No matter how much New York has changed over the years, one way to capture the true essence of any city is through its art and cuisine. Despite what’s trending, these two concepts are valued just as much for their creativity as they are for what’s presented to the public. Honoring this very idea, and capturing the spirited attitude of New York’s iconic Bowery street, is VANDAL.
Set in the gritty yet historically art-centric Lower East Side, TAO Group’s newest addition, VANDAL, celebrates a love affair between street art and street food, juxtaposing its old-school New York location with street art from internationally-recognized artists and a globally-inspired menu. Cultivated from the minds of TAO Group Co-Founder Rich Wolf and Celebrity Chef Chris Santos, every aspect of this two-level, 22,000-square-foot space possesses an element of intrigue. Featuring artwork from seven different acclaimed ‘vandals’, interiors by Rockwell Group and a menu influenced by the world travels of Santos and VANDAL’s Executive Chef Jonathan Kavourakis, the restaurant/lounge offers guests a truly one-of-a-kind experience. “Both food and art are expressions of creativity, which is why at VANDAL, we wanted to make sure we perfected the essence that we were trying to capture,” Kavourakis explained. “We wanted to ensure that both the artwork and menu complimented one another so that our guests are able to fully experience the ‘worldly culture’ we were hoping to portray.” Upon entering, VANDAL’s entryway is fronted by OVANDO, a dimly lit (and fully functional) flower shop and an almost speakeasy-style setting that envelops guests into the secret underground world of street culture. Past the greenery, one is met by a custom breakdancing bunny from Rockwell Group named Henry, who is painted in an “Icy Grape” color which is a nod to a discontinued spray paint color that resonates with the street art community.
UK-based graffiti artist, Hush, was commissioned by TAO Group to curate the wall space décor, filling every room with a range of contemporary and dynamic murals from well-known figures. VANDAL’s indoor-outdoor “secret garden” contains work from Shepard Fairey, who created two graphic, red, white and black murals on brick walls, stamped with his signature OBEY tag. Art from Eelus can also be seen in the garden, a dark and looming winged woman consistent with his hauntingly mysterious aesthetic.
Inside the main dining room is where Hush contributed a mural, an abstract anime and pop-inspired piece which features the feminine form accompanied by bursts of color and texture. Adjacent is the main bar, where along the back wall, is a mural by Will Barras. Depicting the motion of hands walking across a globe, Barras’ work evokes a sense of fluidity and is known for taking a narrative approach to his paintings. Similarly, L.A. native Tristan Eaton shares a background in illustration and animation, and his work can be found in “The Library” at VANDAL. Aligned against the far wall of the restaurant are four custom bookcases that Eaton strategically painted over to create his retro-inspired portraits alongside text which reads, “Fantastic Fantasy”.
In “The Gallery”, Portuguese artist Vhils created two plaster portraits which he hand-chiseled directly into the wall. Known for his ability to reveal layers, his work at VANDAL lends itself to the contours of a woman’s face and illuminates the beauty that can be found beneath an urban surface. Elements that convey a more metropolitan look are consistently found throughout VANDAL’s décor, showcasing unconventional materials such as a chain link fence, scissor gate walls, glass garage doors and concrete floors.
Perhaps one of the most notable and talked about murals seen at VANDAL also happens to be in one of the most unusual locations—the staircase. Celebrated street artist APEX spray painted New York-inspired lyrics that cover the walls, ceiling, stairs, and even the top of a vintage rickshaw cart, an homage to the energy and culture affiliated with New York City. APEX’s work can also be found on the main entrance of VANDAL where he tagged the restaurant’s name across the front.
Leading guests to an after hours “lounge”, Rockwell Group designed a bar-forward space for late night cocktails, utilizing materials such as leather for the sofas and velvet for the banquettes and ottomans, creating a vintage vibe. The winding serpentine bar serves as a centerpiece, accented by gold embellishments and a rich color palette. And although this space is regularly home to a DJ and bottle-service, the restaurant aspect of VANDAL is not to be forgotten.
Defying popular belief that good street food can only come from off of a cart or a truck, VANDAL set out to prove that street food can not only be elevated, but can serve as the foundation for a successful restaurant. Chef Kavourakis and Chef Santos took inspiration from their time abroad when creating small, medium and large street-inspired dishes that would be able to tell a story about their travels. “At VANDAL, the menu shows off the essence of the cultures in each location we visited and their respective cuisines that we were inspired by,” Kavourakis said. “Chef Santos and I worked hard to develop a menu that captured the spirit of street food but still allowed us to add our own unique twists.” One can find inventive takes on classic dishes such chicken katsu on a Hong Kong egg waffle, or skirt steak with Chinese sausage fried rice and sunny side up egg with chiles and scallions. An ode to New York, VANDAL also serves a hot pretzel topped with steak tartare and an array of “street pizzas”.
Since their opening in early 2016, it’s safe to say that VANDAL has earned itself some serious street cred. And no matter when one decides to visit, the restaurant has a unique ability to provide guests with an individualized experience each and every time they visit. “There is so much to see!” Kavourakis added. “Every time guests visit us, they can have a completely different experience depending on the room they sit in and the food they order.” It is because of this marriage, a relationship between street versus culture, global versus native, that VANDAL has become one of the hottest and must-see restaurants on the Bowery.