Across the country, former boiler rooms, gas stations, and train terminals have been given new life as oyster bars, mezzanine grills, and other award-winning eateries. For proprietors seeking urban revival opportunities, “in with the new” doesn’t have to mean “out with the old,”especially when it comes to original design and architectural details. From California to North Carolina, these 12 restaurants serve contemporary cuisine in historic settings—and prove there’s no tastier mash-up to be served.
A 1920s bank
Charleston, South Carolina
A celebration of maritime culture across the East Coast and coastal Carolinas, The Ordinary is a community effort with a focus on supporting local fishermen, farmers, and producers. Don’t let the name fool you—there’s nothing ordinary about this contemporary seafood hall and oyster bar housed in a former 1920s bank in Charleston. Of course, guests will find historic design details that point to the former bank’s past—the kitchen, overseen by chef Mike Lata, is visible through a window cut out from the original bank vault, while the open vault door serves as a backdrop for the restaurant’s raw bar.
A Lutheran church
New Orleans, Louisiana
When this Mid-City Lutheran church first opened in 1914, locals flocked to the site for worship. Nowadays, the closest guests will come to religious experience at this New Orleans spot is the first bite into executive chef Eric Sibley’s baked mac and cheese. The building now houses Vessel, a Southern-inspired restaurant. Although the building has previously been repurposed—even before Vessel—many of the original architectural and design features remain, including the steeple, stained glass, and exterior facade; the pièce de résistance is the property’s vaulted, exposed-wood ceiling, modeled after a ship hull.
A local pharmacy
Davidson, North Carolina
With a population of 11,000, Davidson, North Carolina, isn’t the type of place you’d usually think would be home to an acclaimed restaurant. But Kindred owners Joe and Katy Kindred have proven that no town is too small to find a crowd hungry for top-notch food. A watering hole for the residents of this small town, the family-owned restaurant preserves a unique bit of Davidson history; before being converted into a restaurant, the space was occupied by a local pharmacy and later the Tom Clark Museum. Kindred’s design balances old and new influences with a marble bar, hardwood floor, and open floor plan, as well as the original tin ceiling.
A sailing ship
New York City
Long before brothers Alex and Miles Pincus opened New York City’s favorite summertime dining spots, they learned to sail and repair fishing boats while growing up in New Orleans. Their passion for finding and restoring historic ships is what drove them to open Pilot, a floating oyster bar, as well as Grand Banks and Island Oyster (the brothers’ other NYC concepts). Aboard a rare schooner docked in Brooklyn Bridge Park, Pilot’s boat was originally commissioned as a racing vessel and later became the longest serving pilot ship in U.S. history. Today, the vessel is both repurposed and preserved; the Pincus Brothers offer cultural exhibitions and talks in addition to nautically inspired cocktails and fresh shellfish. Just note that this floating eatery is seasonal: Pilot opens in mid-May and closes in October.
A police station
San Diego, California
As part of The Headquarters at Seaport District, Puesto is located within a complex that served as the San Diego Police Headquarters from 1939 to 1987. Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1998, the complex includes a range of shops, restaurants, and attractions—including eight fully restored jail cells, complete with historic photos and police memorabilia. Additional nods to The Headquarters’ history can be found at signature taco institution Puesto, which maintains much of the original architecture—including concrete detailing, jail cell–style windows, and stairs from the former police office.
A horse stable
After winning the James Beard Award for Rising Star Chef and being awarded a Michelin star as chef de cuisine of Café Boulud in New York City, chef Gavin Kaysen returned to his hometown of Minneapolis to embark on his own journey in culinary entrepreneurship at restaurant Spoon and Stable. The name is both personal and historical: Spoon is a nod to Gavin’s affinity for “borrowing” spoons from restaurants when dining, and stable pays homage to the building’s origins as a carriage house. The downtown restaurant, which Kaysen opened in 2014, was named one of Food & Wine magazine’s Best New Restaurants in 2015.
