Behind the design of Spago Hollywood, the original Spago

Barbara Lazaroff Restaurant Design
The design of the original Spago, Spago Hollywood

Barbara Lazaroff at Spago Hollywood during an event for Liz TaylorBarbara Lazaroff and Wolfgang Puck’s Spago was the restaurant that changed fine dining. With it, they introduced the casual food concept, new at that time.

Other places may have embraced the idea of an exhibition kitchen, but Lazaroff took it to new heights. She treated the open kitchen like a theatrical stage, complete with lighting that spotlighted the action.  ~Michael Bauer, The Classics of California Cuisine, November 11, 2019

It was the first collaboration between Barbara and Wolfgang — and it started a trend that changed our attitudes about fine dining in terms of cuisine and décor. The Lazaroff/Puck transformation of the stuffy and traditional to the friendly, fun and colorful was coined the “Spago-ization of America” by the Los Angeles Times.

To quote Wolfgang (and as printed in the book, Restaurants that work: case studies of the best in the industry by Martin E. Dorf):

First, I decide what the overall direction of the cuisine will be. For example, is it primarily a fish restaurant, or a Chinese restaurant, or Mediterranean-inspired? Then the design develops, most importantly incorporating the equipment needs and the flow of the kitchen. Then Barbara adds her personality and distinct style, and I’ve learned not to get too involved at that juncture!

To complement Wolfgang’s new, casual food concept, Barbara designed one of the first open and bright dining rooms where everyone could see and be seen Lazaroff also introduced the first exhibition kitchen in the United States for a fine dining establishment, and emphasized the expansive view of the city from high above Sunset Boulevard. Overall, Barbara Lazaroff’s Spago design theme was based on the relaxed feeling of a California beach house — a cozy getaway in the midst of the city.

In Barbara’s own words, as cited in the book Restaurants that work:

When people first walk into Spago, they are surprised to see how casual it is. There is so much hype an publicity surrounding Spago that it is difficult to imagine how comfortable it is inside. Spago has a very homey, friendly welcoming atmosphere. Entering Spago, customers are drawn to the lush, exotic floral displays, the bustle of activity and divine aromas emanating from the open kitchen, and the sounds of laughter and lively conversation in the dining room — the animate rhythm of the restaurant. As the patrons further examine the room, they may be surprised by the simplicity of the decor. Spago is a rather humble design, but all the elements seem to work to put people happily at ease, and help even the first-time diners feel as though they are part of an intimate club.

It was one of the first open and bright dining rooms where everyone could see and be seen. The tables are very close together, encouraging people to talk with their neighbors. Utilizing blond woods and other natural materials, I wanted to create the relaxed feeling of a California beach house in the midst of the city. The decor is a backdrop for the changing displays of contemporary art, the floral arrangements for the expansive view of Hollywood thorough the windows along Sunset Boulevard, for the tempting display of pastries, and especially for the guest and the food, with should always be center stage!

It’s hard to top a legend, which is what grew up around the original Spago in West Hollywood from the day it opened 17 years ago. Chef Wolfgang Puck lured a celebrity crowd to dine on gourmet pizza and other culinary delicacies, and his business partner and wife, Barbara Lazaroff, ASID, transformed a neglected shack above a the Sunset Strip into what became the prototype for many California restaurants; a sparkling exhibition kitchen, art-filled interior, and easy indoor-outdoor flow of space.  ~Interiors magazine, July 1998

About opening night at this original Spago
An excerpt from a review of the book Chefs, Drugs, and Rock & Roll, on Daily Beast, When Wolfgang Puck’s Spago Was the Epicenter of L.A.’s Social Scene, published Feb. 27, 2018.

“When the doors first opened,” remembers Barbara Lazaroff, “I was still shoeless standing on top of the kitchen counter getting the track lights correct. I thought of it as a stage. I used to study theater lighting and design; that’s what I did. So I said, ‘That’s my star. These are my stars. I’m lighting them up.’”

Some of the design of Spago Hollywood

Scenes from the construction of Spago Hollywood