Zento Contemporary Sushi and Sake Bar is spinning nostalgia sexy. A tribute to the building turns of the century beginning as a whole sale tea house, which supplies most of the most of the tea in the city at the time. Prior to that lived Benjamin Franklin’s mistress for many years who built and lived in the house for most of her life. Evocative of the period, there are subtle historic references and details throughout rendered in a modern way using a mix of industrial age materials like steel and bronze with warm walnut paneling and bars, sensuous leather banquettes, and custom-fabricated lighting create a chic, sophisticated new dining experience for Old City Philadelphia.
The space reinvents refinement with a retro edge in one of the city’s coolest neighborhoods. Working within the frame work of existing wood moldings and trim, the original storefront on Chestnut Street is a controlled gesture opening up the entry and the dining area beyond to the street, and reinforcing the connection between the interior space and the energy of the contextual environment overhead, and signage limited to a recognizable logo on the doors quietly announce your arrival at some place different.
Exposed brick at the entry is a glimpse into the building past, but the dining room beyond is a warm, contemporary space. A leather banquette with low tables adjacent to the the walnut bar encourages casual dining and interaction among guests. A u-shaped, hand-made all leather banquettes at the back of the room, and tables designed to be ganged together allow for flexible layouts for larger parties, or smaller, intimate dining experiences. Above the dining, the second floor structure has been opened up to the soaring tin ceiling. 40 foot ceilings above the first floor from which a custom designed one of a kind chandelier suspended above the dining room below. To light the dining tables, cut designed wall-mounted light fixtures with adjustable arms recall history fixtures of early 20th century. The interior of Zento is all hand made and one of a kind fabrication made locally and abroad by artists.
The highlight of the dinning area is a two-story feature wall fabricated of tooled leather panels patterned after vintage wallpaper designs, and back-lit etched glass created by local designers and artists. The second level is accessible from a new door adjacent to the host stand at the restaurant entry, or via a separate entry at the storefront for private events and special chef’s tasting.
At the top of the stair, steel framed safety glass panels open into a front room designed for large parties and private events. A walnut bar with back-lit historic maps of Philadelphia, and steel framed mirror glass panels opposite the bar energize the room. A frame-less glass wall opens the room to views of the dining room below and the two-story leather and glass feature wall. Bronze metal mesh curtains allow the room to be secluded for private evens and larger dinner parties. Banquette seating and low tables encourage a relaxed, comfortable, social dining experience, and custom made glass pendant lights overhead with unique, flicking lamps are a nostalgia nod to the past.