To Arion Paylo, Blue Bottle’s director of design and development, the company’s new cafe in San Francisco’s South Park neighborhood is a standout. “It’s a beautiful building,” he says, “that we don’t really have to mess with that much. There’s a lot of texture and history, and it gives us the chance to really let the building shine.”
When looking at any new potential Blue Bottle space, Paylo says his team focuses on three main things: what the space offers, what needs to be taken away, and what they can add to define it as a Blue Bottle experience. As Paylo says, “We don’t have a book of prescribed design for every shop. It’s more about: What is this space telling us? What can we do with this?” The answers are, invariably, different every time. “We get to look at these spaces uniquely,” he says, “and react to them. It’s the fun side of it—we have an opportunity to do something new and special that resonates with customers.”
For the South Park cafe, Paylo worked with Bohlin Cywinski Jackson architects—the minds behind the Emeryville Pixar campus, to name just one — to highlight the existing structure, the goal being to leave the original space as “untouched as possible.” The coffee bar sports minimalist touches—including an undercounter Mavam Espresso machine and Blue Bottle drippers—all beneath soaring, enormous exposed beams, their surfaces rough and pitted. Paylo believes they were chopped from the masts of decommissioned ships. “The building itself gives all the texture to us,” he says. “We didn’t have to do a heck of a lot to express what we love about design while still retaining a warmth and humanity in the space.”
Blue Bottle South Park’s most interesting feature is the Cold Bar, an upscale take on iced coffee cocktails. James Freeman, the company’s founder, offers a simple explanation for the concept: “It’s a fun thing to do. There’s nothing wrong with that.” Blue Bottle employees from around the world submitted recipes, which were prepared and sampled in hourslong tasting sessions. One even called for ice cream made from scratch from an employee’s own recipe. “It was,” Freeman says, “a monumental success.” While Freeman recognizes that die-hard coffee purists might balk at the Cold Bar, he’s not bothered. “Obviously, a shakerato is not exactly the purest expression of coffee. It’s fun and it’s accessible, and the integrity comes in examining the ingredients, making something really interesting.”
Which speaks to the Blue Bottle philosophy as a whole: to continue to innovate and expand while maintaining a level of quality in everything, from building out a new space or debuting an iced coffee beverage program. As Freeman says, “If we were really dour and overly focused on [someone else’s] notion of integrity, we wouldn’t even make lattes. We would not be the kind of company we are today.”
Photos courtesy of Ryley Johnson.