Taking 'mixed use' to new extremes, this bar and restaurant is also a fully functioning custom motorcycle workshop.
Always back your bike into the curb and sit where you can see it. That’s a rule of motorcycling, apparently. The problem with York Street, which is, naturally enough, where you’ll find York Street Mechanics (YSM), is that it’s a narrow affair. The toothpick-thin footpaths provide few opportunities for dining en plein air in the mode of the French bistrot. But this is Newmarket, not the 1st arrondissement. There’s a Lone Star on the corner, a parking building over the road. Lucha Lounge, a pocket-sized-party bar, is next door. This is a street that leans a little more towards grime than grace, although plans are afoot, it’s said, to introduce laneways into the mix. York Street Mechanics, a mash-up of restaurant, bar and custom motorcycle shop, fits in just fine as it is.
The proprietor here, who, modestly, prefers to remain unnamed, is a self-confessed contrarian who seems to not quite believe that he’s actually ended up with a joint in Newmarket. It’s a suburb for which he professes, in a not-so-mild manner, little affection. But as we’ve established, York Street is not the Newmarket of strip shopping and fashion retailing. A visit to this lettable space revealed enough mind-changing charm, via heavy wooden beams and brickwork in abundance, to dull the prejudices of even a hardened Newmarket phobic.
The proprietor might be a contrarian but he is also fairly egalitarian and, to an extent, YSM is a paradox. The brief to the architects from Bureaux, Maggie Carroll and Jessica Barter, was for an ‘undesignerly’ space. ‘Designed’ spaces, goes the reasoning, exude pretentiousness, exclude rather than invite; this was to be a place for anyone who cared to pass the threshold. (That said, some potential patrons, it’s reported, linger on the boundary, a foot raised but the step never completed, incapacitated with uncertainty, perhaps, by the clank of spanners or the sight of men with beards.) For their part, and no doubt against their well-honed senses of order, the architects say they abandoned any inclinations towards total symmetry. They embraced instead the idea that a little roughness is not such a bad thing, and provided relief from the unrelenting sea of brown that a vast ceiling of rough-sawn timber can bring, by introducing moments of softness and colour.
Such moments include a slightly elevated niche with striped banquette seating and a Boy’s Own-style hand-painted mural depicting a gasping bell diver, octopi and fish. Another highlight is the exposed structural steelwork, but in egg-shell blue rather than uniform grey. There are also moments of humour: the bathroom door depicts a quirky stick figure-esqe illustration of him, her and what appears to be a paralytic paraplegic. Inside this room the floors were diligently ground back to expose the aggregate, before being finished with a gold-tinged sealant, and that’s not a euphemism. In the private dining room, you will actually find a little bit of Paris: fabric depicting an adventurer’s map of Africa was sourced from that city and applied to the walls, rendering them soft to the touch.
Let’s be honest: backing your bike into the curb and keeping a close eye might be one rule of motorcycling but motorcyclists, traditionally, aren’t big on rules (‘Let those who ride decide’; ‘If you think you don’t need a helmet, you probably don’t’; etc). If you don’t do rules, you’re probably not too concerned with the rules of architecture or design. The client here has clearly thought hard about the environment that was needed, and what’s been provided is a place for theatre. The catch cry for retailers these days is ‘experiential’. Those wondering what that means should come and look in on a workshop only lightly separated from the restaurant floor, or listen to the sputtering roar of a motorcycle coming to life as you’re sucking back your pea and ham soup.