An abandoned gas station
St. Louis, Missouri
Sure, the name of this restaurant may hint at the chef’s affinity for olive oil—but the meaning is twofold and also recalls the building’s roots. Before being transformed by chef/owner Ben Poremba as half of his two-part urban revitalization project, the space that now houses Olio was an abandoned 1930s gas station. From filling up cars to filling up stomachs, the quirky spot on Tower Grove Avenue reopened in 2012 alongside next-door Elaia. With Poremba’s eye for renovation opportunities, fearlessness for taking on unusual spaces, and priority on using locally sourced ingredients, both concepts have helped to usher in a new chapter for the historical Botanical Heights neighborhood.
A car garage
When proprietor Eli Boyer first discovered what was then a garage-turned-storage space outside of Detroit, he saw perhaps what nobody else could: potential. After approaching the landlord about converting the structure into a restaurant, Boyer brought in five/eighths Architecture to transform the space. The result? The nautically inspired Voyager, a seafood restaurant that opened in 2017 and has since helped write a new chapter in this building’s history. Alongside oysters and crudos, guests will find original details in the vaulted ceiling and retractable glass garage door, which stays open during the summer, as well as vintage fishing and sailing memorabilia.
A Greyhound bus terminal
When Johno Morisano bought a former Greyhound bus terminal, his hope was to give Savannah back a long-lost piece of local history—this time, as a restaurant. When The Grey opened at the end of 2014, Morisano and chef Mashama Bailey couldn’t have known what impact the concept would have on the community, or on the culinary world. Named Eater’s Restaurant of the Year in 2017, The Grey balances Southern flavors and modern techniques on the plate as well as art deco and transportation industrial elements in the design. And the structure’s original purpose hasn’t been lost on its new proprietors—as they put it, the restaurant “continues the building’s long tradition of transporting people to a destination.” Now, the destination is found on the plate, not in another city.
Los Angeles, California
Upon arriving at Echo Park restaurant Mohawk Bend, the classic cinema marquee entrance is the first clue—but not the last—that this spot was not always a restaurant. In fact, the space was a 100-year-old vaudeville theater before being bought by Artisanal Brewers Collective in 2011 and transformed into a local watering hole, one with 72 taps of craft beer, an open-air patio, and both vegan and nonvegan culinary offerings (and prep areas). Those looking for more of the original details will fall in love with the restaurant’s Ramona Room: Named after the original theater, it features a 20-foot mosaic glass wall, original exposed brick, and skylit atrium.
A fire station
The sister restaurant to famed Negril Village NYC, this outpost serves up Caribbean cuisine from a one-of-a-kind location in Midtown Atlanta. Located on North Avenue, the historic building was originally built as a firehouse in 1907; now, Negril Village owners have restored the interior to a colonial Caribbean aesthetic, highlighting craftsmanship in wood detailing and honoring the building’s original purpose by keeping (and covering with glass) holes in the ceiling originally cut for fire poles. Meanwhile, chef Marva Layne-Hayle brings a different type of heat to the kitchen with a fusion of Southern and Caribbean flavors in dishes like the Calypso Lobster Shrimp & Grits prepared in a coconut milk and creole sauce, and Red Snapper Tacos, a reimagining of traditional escovitch.
An abandoned military barrack
San Francisco, California
At San Francisco’s Presidio National Park, visitors may come for the hiking trails and views of the Golden Gate Bridge—but they’ll stay for the craft cocktails and contemporary American dishes at Presidio Social Club. Originally built in 1903 as military barracks, the Presidio has since become one of the city’s most iconic—and most historic—districts, known to entertain locals and tourists with museums, parkland, and public events. But perhaps the most successful attempt at harmonizing the new with old in the Presidio is the Presidio Social Club, a seasonal eatery by chef/owner Ray Tang. Designed by architect Olle Lundberg, the restaurant honors its military origins in refined style, preserved details, and original structure.
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