In 2010, we transformed the Mexican-themed El Paso bar on Old Street in east London into a lively bar, workspace and diner. We wanted to create a welcoming space that met the needs of the many nomadic professionals who needed somewhere they could comfortably work outside of the home.
To start, we did some research into ‘work styles’, both contemporary and historical. During our residency at the V&A, we uncovered the original designs and drawings for the ‘Elephant & Castle’, a since-demolished 19th century pub in Lambeth designed by the architect Alfred A. Webbe. His drawings revealed an incredible mixed-use building divided up into three main areas: a ‘public’ space for drinking; ‘private’ areas for the pub’s regular patrons who used the watering hole as an extension of their home and office, and a large space for group meetings and community events.
With this in mind, we re-designed El Paso to create an environment where people could be comfortable and productive, but where they could also relax and socialise. With free Wi-Fi and laptop plug-in points throughout, we designed a brightly coloured, double-height space with a variety of different areas, both open and intimate, for working, socialising and dining. On the mezzanine level, gigantic cut-out moustaches and sombreros provided a break from the otherwise intimate ‘meeting booths’ and added a playful, interactive element to the design in keeping with El Paso’s Mexican theme. To tie-in with the local creative community, an open-faced residency studio hosted emerging designers from the local area during the day. A range of books, design magazines and art manuals were also on hand for anyone to borrow in the bar’s library.
We worked with Cannon Griffin on the fabrication of the El Paso interior. For the furniture, we combined a mixture of bespoke items with carefully-selected vintage pieces to meet a variety of needs. In the evenings, to facilitate the transition from daytime workspace into evening bar, old desk lamps were swapped for a mass of bare pendant lightbulbs. We also provided lockers so people could stow away their laptops and enjoy their evening unencumbered.
Downstairs, we designed a multi-disciplinary gallery and performance space below El Paso, suitably named The Gopher Hole.
“While Mexican food is probably more associated with Britney Spears’ infamously dark Taco Bell days than art, El Paso in east London is set to change that. The space was given a total overhaul by Aberrant Architecture in November and has since become a space where designers and artists can work, natter, eat and drink.”