Outside Austin's El Arbol

Outside Austin's El Arbol

Misty Adair
May 25, 2010

Preservation is at the heart of El Arbol Restaurant in Austin. From the ancient oak tree to the vintage enamel bricks, great care has been taken to preserve what was and to create something altogether new. An Argentinian eatery and parilla (grill) is unique, but what is even more extraordinary is the compliment of thoughtfully executed mid-century modern design at El Arbol.

When Andrew Sorrell decided to transform the old Gorbit Sprinkler building into a restaurant, it was in a state of decay after 14 years of neglect. The 1960's building was originally a studio and home for a landscape architect, as well as many other businesses over the last 50 years. Although the interior could not be salvaged, Sorrell maintained the exterior walls, including the original green enamel brick. Taking cues from the mid-century modern architecture, Sorrell and his design team continued the theme with a Latin twist both inside and out.

The front fa├žade of the building sets the tone for El Arbol, with its swanky layered architecture and Argentinian artwork. All the signage for the restaurant was designed by A. Genovese, a "fileteado" artist in Buenos Aires. Fileteado is an iconographic decorative art that has been popular in Buenos Aires since the early twentieth century. Colorful and ornate, typical designs feature flowers, dragons, birds and ribbons. Not only was the artwork imported from Argentina, but so were the front doors. The set of double doors used to grace an apartment building and still has the intricate brass mail slot that says "cartas".

The entire building is eye catching but the most stunning feature of the restaurant is its namesake, the 150 year old oak tree. Three decks wrap around the illuminated tree with careful attention to the livelihood of the tree. As a matter of fact, the foundation is an engineering marvel that allows for adequate root growth and an underground irrigation system. One of the custom designed railings was welded around a giant tree limb so it appears that the limb is threaded through the railing.

For a touch of drama, the rear entrance of the dining patio is framed by a carved teak Indian garden door from Four Hands Imports. The lower deck, made of tiger wood, features patio tables topped with limestone from Architectural Tile and Stone. The custom designed brick fence is open to allow for a breeze and it, along with the orange and white railings, give the patio a Palm Springs motel attitude. The top deck is all about poolside happy hour without the pool. Guests can relax on EMU orange powder-coated loungers and feel like they are sitting in a tree (k-i-s-s-i-n-g is optional).

Can't wait to see inside El Arbol? Look for our post next week with photos of the interior. . . or in Austin, stop by for dinner and a drink in the treetop.

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