At your average brand new, white hot New York City restaurant, a few Instagram hits usually emerge. These are the things that, because they're either novel, or photogenic, or actually just taste good, manage to make it into every third photo on a restaurant's Instagram tag page — the corn husk meringue at Cosme, or the pizza at Mission Chinese Food, for example. The Clocktower, the new hotel restaurant from mega restaurateur Stephen Starr and empire-building British chef Jason Atherton, is just such a blazing hot spot, but on Instagram the food is only the half of it. Besides the steak and the uni risotto, and besides the purple pool table and the glowing spiral staircase, there are glasses shaped like milk cartons, cocktails garnished with glowsticks and friendship bracelets, and gaudy porcelain plates decorated with skulls. All told, the Clocktower is quickly emerging as the hottest dishware destination of summer 2015.
One woman is mostly responsible for this collection of mismatched, partially vintage, and imminently instagrammable serving vehicles: Randi Sirkin, the director of creative services for Stephen Starr's entire empire. She has many duties, of course, but one of them is to help decide the look of every one of Starr's restaurants, and to find the knives, forks, spoons, plates, glasses, candle holders, salt shakers, ice buckets, and every other accessory needed to make that look happen. Sometimes that means finding a stylish but affordable brand capable of supplying Buddakan with enough plates to do 900 covers a night. Sometimes it means copper plating every single wine bucket at Upland. Other times it means trolling Etsy for vintage gravy boats shaped like chickens.
The Clocktower, which currently has about 10 different chicken-shaped gravy boats, involved more Etsy trolling than most. Most of the dishware is by request of Atherton, who Sirkin says was "very involved" in the design process — not always the case with chefs — but she still did most of the legwork. Here's a look at some of it's most out-there serving items, and where they came from.
These are the plates that come with the steaks (which are served on a wooden board). Sirkin says that after being informed in an email that "the chef would like to buy skull plates," she embarked on a Google search and learned that there aren't a lot of good-looking skull plates out there. But she did find a woman on Etsy who puts decals on vintage porcelain, and convinced her to make two dozen of these. WTF Porcelain had never filled an order that big before, or worked with a restaurant, but now its skull plate business is booming. Atherton himself was so pleased that he ordered plates for his London and Singapore restaurants. At the Clocktower, half of the plates have a pink rim and half have some other color (mostly greys, blues, and purples). The pink ones, Sirkin says, always go to the ladies at the table.
Order the chicken, and a server will douse it with jus using a gravy boat like these. All of them are different, and each one was ordered separately from some Etsy shop. The restaurant started out with 18, but the kitchen is a rough place, and eight have already poured their last. Sirkin still regularly scours Etsy for more.
More Etsy finds, used for various raw bar offerings.
All the coffee pots and accessories are also antique, but they come from a silversmith in London. "It made more sense to buy the real stuff from London than to try to source it here," Randi says. They're also the "most daunting" thing for the restaurant to take care of, worse than the chickens or the delicate porcelain plates, because they require polishing. The staff here end up doing "a lot of buffing."
These cookie tins are another vintage, Etsy-sourced item. They come to the table at the end of the meal, filled with cookies. Just don't try to take them home.
Atherton wanted steak knives with antler handles, and though they would have been easier to find in the UK, Sirkin decided they were ordering too many things from London already. To avoid the exorbitant shipping fees and the customs red tape, she found these, from home furnishing company Roost, at a gift show. "I go to all the gift shows," Sirkin says, to scout out new sources and collect more catalogs to add to the stacks in her office.
Sirkin guesses that about 30 percent of the dishware at the Clocktower is vintage. Most of the rest of it is simpler white plates and bowls, basic glasses, and cutlery. But there are also some custom-made wooden items like these. Most come from a British furniture-maker called Rewthink, which makes the same items for one of Atherton's London restaurants, Pollen Street Social. Above are a condiment holder, a little ridged palette for butter, and a box used for serving the restaurant's roasted salmon, which comes cloaked in smoke that's released when the lid is removed.
Sirkin's dishware hunting job is still not done here, or at any of the restaurants. She has the managers do inventory every couple of weeks, so that she knows when the skull plates are running low, or when she needs to intensify her chicken boat search. There's also a warehouse in Philly where the relics of Starr's closed or revamped restaurants go, and where Sirkin has started to store a backup supply of dishes. Plus, a few years from now all of the Clocktower's dishware will probably get an overhaul anyway - there's money built into the budget of every Starr restaurant to do so, because it doesn't take long for anything, vintage or not, to seem outdated.