The tropical birds, monkeys, and colorful jungle foliage in Mike Willcox’s mural set the Art Deco-inspired tone for Red Herring in downtown Los Angeles. Chef Dave Woodall and Alexis Martin Woodall’s new restaurant invites diners from the bustle of Grand Avenue’s financial district into a classic Hollywood-meets-Miami haven—one both lush and glamorous.
Willcox collaborated with Alexis to develop the mural. “We were aiming for a rich tropical jungle scene. We tried some predators and a crocodile lurking and a zebra rearing. A lot of things ended up getting taken out. The piece is quite dense and I think we made the right decisions and landed on a balanced design that’s very much alive,” explains Willcox. The mural reflects the color palette of the room filled with blush-colored velvets, teal plaster walls, and brass accents.
When the Woodalls planned to move their restaurant from Eagle Rock to DTLA, they wanted to capture the magic of the original. For the new location the goal became to pair their elegant comfort food with a luxurious setting. They tapped frequent collaborator Marissa Zajack to realize their vision.
Woodall—who has spent many years in film and television as the President of Ryan Murphy Productions—knows how to helm a team to ensure the story has dramatic and visual impact. “I need pops of color. I need whimsy,” she says. “Dave is both serious about cooking and really fun. Making food in a room that is inspiring makes a difference for him and the chefs.”
“I love the room, the palette,” Dave adds, standing at the pass, near the kitchen, flanked by a bold teal plaster wall. “The shapes are easy on the eye. I enjoy all of it. We picked hand-made plate-ware by Churchill that would match the room. Composing something on the plate, color is a part of the composition, so naturally it all has to flow together. If it does not look good on the plate it is not going out.”
On the menu, the globally-inspired dishes—from skillet cornbread to house-made merguez sausage—are served alongside smoked eggplant and grilled mackerel with preserved lemon. Dave makes duck confit on scallion pancakes and Duroc pork chops with koji and mustard frills. Seasonal vegetables are featured to showcase the bounty of California farms.
Zajack was tasked with gathering all of the ideas and bringing their vision to life. “I wanted Red Herring to feel timeless, energized and bathed in a California attitude. Downtown Los Angeles is so rich with history. I pulled from the details that I saw all around me,” she explains.
Zajack played with Art Deco geometry, soft curves, and splashes of whimsical flora. “I was very inspired knowing this was going to be a restaurant that will take you from day to night. So it needed to be bright and airy by day and cozy and sultry by night,” she says. “Dave and Alexis are dream clients. They are both so creative and willing to push the envelope. Dave’s menu is globally-influenced comfort food, so that gave me a ticket to run with all my creative ideas.”
Zajack explains that the color palette evolved organically. “The corals add a lot of pop and fun. Rich jewel tones complement the color story that is happening in the large mural,” she says. “I wanted to keep the woods in a light rose hue to contrast the jewel tones.”
Zajack designed a curved geometric pattern for the bar face that was then chiseled into wood panels. “We stain the wood a beautiful light blush that flaunts the grain of the wood and showcases the pattern that’s carved into it,” she says. She chose classic bentwood chairs by Thonet NO. 209, originally designed in 1900, to provide organic sculptural form with the strong lines that are prominent in Art Deco.
Brass lighting and accents throughout the space enhance glamour. A geometric room divider sits between the bar/lounge and dining room. The shape and symmetry of lighting fixtures by Adir Yakobi Design and Dora Koukidou of Light Cookie add contemporary versions of ’20s-inspired luxury. Coming from the world of graphic design, Zajack also created all of the branding for Red Herring. She designed the menus, and added coasters and postcards with bold graphic patterns.
The Woodalls admit to obsessing over every detail and refer to their choices as nerdy and neurotic. When it comes to the final look Alexis explains, “We are telling a story. We want that story to feel good. You want it to be special from the beginning to the end.”
Images by Jennifer Chong