Downtown Pacific-Asian Austin restaurant She’s Not Here took home the 2018 Eater Award for Best Restaurant Design, thanks to its gorgeous tropical hotel aesthetic and eye-catching murals.
The 2nd Street restaurant is meant to be “an escape that [feels] like another time and place,” explained co-owner Christian Romero. He used his upbringing in Panama, Costa Rica, Honduras, and Miami as inspiration for the decor. The result was a vintage tropical hotel theme to match the restaurant’s Asian-Pacific menu.
To help create that world, Romero worked with design and fabrication Litmus Industries (which has worked with Ramen Tatsu-ya and Odd Duck). Litmus brought the space to life with custom details and Romero added elements available to any home decorator.
Litmus designed, fabricated, and installed furniture and components like the banquette tables, bar shelving, and everything out on the patio. Most of what appears to be wicker accents, like parts of the bar and its light fixtures, are actually made of painted aluminum for durability.
The most eye-catching parts of She’s Not Here are the two large vibrant murals by Austin street artist Mez Data. Romero had heard of the artist through word-of-mouth, and was impressed by “the boldness and the detail” of his work, done completely with spray cans.
Mez was asked to create a vibrant and lush environment that would set the tone for the eclectic experience. To achieve that, he settled on bright flowers against a white background for the inviting entrance. Inside the restaurant, he created a portrait of a woman with a flower in her hair fronting mountain peaks and palm fronds. Regarding the interior mural, he wanted to “fill the room while still letting [it] breathe,” as he told Eater, and settled on a portrait that would “captivate while accenting the cuisine.”
Not everything was customized, though. Romero revealed that many of the tropical design elements — like the wallpaper and the ceiling fans — were actually sourced from home improvement chain Home Depot, where he spent a lot of time during projects to gather various supplies:
I ran across some ceiling fans there one day that looked like fans I had seen in an old hotel in Panama, and the price was right! Also, after months of searching I stumbled across some gold silk-screened wallpaper online that was perfect and coincidentally Home Depot carried it. They were pretty much my guardian angel.
He joked that shopping at Home Depot means, “you, too, can have a little tropical splendor of your own.”