Walking into Bar Luca, the recently opened venture from Peter and Julie Di Ciacca, the couple behind Riva Restaurants, is like walking into a slice of Italy in the 1920s. From the stunning mosaic on the floor of the entrance which was imported specially from Italy, to the luxurious décor, the Di Ciacca’s have put a definite touch of their home country of Italy, but haven’t made it into an Italianesque homage.
Bar Luca is the reincarnation of The Riverbank, a large, sports-oriented pub in Kilmarnock’s town centre, but bears very little resemblance to its predecessor.
Gone is the barn-like feel, community pub, replaced instead with a more comfortable boutique restaurant ambience. The company has invested over £350,000 in the premises, which it bought last May, although speculation wouldn’t be wrong that the final cost was more when you see the finish.
Originally a predominantly weekend retreat for Killie drinkers, the couple have re-floored the entire pub, leaving only a small section in the restaurant that could be saved with some TLC.
The entrance – which originally opened up in to a cavernous building – has been blocked off with the use of some stylish dark wood and a metal decorative grill, with the design influence coming from both Peter and BSD Design.
Brian Shields of BSD Design said, “We were tasked with creating a space that would not only cater for restaurant dining but would also have the ability to become a late night cocktail bar venue. The existing B-listed building had several original features that had to be enhanced to realise the full potential of the space. We designed the feature wine display wall and an intricate laser cut polished brass screen to create a visual break at the entrance with the introduction of concealed lighting to highlight the arch ways, fibrous plaster cornice work and decorative fittings to make an impressive statement.”
Customers who come in are greeted by a glass display of 16 wines – one from every Italian region – before being met by a member of staff. With all Riva’s restaurants, the Italian influence is clear, and this one’s name was inspired – we’re told – by Gianluca, the owners’ five-year-old son.
When it was the Riverbank, it was all open plan, however, as Bar Luca is predominantly a restaurant with a bar, in order for it to have good flow, they decided to section it off. “To have it open plan, we’d have had to have staff in each section, and that wouldn’t be feasible,” said Rory Watson, operations manager at Riva Restaurants.
A main feature of the venue is the bar centre piece. Shields said, “We were tasked with creating a space that would not only cater for restaurant dining but would also have the ability to become a late night cocktail bar venue. A cross section of high level fixed seating,antique brass screens, circular white marble table tops with feature copper lamps and a bespoke polished copper chandelier suspended over the centre makes an impressive statement.”
To give customers privacy in the main bar tables, Concept Metals created foot high, copper grills to attach on top of each banquette back, and also complementary metalwork in the rest of the restaurant.
The lighting was one of the most costliest things about the refurb as it’s entirely powered by LED lighting, which – while giving the manager complete control over the dimming of lights – is also very cost-efficient. Each section has a different style of light, with wall-attached lights focussing on the bar main area, with individual copper-topped lights at each table, but a more art deco lampshade style consisting of white circles at the front windows, which opens the bar up with natural light. Lighting companies Lights 2 and Chantelle Lighting worked together on the project. Lights 2 concentrated on the LED lighting, while Chantelle Lighting created the mood with the different styles and sizes of lampshades.
High bar tables with alternating white and black ceramic tops are used in the bar area to seat thirty odd people, whereas the tables for eating are lower, dark wood tables and are laid out for dining at all times apart from Friday and Saturday evenings, when the bar area is mainly for drinks. A lovely sable coloured leather is used on the banquettes, complemented by an olive coloured leather on the high chairs in the middle oasis. The tables by the window in the bar, are matched with bar chairs covered in the sable leather but with an aqua blue back covering, which pulls out the blue of the rest of the decor.
The colour scheme is something that shouldn’t work about Bar Luca, but does perfectly. A gorgeous vibrant aqua velvet covering, from Lecs Upholstery, is used on both the wall and the chairs in a secluded twin tabled section before you get to the restaurant, which is parallel to pillars painted in a serene olive colour. The wallpaper in the raised bar area is a green foliage pattern that Rory admits could have been dismissed as too busy, as it would have looked too much on a roll, but in the nearly twenty-foot high room, looks amazing.
The building itself was the former Ayrshire headquarters for the Bank of Scotland, so enjoys high ceilings, with intricate cornicing, and ceiling centrepieces. All of these, including the details at the top of the pillars that support the roof, have been picked out in contrasting colours. The bar front is tiled in a similar colour scheme to the entrance mosaic, and after ripping out the bar fittings, BSD put in place four x four window shelving to display wine and spirits. The LED lighting, by Lights 2, plays a big part in the back gantry, with a changing colour dependent on the time of day.
Jamie Ballantine of Lights 2 said, “The gantry was my favourite remit of the project. Our job was to glorify the grand scale of the bar gantry which sits underneath the traditionally tall ceiling found in buildings like this; Here we developed a unique colour changing back-light feature to silhouette products displayed on the hybrid brass and glass shelving in front. The light panels are each capable of individual and multiple appearances and moods, changing automatically throughout the day and in conjunction with ambient daylight.”
Behind the bar, a wire hanger display for wine glasses was also constructed, with a glass covered shelf above, to store extra wine and spirit stock.
The banquettes in the main bar back on to a raised area where a wooden break replaces what was a metal balustrade. To add some sparkle, the top third of the wood is covered in sparkly copper covering that is reminiscent of a 1920s flapper dress.
The main restaurant consists of two sections. One is cleverly secluded by partitioning, and could easily cater for 20/25 people. The part near the front of the restaurant is more open, and could seat the same. Again both sections’ banquettes have a tan coloured covering, but the secluded area has a different wall covering, this time, vibrant tropical birds. With this in mind, the buttons on the banquettes have been customised to reflect the colours. The window section is flanked on one side with glass, on the left with glass panelling, and opposite, three large mirrors. Brian Shields said, “In the restaurant dining area, it was important to keep diners comfortable in what is a large space. We felt that by creating the walnut stained timber screen with polished brass hexagon metal work and antique mirror gives the restaurant its own focal point. The overall combination of rich finishes with the variety of lighting techniques creates a warm enjoyable atmosphere that makes you feel comfortable in the space.”
To the back of the pub, there is a conservatory, which is used at the moment for overspill from the bar at weekends, but lends itself to a meeting room or private area. Underneath the conservatory, is a function room, with its own private bar, which Bar Luca has already taken a booking for. Although the private room opens out to a cobbled area, it actually doubles up as a car park for the pub, but Bar Luca has a license for tables and chairs at the front of the restaurant which catches the sun perfectly in the middle of the day.
Riva has big plans for its Kilmarnock operation. With such a big venue, it has also broken through into the floor above that had been used as a dumping ground for the previous owners, but Riva has refurbished it to a high commercial office standard and has a company of lawyers already in as tenants. Currently Bar Luca doesn’t serve breakfast, but that’s ‘in the schedule’. Watson said, “We hope the conservatory will attract some of the local businesses for meetings.”
Watch this space for more Riva openings as we’ve heard Gianluca’s little sister is grumpy as she hasn’t got a restaurant named after her yet, so the Di Ciaccas haven’t stopped yet.