Thally: The Story Behind the Intriguing Look

By Olga Boikess  |  November 15, 2013
Credit: Rebecca Friedlander.

A showcase for chef/co-owner Ron Tanaka’s modern American cooking with an energy that's revitalizing the Shaw corridor, Thally has a look as distinctive as the food it serves. Its vintage storefront location uses familiar rustic elements - exposed brick, reclaimed wood, barn fittings and a high ceiling - yet, while remaining warm and welcoming, it still comes across as unique.

We toured the space with co-owner/manager Sherman Outhuok and Matthew Hlubny, the artist who helped the owners realize their vision (the architect was Peter Hapstak). They were striving for "authenticity, not just to go for a look,” says Outhuok, and they wanted the surroundings to “match the food concept of simple ingredients in fresh, uncomplicated dishes." For a theme, they decided to focus on the history of Old Shaw (a neighborhood of row and carriage houses), and especially on Naylor Court (which once housed a stable, directly behind the restaurant) and nearby Blagden Alley. The overall objective was simple enough, he says: to "make people want to sit here."

The slide show explores some of the ways they built out the space and chose materials, and the key role of the artist in pulling it all together.

  • Credit: David Ansell/BadwolfDC

    Outhuok started with a long, narrow space with concrete floors and brick walls. It already had electricity, gas, water and plumbing (photo taken in early stages of build-out).

  • Credit: David Ansell/BadWolfDC

    The 28-ft. bar (shown under construction) is positioned to make room for a few welcoming tables just past the entrance. There is a bulkhead over the bar that extends over the front banquettes, baffling sound and tying the space together.

  • Credit: Rebecca Friedlander.

    Intriguing wall designs that hark back to the neighborhood’s history help ground the space and convey the feeling that it's been there a long time. The murals are a mix of original photography and graphics, done digitally and printed on custom wallpaper panels roughly 4 ft. wide. Hlubny says that "by layering different elements, the art unfolds, and one sees different things depending on the lighting."

  • Credit: Rebecca Friedlander

    At night, subtle lighting gives the back walls a dramatic 3D effect, achieved using the opposite perspective of the walls, Hlubny explains. People see more each time they look - like a neighbor who recognized her house on the second visit, but hadn't noticed it before.

  • Credit: Rebecca Friedlander

    The slightly raised, partially open back dining area offers intimacy, yet people seated there still feel part of the action. The bare-wood partitions, like those in a stable, offer sight lines to the bar and side tables. Wooden floors and sage-green tiles are used throughout the space for a cohesive look, while acoustic ceiling tiles make conversation comfortable.

  • Credit: rebecca Friedlander

    Opposite the bar, three artful blackboards mounted with stable hardware bring the focus to the old brick wall that was left untouched. The boards are hand-painted and use image-transfer techniques, and let diners know about the drinks available (including 24 wines by the glass).

  • Credit: Facebook

    Outhuok says that he looked for raw materials, beautifully done. The result: wood floors, soft leather banquettes, comfy chairs, solid walnut tables and reclaimed wood on the front of the bar and its shelves. He designed the bar stools himself - with a solid back; a wide, comfortable, genuine leather seat; and sturdy legs. Benches as well as chairs are used for eye-appealing variety.

  • Credit: David Ansell/BadWolfDC

    The bar top (shown just after installation) is absolute black granite with a leather matte finish for a clean look. Soft lighting (on a dimmer) brings out its luster. The base is reclaimed wood, with a vintage pipe footrest.