Welcome to Explain Your Tchotchkes, a feature where Eater asks restaurateurs about why they picked the decorations, knickknacks, and other notable design details in their dining rooms.
Macao Trading Co. was designed to look like a warehouse/brothel/opium den in Macao, in the early 20th Century. Before the restaurant opened, owner Billy Gilroy basically scoured the globe to find furniture, fixtures, tchotchkes, and vintage pieces of erotica to fill the space. And soon, he might be doing it all over again: Gilroy says that he and his team are looking at spaces in Los Angeles for a new location of Macao. Here's a design tour from Billy:
Billy Gilroy, restaurateur: "The Portuguese governed Macao; they colonized it 500 years ago. It was between them and the British, but mostly the Portuguese have ruled it — so it's 10% Portuguese and 90% Cantonese. There are colonial elements from the Portuguese aspect, and then there are a lot of Asian elements, and that's where you get Macanese cuisine.
"So the idea is that up here is the gambling parlor that doubles as a warehouse in terms of being a front, and downstairs there's an opium den and a brothel. And that's very much true to form in Macao, because even today gambling and prostitution are legal there, so it's always been considered lawless. There was an opium factory there up until the '30s and stuff like that — it's a pretty wild place. They would do this game called fan-fan, where they have that catwalk, and they would lower the baskets down and people would bet down there. It's very kind of Deer Hunter.
"This came out of a prison right near Yankees Stadium, actually. It's over a hundred years old. You would have those pillars, and then in between the pillars every 50 feet you'd have a spike. Those weighed like 1,500 pounds a piece. I got that out of a salvage company, and they were just kind of laying in the dirt and we brought them in and had them cut up.
"These here came out of an Asian amusement park that was built in the 1940s down in Florida. They're all teak and there's no nails — it's all dovetailed. These would go for like $1,000 a panel if you had these made today. I got them for like $25 each. There were seven buildings that had these panels, and I know a guy that was staying nearby in a motel, and he heard they were bulldozing it. It was very much an American Pickers kind of thing. He went over to the construction guy, because they were going to bulldoze it anyway, and he probably said to the guy, 'Let me give you $1,000. Give me a day, and I'll pull out what I can.' So, he pulled out 750 of these, and I got 100. When you go downstairs, you'll see that they're very much built into the design of this place.
"If you stand in the hallway, and you look at the tones of the colors of the posters and then you look into the room...if it seems that I've duplicated that, then I've achieved what I wanted to achieve. It's very much like when you look at graphics from the '30s and the '40s — it's just a different more muted and understated style.
"These are opera posters, these are about 200 years old, but in China that aren't really even considered antiques, so you're allowed to take them out of the country. These particular operas were basically the head of the household, the wife, teaching the concubine how to behave in the home and how to service the man. And the operas are very much about that.
"Now here's the downstairs space. Every place you look here is literally sex. But if it was out of Hustler, it would be kind of in bad taste. But since they're silk screens or rice prints and things like that, we get away with it. Those are called pillow pictures because on the back they actually tell you different sexual positions. These are full opium set ups, with all the tools to clean them and do it and everything like that. And then the Buddha is here because...the idea is that the Buddha is non-judgmental, so, whether you're being good or being bad, it's probably just a blip anyway. Those are Tibetan fertility sculptures, but they look like big black dildos to me. When Frank Bruni did the write up, he spent way too much time on the penises and not enough time on the food. But he seemed to be very taken with it, especially since he was making out with his boyfriend for four hours. The title of that article was, 'Erotica Amid the Meatballs.'
"This ceiling is from 1890. When I bought this, it was lying on a lawn at Brimfield, and I managed to eyeball it pretty much within 300 feet. And I brought if for like $1,500. So in China now you have all these people with money and stuff, but you have millions of these chairs and millions of these things. But unlike design here, the only difference between a Japanese and Chinese home in many ways is that they're laid out the same, but yours will be made out of gold, and someone else's will be made out of wood. But now that people have money, I don't have to go to China. People come over with containers of this stuff, and it's the real deal.
"So, here's kind of the feeling we're going for. That's a real opium den. There's a guy that would serve you, a guy that would keep your stuff lit, a guy that would work security, because when you get that fucked up, you don't want someone ripping you off.
"That's a wrought-iron picket fence behind the bar, almost like the Adams Family house. Upstairs is a fence from a prison, but this is like a miniature version. It mimics the pattern in the mirror."
· All Coverage of Macao Trading Co. [~ENY~]