Quiet Revolution

How multidisciplinary designer William Emmerson turned his talents to creating one of L.A.’s most beautiful restaurants.

One of the most stunning restaurant interiors in Los Angeles is nearly hiding in plain sight. Encanto Restaurant and Bar isn’t tucked away on an under-the- radar side street, or intentionally hard to find. Instead, it sits on a bustling stretch of Hillhurst Avenue in Los Feliz. But what used to be known as the low-key, family-friendly neighborhood restaurant Mexico City has quietly undergone a dramatic transformation over the past three-plus years.

“I know it looks like it’s been here since the building was built in 1967, but all of this is new,” says co-owner and multidisciplinary designer William Emmerson, pointing to exterior features that extend from the afrormosia wood and brass-adorned soffit to the stone cladding that matches the original. It’s a delicate dance to update a venue where locals have developed attachments. So, Emmerson and team reconstructed the midcentury building with a scheme that retains a sense of continuity in the streetscape and community. “I call this the ‘Batman sign,'” the London native says of the illuminated rooftop sign that’s been a presence on Hillhurst just south of Los Feliz Boulevard for 55 years. “Encanto” in neon was added to the top portion and the entire piece was cleaned and restored, but also aged “so that it didn’t look too new,” he adds.

Inside it’s a different story. There might still be comfortable banquettes where friends chat over chips and guacamole and craft cocktails, but the former Mexico City is nearly unrecognizable as Encanto. The warm supper club feel—thanks to elements such as custom Ipe wood wall panels and Indian limestone surfaces—makes for a fitting backdrop for the restaurant’s contemporary Mexican food and beverage program.

The 24-seat oval bar topped with hand-forged pewter reflects Emmerson’s focus on bespoke elements, while black nickel-plated bar stools from Amsterdam reveal his expertise in vintage furniture that he developed as the owner of the erstwhile Emmerson Troop furniture gallery on Beverly Boulevard. The art on display alone arguably merits a visit, with gems including works by Jasper Johns, Ellsworth Kelly, Charles Garabedian, and Peter Lodato. L.A. ceramic artist Alex Reed fabricated the installation that Emmerson dubs “The Great Divide.”

Here, Emmerson’s M.O. is “stealing from the past to make a timeless environment, and the ability to lose yourself within a space that’s seductive and moody,” he says of Encanto. In a trend-driven world of quickly dated restaurants, that takes a certain kind of magic.

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