Situated on the edge of Austin, Texas’ Lady Bird Lake, Bacalar emerges as a vibrant neighborhood restaurant from chef Gabe Erales in the historic Rainey Street district.
Designed by Merrill Alley, principal of development and interiors at Urbanspace, in partnership with Urbanspace Design Studio, Bacalar pays homage to the culture of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, paying particular attention to its natural beauty and the rich history of the Maya people.
The two-story, 6,700-square-foot indoor space offers approximately 215 seats and is complemented by two patios that span an additional 2,500 square feet. Despite its size, Alley says the team endeavored for “guests to feel like they are dining at someone’s home. We accomplished this through the use of tactile materials in the furnishings like leather, wood, and slubby woven fabrics, then layered in plants and candlelight and a selection of found objects that make the space feel personal.”
Ancient Maya stone carvings and symbolic imagery serve as the backbone of Bacalar’s branding, and the graphic style is incorporated into the space through various pieces of artwork.
The restaurant also embraces Maya and Mexican spirituality, specifically the idea that there is more than meets the eye. This is evident in curated details like candlelit altars of tequila, woven light fixtures, rug designs inspired by the Maya calendar, and a locally carved 11-foot-tall carving that references the Bacalar totem.
“We knew it would feel inauthentic to lean too heavily into the rustic bohemian look commonly associated with the region because it would feel out of place in its modern environment,” Alley adds. “Yet, we knew we couldn’t build a sterile glass box because it wouldn’t have the warmth this cuisine is known for.”