chihuly] collection in the state of Texas," boasts Ginsburg. Best known for his delicate, evocative sea forms, Chihuly has had his work exhibited in museums around the world, including a 35-piece permanent installation of flowers and sea forms in the atrium of the Dallas Museum of Art.

Voltaire's mode of displaying these sculptures is innovative, to say the least. The sculptures will be tucked into the ceiling of a tiny nook of the central dining room. Housed within a case, the sculptures will be arranged on the surface of a glass plate, with light cast to create the illusion that the pieces are floating above the guests in an aquatic display. And the case, which has its own air-filtration system to eliminate dust, hangs low, creating just a 7-foot ceiling line and bringing the sculptures close to diners. To keep the display fresh, Ginsburg says, he intends to acquire more Chihuly pieces and rotate the collection.

Ginsburg hints at other pieces of art that Draper is involved in directing, pieces on which he won't comment. "We've got to have some surprises," says Draper.

"Creative people and I get along very well," Ginsburg claims. "I can give them a bigger palette than they're used to having."

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