Mariscal maintained the directional flow by inserting a narrow, hand-chipped concrete walkway along the right side of the lounge and continued it into the 15-foot-wide bar area. To keep things moving, he installed a sleek, 40-foot-long marble counter on one side of the room and backed it with a mural of downlit polycarbonate resin panels featuring photographs of Peruvian street life. Then he erected a wall on the other side, separating the bar area from a newly constructed service stair down to the 1,703-square-foot kitchen. Not one to waste usable space, he carved a fifth small box beyond the bar, where he fit two commodious booths with built-in storage to hold an overflow of coats and bags.
At this juncture, Pio Pio opens onto an airy, double-height volume, situated beneath the building’s roof extension. To create a continuum, Mariscal leveled the entire ceiling to align with the existing lower plane of the concrete extension, tucking the mechanicals in the available plenum over the bar, and painted it black. Then he had his crew build a stone-lined concrete stair to the lower level, where they crafted a stylized, 1,313-square-foot Latin American dining patio—the final box.
To conjure up an alfresco atmosphere, the design team created a more than 15-foot-high envelope made of 4,000 6-foot-long Ocotillo branches—a sustainable Mexican plant that had been dried and de-barked—by attaching them to ½-inch threaded-steel rods anchored to the floor and ceiling. Then they hand-chipped an exposed structural column, so that it appears to be a tree trunk within a courtyard. To mimic the random arrangement of structures found in Latin American towns and cities, the builders fabricated rough concrete walls and enclosures from hand-built two-by-four wood forms—wrapping the stair, shaping a balcony above, and partitioning the service areas. Halogen spots twinkle through the branches like stars, vivid against the black ceiling, and toplit scenes of the Andes line two walls. A matrix of hanging, bare-bulb pendants over simple wood tables helps to establish a cantina ambience.
Like the heroine of the Spanish film Pan’s Labyrinth, customers make their way to the dining room through Mariscal’s boxes with a heightened sense of anticipation, catching limited views of their destination. When they arrive, they forget the streets of New York and soak in the enchanting quality of the place.
Mariscal says that Pio Pio’s limited street frontage helps achieve this air of discovery. “You see very little from the outside. Then you go through the bar and get to the patio with its ilclusion of a tree with branches around you. That is the feeling we wanted to create.”Completion Date:
Gross square footage:
Sebastian Mariscal Studio
320 W. Ash St #103
San Diego, CA 92101