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A Design Tour of Saxon + Parole With AvroKO

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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.
When Double Crown closed last year at 316 Bowery, AvroKO, the renowned design team behind it, channelled turn of the century racehorse owner Pierre Lorillard for new inspiration. After an extensive research period, much of which took place on Lorillard's property in Tuxedo Park, NY, the team reopened the restaurant as Saxon + Parole. Below, Kristina O'Neil and William Harris, who make up half of the group, discuss some of their design choices:

Kristina: This is Saxon and Parole. They were racehorses owned by Pierre Lorillard at the turn of the century. Parole, he's the tinier, uglier pony, he was the guy they never expected to win. Saxon was the beautiful steed who they thought would be the winner of everything. William: We basically love the story of the contrast of these horses. Parole was the underdog, a really scraggly, atypical racehorse — nobody thought he'd do much. And literally, Pierre was so confident in him, he actually took him to London to compete. He was so ridiculed by the British press, they called him the Yankee Mule and Rough Coat, and meanwhile he ended up basically dominating all the races and coming back a champion. There were poems written about him, there were songs, there were pubs, social clubs, billiard halls opened in his name. And there was a Parole whiskey at the time. We love that spirit, the atypical kind of winning spirit contrasted with a much more refined, elegant horse. It's kind of a lot like what we're doing here. We've got a lot of rough and ready objects and raw materials and almost an industrial sensibility, but the service is very refined, the food is high quality. So, it's all the contrasts that were in Lorillard's stable that really spoke to us.
William: That's our cocktail cabinet. Essentially, it's a members program. People can buy monthly memberships, and every month our fantastic bar crew puts together cocktails that can be bottled and can live in that state. So when you come in, you get your bottle and it will be served with great accoutrement — your chipped ice or your onions or bitters, or whatever you need to pull it all together.
Our head bartender Naren usually writes those notes. It's very involved, what they do every month.

2012_saxon_parole_knives_12.jpgKristina: This is a wall in progress. Basically, we had a lot of friends bring us knife sets and we sort of found a bunch of vintage knives and we're building this wall little by little. A lot of things we do in our spaces sort of evolve over time. We've had people bring knives, some people have sent us sets of knives, we've sourced a bunch of knives like, "Oh that's a beautiful set," and then we'll bring it in and put it in the wall.

2012_saxon_anvil_%212.jpgKristina: I had this obsession with anvils for a while and one was given to me as a gift. And so I had this anvil for a very long time at my desk and I loved it and then I brought it out to the house in Tuxedo. And I was waiting at some point by the train tracks and an old gentleman was walking along the tracks picking up pieces of metal and I conversed with him and basically, he was looking for an anvil. He had taken it up as a hobby and he was becoming a blacksmith formally. And he said I can't find an anvil, and I said I have one, you can have mine. So I gave him my anvil. And of course, this concept was nowhere in our minds at the time. And then one year later we decided we needed to do this concept — William: And I was like, "We really need an anvil here, Kristina. Don't you have a beautiful anvil?" And she was like, "I just gave it to this guy!" Kristina: But I was so much happier to give it to him because he was going to use it. It's not just a wall piece. They found me another one because I was so sad without my anvil.William: Yeah, that's our symbol of Kristina's generosity.
2012_blankets_saxon_parole_12.jpgWilliam: A lot of what we try to do is repurpose and bring new life to certain objects. And these really, they are horse blankets and they're just a great sound-dampening tool. So they're actually acting as an acoustic barrier and a beautiful wall texture as well. And these are literally horse bridals that were modified to keep those in place.

2012_parole_whiskey_12.jpgKristina: We have created our own Parole whiskey. We revived it. It was a defunct brand. Basically, when it was quite festive, this idea of Parole winning was around for a few years and then it was a sort of dead brand that we got back into action. William: This is kind of our ode to that and it's utilized in a bunch of our cocktails. Kristina: You can even get Parole Whiskey ice cream.

2012_saxon_parole_123.jpgKristina: Most of the projects that we own and operate, when we get to the point of physically doing the installations, we involve friends, family, cousins, and they come and work. So a couple of the investors actually came and installed all of these. We thought we would do an installation like this, but some place subtle, not like covering a wall. A lot of people don't even notice them. It just looks like texture, and then if you're looking for a while, you'll notice them.
2012_06_winewall.jpgWilliam: We're slowly building this — As you can see, there's a lot that are hand written, so this is kind of becoming a very interactive, sort of The Note Wine Bottle Wall or something. We give them this great little grease pen and they’re able to kind of document their night with a note on the bottle and then we keep it here so they’ve got a little piece of themselves in the space.
2012_06_closeupwinebottle.jpgKristina: It's funny, it’s happening organically too, it’s not something we expected. People finish their bottle and want to put it up on the wall.

2012_tacking_Wall_%2123.jpgKristina: This is the tacking wall. Literally, we stencilled 60 some thousand dots onto the wall and then hand tacked each one. In its height, we would have 10 people down the wall because it takes so long to finish a section. So again, family were down here, friends came for tacking parties, staff came and did some. William: We love creating something that brings people together, that takes a fair amount of labor, that always has a little bit of that sense of hand, so it doesn't feel overly mass produced or manufactured or slick. We really try to create unique moments that people haven't seen before that maybe reference or involve a thing they experienced in their past, or their childhood, but then completely re-present it in a new way. We like to have curious details in our spaces rather than the perfectly sourced wallpaper from XYZ showroom. And some people could care less and that's cool too. It's not heavy handed, like, "You must appreciate this."
Kristina: The real star of the show is the food and the drinks, that's what everybody is here for. We're just making backdrops.
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Saxon + Parole

316 Bowery, Manhattan, NY 10012 (212) 254-0350 Visit Website