First Look: Behind the Design, Buddha Bar DC

via Max Cook

There is nothing understated about Buddha Bar.

From the moment you find yourself standing in front of two enormous, yet intricately detailed, iron-clad gates, reading the brand’s etched signage, you just know that you are about to embark on a rather exceptional experience.

The play on monumental proportions continues once you step inside the door.  Don’t be fooled by the cozy entryway, with its stunning mosaic stone rugs, because as soon as you turn the corner to enter the bar and dining area, the ceilings rise and the floor plate drastically expands. Quite atypical for the DC-scene, Buddha Bar consists of 9,500-square-feet of space and has 22-foot high ceilings.

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Shades of maroon and crimson paint the interior, while mahogany-colored furnishings and a fully stocked bar help fill up the expansive envelope.  Oh, and the extra, extra-large, 18-foot onyx Buddha statue created by Mambo Art from Indonesia helps out a bit with that filling up too.  Opulence is truly abundant in every facet of this installation.

Buddha Bar can seat about 220 people between the lounge/bar and dining area, and will be able to add another 50 to that count when they open the outdoor dining patio in the near future.  All of the seating clusters featured in the lounge/bar area have ‘seats’ that are low to the ground, typical for a place trying to encourage intimate conversation; however, not all lounge/bars can say that the fabric covering their intimate seating clusters resembles that of my great-grandmothers living room sofa (velvets and damask galore).  I guess you could say that I was hoping for a bit more when it came to the textile selections from Paris.  With all of the options available I was really expecting to see something truly fresh and rather unexpected.  Though one thing is for sure, the overall upholstering job for this space was quite impressive.  I mean, with over 700 yards of fabric to work with just in drapery alone, Yvette Irene of Alexandria and her staff really shine.

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The dining room is full of 6-round and 4-round tabletops and banquet seating flanks the perimeter.  Each chair is clad in synthetic leather and is decorated with numerous nails, darts, and studs.  If you take all of the seating needed to fill the interior of Buddha Bar, that makes just about 9,000 turns in all.  Unfortunately, the tableware wasn’t all that unique (i.e. the chargers and tea light candles), however, I did think about plotting a way to take home a pair of the iconic Buddha Bar chopsticks.

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I was informed that the wood flooring is local, which of course put a smile on my face. But was really surprised to see that there was no dance floor.  Even though they have an eye-catching, floating DJ-booth made of acrylic (perhaps 3-form), make no effort to mask the visually disruptive sound system, and will have the brand’s world-famous DJ from Paris here for a month, I was told by the owners that a dance floor would go entirely against the concept of Buddha Bar.  Buddha Bar is not a club, but 90% restaurant and 10% lounge/bar.  I guess with all of that incredibly exciting music people will just have to dance in their seats.

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In order to bring a sense of warmth into such a large place, the lighting plan would have to be complex and well woven.  This task in itself could either make or break the atmosphere, and Buddha Bar definitely got this one right (really, really right).  In addition to the ambient lighting of three-detailed ceiling planes and cage-wired pendants hugging the bar, Buddha Bar creates unique-vignettes for wall-mounted sconces, and brings their spectacular chandeliers to the center of attention; all done of course without missing a singular detail.  Each gigantic chandelier consists of 313 hand-created shades and tassels.

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Not only did the lighting in Buddha Bar impress, but I also truly appreciated the architectural elements created by the few, structural and complimentary, gold faux-finished beams.  One of the most difficult things to deal with when designing an interior space is figuring out how to overcome the buildings obstacles, such as its structural barriers and codes, in order to see your vision through.  I have to say that Buddha Bar did not let anything get in their way.  I never once felt that any of their decorative or conceptual elements were hindered by their constraints.

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You may be reading this and thinking, gee, I guess Samantha did not positively perceive the design of Buddha Bar DC all that much.  But, please note that this is actually not true at all.  In addition to being overwhelmed by the global phenomenon in itself that is Buddha Bar, I also feel that the designers truly did a phenomenal job capturing its overall appeal.

DWA of Paris, France created the look for the DC-based Buddha Bar, in addition to all of the chain’s other locales (there are nine in total), and Gensler helped out locally.  Although every location is designed to be different in order to reflect the local flair, it is quite difficult to shy away from the brand’s Asian-inspired aesthetic – I mean, it is called Buddha Bar for a reason.  However, I must say that I greatly value the restraint taken in the design.  It was clear to me that DWA wanted to be consistent in their approach, making Buddha Bar look and feel like Buddha Bar, without overdoing it – finding that sweet spot all designs dream of.

The moment you walk into Buddha Bar you knew exactly what its intentions are, yet, the moment you leave you are flooded by the eagerness to experience it all over once again.

Buddha Bar is located at 455 Massachusetts Avenue NW.

via Max Cook

Samantha can often be found daydreaming by the Rothkos of the East Gallery, sketching store facades along 14th, and snapping photos with her vintage polaroid at 9:30 club concerts. Since moving to DC in 2007 to get an MFA in Interior Design, her eyes can’t seem to be peeled away from the beautiful things in this city. Send any visual art, architecture, or design related news her way via Samantha (at)

4 thoughts on “First Look: Behind the Design, Buddha Bar DC

  1. Yeah I love how I can hear everyone milling about outside and valet guys whistling for cabs at 1 am on a Tuesday from my apartment. The double-parking on Mass ave on the weekends so that people have to drive into oncoming lanes of traffic was well thought out at well and adds to the ambiance.

  2. Yeah I TOO am impressed at the incessant whistling capabilities of the valets and the inconsiderate dbl parking on Mass Ave. I am especially impressed at how they hold the line to make it seem like it is packed. Need I mention the loud music until 3am on weekend that I hear in my nearly $3000K a month apartment.

  3. There is an ANC 6 meeting tonight at 7pm at 214 Mass Ave. NE where issues relating to Buddha Bar will be addressed. I attended last month and have had some communications with the bar regarding several issues, including the valet stand, their soon-to-come outdoor patio seating, and noise issues from my apartment across the street and even got them to alter their voluntary agreement to limit the patio hours during the week. I suggest if you have issues to show up, or at a minimum contact ANC members Charley Docter and Keith Silver to lodge a complaint. I would also suggest contacting the Department of Public Works, the ABRA Board (alcohol regulation) and the Metro Police Department with any complaints. It is really now or never to get involved as the same issues are being addressed with the Engine Six Bar coming soon right across the street.