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We’ve all experienced the transportive quality of food. One bite of beignet and we’re under the green awning at Café du Monde again. A whiff of grilled cheese and we’re back in the fourth grade, shuffling through the cafeteria line.
But the atmospheres in which we enjoy great food can take us places, too. If they didn’t, Peter Newlin would have a very different job. As chief vision officer for Gastamo Group, he brings the good vibes to Denver restaurants including Park Burger, Birdcall, and Perdida, whose cool coastal style is featured in our October/November 2021 issue.
Newlin’s latest vision, for Lady Nomada restaurant, which debuted last summer, takes diners on the trippiest trip of all, from the charming streets of Olde Town Arvada to a retro beach bar on a windswept stretch of Mexico’s coastline. “When the French doors are open and you take a quick glance in, you see the velvet chairs and leather banquette and this surf-inspired mural and you’re like, ‘What the heck is this place?’ ” Newlin says.
What it is: a taqueria and bar serving casual, Baja-inspired fare by chef Philippe Failyau (think: tiki drinks, carne asada fries, and double-decker tacos stuffed with arbol-honey grilled shrimp), and one of the area’s coolest listening rooms, with a McIntosh MT5 turntable for classic vinyl and a stage for live shows. “Like Perdida, Lady Nomada follows a similar storyline, this idea of being lost in Central America,” Newlin says. “But our goal was to put an additional layer on the story, so Lady Nomada was really inspired by music.”
The restaurant, designed in collaboration with Austin, Texas-based Michel Hsu Office of Architecture, is also a study in textures, colors, and shapes that instantly transport diners to the seaside. “At Perdida, we were so focused on the architecture; the big moves like the sliding-glass doors and the steel,” Newlin says. “Here, we don’t own the space, so we thought, ‘Let’s let the old beat-up windows be and invest everything in the textures.’ ”
The old building, “which has been a music venue for as long as anyone can remember,” Newlin says, had great bones for a beach-shack aesthetic, from beat-up wood floors and beamed ceilings to original brick walls, which the design team decided to whitewash. “That was the scariest moment when they started painting the walls, because there was no going back,” Newlin says. “You can’t sandblast 100-year-old brick.”
The light color provided a fresh canvas for local artist Lindee Zimmer, who painted custom surf-inspired murals directly on the brick. One artwork still in progress will be topped with LED tube lighting in the form of a giant wave. “I hate to say it was designed to be an Instagram moment, but it kind of was,” Newlin says. “Interactive art is fun.”
1970s graphic design vibes—“and those cool stripes you might see on an old VW bus,” Newlin says—inspired details like the bar’s rainbow mural, which peeks out from behind a row of cowhide-upholstered barstools by local furniture-maker DoubleButter. Basket-style drum pendants hang overhead. “Everywhere you go in Mexico you see a different basket-inspired chandelier,” Newlin says. “We looked for a version that’s a little more designed than the traditional ones that look like they were woven right on the beach.”
On the opposite wall, complementary basket pendants illuminate another banquette, this one upholstered in a classic Pendleton pattern. “Pendleton offers a line of upholstery fabric, but it was so far back-ordered that we decided to use the real blankets instead,” Newlin says. Faux cacti made by a Boulder-based artisan line the back wall. “We worked really hard to make them look real,” Newlin says—and they succeeded. “You’re almost scared to touch them!” he laughs.
Newlin partnered with the audio experts at Denver-based ListenUp to build Lady Nomada’s stellar sound system, which includes several vintage Bowers & Wilkins speakers. “My grandfather had a set of B&Ws in his living room, so it’s a little tribute to him; it’s a tchotchke that actually works,” Newlin says. But many of the restaurant’s most eye-catching speakers haven’t functioned in years. Gastamo Group’s head of construction drove around Denver and collected nearly 200 old speakers that now comprise the restaurant’s back wall. “We really wanted to have that vintage look; a little more grit to the design,” Newlin says. “Just like at Perdida, every detail has a special story, but here, the story is really driven by the music.”