In the age of Instagram, the defining feature of a bar is often determined not by reviews, tastes or intent, but by smart phone. While some spaces are designed with this express purpose in mind, there are certain objects that become inadvertent icons through their unwitting “Instagram-ability.” In this series, PUNCH shares the stories behind the bar world’s most viral landmarks.
At Trou Normand, the critically acclaimed restaurant from Bar Agricole’s Thad Vogler, representations of women adorn nearly every wall of the interior. But there’s one in particular that draws more glances than the rest.
A larger than life reclining nude presides over the bar, commanding the attention of the entire dining room—no small feat in the striking Art Deco space housed within San Francisco’s former Pacific Telephone Building. While it’s perhaps unsurprising that a naked figure incites a snap-happy response from guests seated below, with its minimalist lines and classical composition, this portrait represents more than just fodder for the Instagram-inclined.
“When [Thad] was first working out the idea for Trou Normand, he knew he wanted to do a classic nude over the bar kind of concept,” says Erin Knutson, the art director responsible for much of the restaurant’s visual identity, from the menus to the logo to the curation. “That sort of trope was our starting point.”
Drawing on traditional centerpieces of 19th-century saloons as inspiration, in particular the nude painting that hangs above the bar at Keens Steakhouse in New York, Knutson commissioned artist Ebecho Muslimova to come up with a 21st-century interpretation. The painting was then enlarged and applied to the wall by San Francisco-based New Bohemia Signs, a firm specializing in hand-painted signage, using a pigment specially mixed with raw milk for a more matte appearance. Down to her material essence, the reclining woman exhibits the restaurant’s ethos, which, through its meticulously sourced spirits and specialized approach to ingredients, offers a turn-of-the-century experience reimagined in a contemporary context.
Just as Miss Keens—as the portrait is better known—became the calling card of the iconic New York steakhouse, Trou Normand’s mural has become the face of the Soma neighborhood restaurant. But while the identity of the sitter in the former remains unknown to this day, the same cannot be said of the figure perched above the Trou Normand bar.
“We actually used Katherine—Thad’s wife—as the face of the woman,” says Knutson.