Retro Realness


The Saucy Selection of Fugazzi

What do you get when you pluck the spirit of an Italian diner from a cozy corner in New York and place it in the cool suburb of Rosebank, Johannesburg, with a touch of cultural iconography and a whole lot of red? Certo – Fugazzi! Dripping in saucy seduction, Fugazzi was designed to channel the return of all things retro only a crimson booth can inspire. As a curation which inspires in its patrons a nostalgia that has never felt quite so modern, Sketch Interior Architects have produced an admirable nod to the charm at the heart of this special meeting place.

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Fugazzi finds itself seated in a central and eye-catching location within the Rosebank retail scene. The spot was previously designed for and used as a Puma store, after which it turned into a pop-up KFC concept store, and lastly (and briefly) an art gallery… but that was all before the prime potential for a restaurant was recognised. The site was originally intended for retail purposes, meaning that the infrastructure was not ideal and lacked key elements that any restaurant needs: an appropriately-sized DB board and gas connection for the kitchen equipment, as well as extraction and restrooms. Essential to Fugazzi’s design was not only visual appeal but also functionality, and so these missing elements were crafted and added to make the restaurant run like a well-oiled machine that maintains its allure.

‘Red sauce joint’ meets Joburg

The team at Sketch were tasked with designing a ‘red sauce joint’ (pizza, pasta, all those good things) the SA way. In the heart of Rosebank, Johannesburg, the small restaurant space had to include a minimum of one hundred seats, a feature kitchen, a showstopper bar, and a lively seating area. It was to be an all-day diner-style restaurant that offers breakfast, lunch, dinner, the cocktails that accompany them, and the desserts that follow. The cherry on top of these offerings was to be, naturally, the style – fun and vibrant but still approachable, open to anyone looking for a fresh take on the quick-stepped diner style of yesterday. To achieve this, Sketch chose mid-century modern as the backdrop and layered it with a tongue-in-cheek 1980s atmosphere. They wanted to reimagine both classic and disco, Tom Selleck and Madonna, Eames-level design, and NYC lived-in rustic. Think bright red and baby pink outlined with thick black lines, cone bras, and pasta sauce. It is an easy Sunday afternoon and wild Friday night, a family outing and an after-work party, the best of both all rolled into one. Nonna would be proud.

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The name is a derivation of the slang term ‘fugazi/fugazy’, said to have been initially used by Italian communities in New York and New Jersey before becoming a part of the urban dictionary thanks to the film Donnie Brasco in the 1990s, which refers to something as fake or messed-up. The irony: there’s nothing false about this fine feasting facility.

No artificial (design) ingredients

ith this concept as the driving force, Sketch was determined to design a space that would embody it wholeheartedly. Because of the limited space, every millimetre was precious, every nook and cranny utilised (not unlike the true nature of a New York diner). The project was pursued alongside client Garry Hollywood from Colada Club and graphic designer Leanie Nortjé from Fount Studio to create a brand that would transition seamlessly from its graphic identity to the built environment as a flawless restaurant experience. The most notable example of this integration is the gallery wall installation featuring custom graphics inspired by vintage Italian settings and culture, and iconic posters from the ‘80s and ‘90s. Other elements that were key in realising the mood and look were the custom-designed shopfitting for the bar, the booths, the exposed kitchen, as well as custom-designed bar chairs and lights. Almost nothing is off the shelf in the Fugazzi design; everything is bespoke and specially made for this project or customised to fit the bill.

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On a mission to make Mamma proud The site may never have been intended to accommodate customers in this way, but once the makeover began, Fugazzi progressed in leaps and bounds (with the total turnaround time being only 7 months). Walls were reconstructed to meet the necessary fire ratings, a portion of the ceiling had to be modified to allow for the glass brick collage that makes up the façade and feature entrance, and interior illumination had to be reimagined to bring the design intention to fruition. Sketch didn’t stop there with the mission for creating magic. For a restaurant that was made to seat hundreds of people every day, the aesthetic also had to be durable in its divinity. The choice of key materials such as genuine leather upholstery, stained oak wainscoting, and glass brick walls makes for subtle practicality at maximum beauty.

Walking out with memorable Bolognese stains and flashes of disco decadence gleaming in your eyes, if there’s one thing that will stay on everyone’s lips after a night at Fugazzi, it can only be: ‘Arrivederci!’

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