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Lounge of a Different Color

1972 is alive and well at the bottom of a pool

By Michele Jenkins

Nestled within the funky confines of the Phoenix Hotel on the fringe of the Tenderloin, the recently opened Backflip Cocktail Lounge offers an all-encompassing, wall-to-wall turquoise camp experience. Although some patrons may see tacky where campy was intended, and trash instead of kitsch, no one but an interior designer with a critical eye can hold out for long against the allure of stretching out on blue shiny-vinyl chaises longues while sipping pink foofy drinks.

The brainchild of Fun Design, the creators of the über-suave Red Room at the Commodore Hotel, the synthetic aquatic experience could easily be dubbed the Aquamarine Room. It is difficult to believe that someone not only intended this look--complete with translucent interior walls, a logless gas fireplace and clear plastic aprons for the waitresses--but spent a great deal of time (and money) to achieve it. The only thing more ludicrous is that such an intentionally recycled motif can come across as something unique.

Now in its fifth month of operation, Backflip has quickly gained notoriety as a swank haven for lounge lizards and hipsters and more recently has been recognized for Chef Sam Mogannami's exotic dim sum-style cocktail cuisine. But the biggest draw continues to be the interior decor, as would-be drinkers and diners line up and down the street for the chance to judge for themselves: Is it art or atrocity? camp or crap? swank or sunk?

Designers Craig Walters and Charles Doell first conceived of the pool-inspired cocktail bar several years ago, originally intending to open it themselves. But when Chip Conley, of Joie de Vivre Hotels, wanted a face lift for the Phoenix's restaurant (formerly Miss Pearl's Jam House), he gave them full artistic control over the redecorating, as well as part ownership. "Which means we have a say in things," says Walters, "but don't have to be there until 2am every night."

Fun Design not only designed and had built each powder-blue shag rug and white plastic chair, but also created the food concept, recruited clothing designer Al Abayan to design matching shiny-blue uniforms for waiters and chose a drag-queen hostess. "We wanted a surreal experience right down to the employees," explains Walters.

So far there are no plans for either a Green Room or Purple Room, according to Walters. But Fun Design is currently revamping club DV8 (the Black and Gray Room?) and will continue to have a say in the future of the lounge from the blue lagoon.

Backflip, 601 Eddy St.,is open Tue.-Sun. 5pm-2am; 415/771-3547.

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From the September 1997 issue of the Metropolitan.

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