Omar Aqeel brings "sensory fantasy" to NYC bar Only Love Strangers

Cobalt blue surfaces line this bar and restaurant in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, designed by Brooklyn-based Studio Omar Aqeel as a “retro-futuristic oasis”.

On the corner of East Houston and Allen streets, Only Love Strangers is a two-level cocktail lounge, restaurant and live-music venue that draws influences from 1960s and 70s surrealism.

Only Love Strangers restaurant entrance
Guests arriving at Only Love Strangers are greeted at a cantilevered host stand within a limewashed space

Studio Omar Aqeel blended references ranging from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey movie and Eileen Gray’s E-1027 villa to the sculptures of Alexander Calder for the interiors.

“A site of sensory fantasy – especially for discerning creatives – Only Love Strangers boasts a unique aesthetic that encourages endless discovery,” said the team.

Arched opening leading into a bar area lined with cobalt blue tiles
An arched opening leads into a bar area lined floor to ceiling with cobalt blue tiles

Guests who enter the 6,300-square-foot (585-square-metre) space are greeted at a cantilevered, brushed-aluminium host stand.

Straight ahead, through an arched opening, is a bar area enveloped in floor-to-ceiling cobalt blue tiles with blue grouting.

Banquette upholstered in Verner Panton's 1969 Black and White Optik textile
Banquettes are upholstered in Verner Panton’s 1969 Black and White Optik textile

A brushed-aluminium bar counter has rounded ends echoed by a light fixture above, and industrial-style bar stools provide seating for seven.

Banquettes are upholstered in Verner Panton’s 1969 Black and White Optik textile, adding space for eight more guests.

Dining niche with cobalt blue seat cushions
Cobalt blue continues as an accent on seat cushions in the main dining space

In the main dining space, left of the entrance, the walls are covered in earthy limewash that contrasts the bright blue cushions of built-in seats.

“Here, a voyeuristic egress allows guests to peek into the subterranean lounge, while domed dining niches with blue crescent-shaped booths provide a more intimate dining atmosphere,” the team said.

Private dining space decorated with a mural inspired by the Bauhaus abstract grid
The private dining space is decorated with a mural inspired by the Bauhaus abstract grid

The private dining space for up to 10 guests is decorated with a wall-to-wall, hand-painted mural inspired by the Bauhaus abstract grid.

With its own entrance, this space includes Ant chairs by Arne Jacobsen for Fritz Hansen, a vintage Makio Hasuike for Seccose metro dining table, and Maru pendant lighting by Ingo Maurer.

Cobalt blue reappears across the basement-level lounge, where almost every surface is dressed in the bold hue.

Aluminium accents continue in this space too, along with a variety of playful lights that add a warm glow to the cool-toned space.

Only Love Strangers by Omar Aqeel
The basement-level cocktail lounge is also lined almost entirely in cobalt blue

Pieces by New York-based artists and designers can be found throughout Only Love Strangers, including Max Simon, Blue Green Works, Yuyu Shiratori, Nico Anon, Superabundance, Gregory Beson, Adriana Gallo, Ash Allen, and Lucas Willing Studios.

The lounge also offers a live music program of local jazz talent in the evenings.

Cobalt blue lounge with tables and chairs around the perimeter
The lounge features aluminium furniture and hosts live music performances

The lively Lower East Side neighbourhood is packed with bars and restaurants, such as Italian spot Una Pizza Napoletana with “deco meets industrial” interiors.

Boutiques that have recently opened in the area include the Le Père menswear store by BoND and the Awake NY streetwear shop by Rafael de Cárdenas.

The photography is by Ori Harpaz.

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