There's a whopping total of seven bars and restaurants inside Nordstrom's long-awaited New York City flagship store, which has finally opened its doors after a seven-year wait. But one of them—which takes up just 1,500 of the space's sprawling 320,000 square feet—has already managed to stand out: Broadway Bar, the vision of design-world darling Rafael de Cárdenas.
Nordstrom wasn't quite sure how to make use of the building's Broadway-facing façade, which the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission was intent on maintaining. So, they turned to de Cárdenas, a former Calvin Klein menswear designer and founder of the design firm Architecture at Large. He gamely accepted the challenge, and spent the next year transforming the space.
"They gave it to us as a kind of problem, basically—like, 'Here’s this weird space, good luck.' But we liked it. We were really into it, actually," de Cárdenas recently recalled over the phone from his house in France. (At one point, he apologized for the noise; a rooster was crowing in the background.)
From the start, de Cárdenas' top priority was to create a place that he would actually want to visit himself. "Look, I’m a native New Yorker," he said. In fact, he grew up practically around the corner from the new Nordstrom. Suffice to say, the neighborhood has changed: "It was pre-Time Warner Center, and basically an old Jewish neighborhood with bagel shops and the Great American Health Bar, which was then considered 'health food.'"
The neighborhood was also once home to department stores like Henri Bendel, which have since met their demise. But Nordstrom is embracing its 118-year retail legacy—including the tradition of ensuring guests are well sated while they shop. "I grew up eating at department stores. It was sort of normal in the eighties," de Cárdenas said. "It wasn’t even a fancy experience. Bergdorf had a café with pea soup and sandwiches—that was all they had—on the fourth floor, before the Kelly Wearstler extravaganza at the top."
Broadway Bar does offer snacks, but any resemblance to a cafeteria ends there. Technically, it only spans two of the store's seven stories, but the remaining elements of the original building's façade allowed de Cárdenas to create a mezzanine level. "It's a two-story space, but really more of a four-story place," he said, pointing out that it's also "basically on the designer floor, so you can find things like Valentino literally 15 feet away."
To lend the lofty space a more intimate feel, de Cárdenas and Nordstrom commissioned the artist Kendall Buster to create a sculpture that hangs from the ceiling above the S-shaped sofas on the lower level. To top them off, de Cárdenas turned to another Calvin Klein alum and design legend: he decorated the couches with pillows from the textile giant Kvadrat's collaboration with Raf Simons. (Happily the fabric blends right in with the space's color scheme, which de Cárdenas likened to avocados and the yolks of hardboiled eggs.)
"Hopefully it’s like a little oasis within this particularly busy part of town," de Cárdenas said. The semi-hidden mezzanine level, in particular, feels like a relaxing escape. "If I were going get a drink with someone, it's the type of space I'd gravitate towards," de Cárdenas said. "But I was also the type of person on field trips who always sat at the back of the bus."