Taniya Nayak, the home interior guru who serves as designer-host of HGTV’s “House Hunters on Vacation’’ and the Food Network’s “Restaurant: Impossible,’’ knows her way around a bar. At Julep, the recently-opened Financial District watering hole that she designed, the effervescent Nayak insists on mixing up a batch of mint juleps - at 11 a.m.
“Well, we at least have to try them,’’ she says as she starts dropping fresh mint leaves into a glass. “It is the signature drink here.’’
Nayak, the Milton-based interior designer who gained fame on the show “Designed to Sell,’’ has shifted her direction from residential spaces to restaurants, and Julep is her latest challenge. The club, which formerly housed the Revolution Rock Bar, was once a grungy space designed for a late night and weekend crowd. Banquettes were upholstered in faux cowhide, there was graffiti on the ceiling, and vinyl-wrapped pillars sporting cowboy-esque stars.
“It was time for a change,’’ Nayak says. “You know how a club has a lifespan of three to four years? They passed that.’’
Nayak was brought in to handle the redesign not only because of her credentials, but also she is married to one of the club’s owners, Brian O’Donnell. For the record, she said working together did not result in marital strain and she has worked on some of O’Donnell’s other ventures, such as Petit Robert Central and 88 Wharf.
In transforming it from Revolution Rock Bar to Julep, O’Donnell and his business partners wanted to turn the bar from a gritty rock club to a chic post-work hot spot for the neighborhood’s professional crowd with a focus on craft cocktails.
Nayak’s mission was to create a space that appeals to the demographic.
“Just before I started the design, I had taken a trip to New Orleans,’’ Nayak says. “I was so inspired there that as soon as I heard that I’d be working on this space, I knew I wanted the space to be laced with the same kind of elegance and charm as the places I saw in New Orleans.’’
Despite the fact that a mint julep is more closely associated with Kentucky than Louisiana, Nayak loosely translated her New Orleans inspiration into design features for Julep such as classic chandeliers crafted in contemporary chrome, slabs of stained wood layered into patterns on the walls, and bold circular wallpaper straight out of the late 1960s. She describes the look as a “mod-ish hodgepodge.’’
Just as with the shows that she designs for, Nayak was faced with a steep time challenge for completing the project. The bar closed immediately after Halloween and opened 2 1/2 weeks later. The basement level of the bar is yet to be completed.
“I have to say that one of the things I pride myself on in design is having a balance of masculine and feminine,’’ she says. “I feel like this place has a lot of masculinity with the wood texture, but then there’s the femininity of the chandeliers.’’
It was only two years ago that Nayak’s primary focus was on residential spaces. She worked as a designer on HGTV’s “Designed to Sell,’’ in addition to designing for private clients. Since that time she’s quickly moved toward commercial spaces.
“I have a new passion right now, and that’s restaurant design,’’ she says. “There are thousands of brilliant designers out there who can do restaurant design. But I’m finding that this is a niche for me. It’s what my husband and I talk about all the time.’’
Nayak also has restaurant experience from her time working as a bartender. Although as she finishes mixing her mint juleps, her husband points out that she’s using the wrong glasses for the cocktail.
“I guess I’m just a washed-up bartender,’’ Nayak replies with a smile.Christopher Muther can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_ Muther.