Olón, Bar Olón, and OkatsheJennifer Young • Photography by Frank Oudeman • August 11, 2017
Born and raised on the Jersey Shore, designer David Ashen jumped at the chance to craft three restaurant concepts from chef Jose Garces—Olón, Bar Olón, and Okatshe—at the Tropicana Casino & Resort in Atlantic City. Call it nostalgia: During his childhood, he visited the gambling resort town with his parents and watched it transform over the years. “What was exciting was the Tropicana was really trying to breathe new life [into the hotel],” says Ashen, founder of dash design in Long Island City, New York.
He’s collaborated with Garces on a couple of projects (Distrito in Moorestown, New Jersey and the Olde Bar in Philadelphia), but this time they took a different approach, referencing Garces’ Ecuadorian roots for Olón and its bar, and a funky Tokyo vibe for Okatshe. The 9,000-square-foot restaurant Olón (named after the coastal town in his home country), for instance, exudes a Latin, seaside feel. Wash woods, graphic palm leaf wallpaper, a muted, natural palette of cream and blue, and handcrafted macramé define the airy, clean-lined space, while the seating in the back of the restaurant farthest from the windows, usually “the least desirable place, became the most desirable” thanks to beach cabanas raised up on a platform, says Ashen, offering guests views of the entire restaurant and the ocean beyond.
Bar Olón, meanwhile, offers a casual entry into the formal restaurant, highlighted by a custom wall installation of teal vintage-inspired fans, “an iconic element that draws you through” the space, notes Ashen. Exaggerated, oversized leather winged lounge chairs and bongo drums hanging from the ceiling provide eye-catching theatrical elements with Latin flair while allowing the area to keep “the level of sophistication that’s right for Garces,” and his brand, adds Ashen.
Drastically different and unexpected, Okatshe is a mysterious, moody hideaway, with a brightly colored Japanese candy storefront façade veiling the sushi restaurant within. A concealed door opens to a dimly lit, back alley-inspired space informed by the streets of Tokyo’s Shinjuku neighborhood and illuminated by Japanese street signs. “It kind of freaks you out the first time you go in,” says Ashen. Openings in the street-like wall reveal sushi and sake bars and open kitchens, while the space is filled with concrete communal tables and booths lined by graphic murals from visual and street artists Yok & Sheryo that capture the chaos and beauty of the streets and alleys of Tokyo.
Creating distinct looks for three separate venues simultaneously was certainly a challenge. The team, says Ashen, had to make sure that “the thread of one didn’t bleed into the other,” while allowing transitions between spaces to feel intentional. “Every project is a little bit of a Rubik’s Cube and you’re trying to find the right pattern to solve the puzzle, and there’s no right way—it’s just about finding the right formula.”