Alice in Wonderland: the Oh-so Glamorous Alice & Fifth
A combination of restaurant and ‘future theatre’, Alice & Fifth is a new destination in Sandton designed to transport you to an escapist fantasy world.
It’s quite common in big cities around the world – especially where space is limited – to find unassuming underground basements transformed into ‘glamorous wonderlands where one’s imagination can run free’, as Georgina Spiliopoulos of the Milk & Honey Group puts it. Part of the magic of being in New York or London is the experience of descending into what appears to be little more than a dingy urban vault, and discovering glamour, fantasy and sophistication on the other side of the door.
The Milk & Honey Group recently launched Alice & Fifth in the Sandton Sun Hotel to bring some of that magic to Johannesburg. They worked with branding maestros Jana + Koos and interior designer Tristan du Plessis of Studio A to help them realise their vision of romance, mystery, fantasy and escapism – and the finished product is indeed fantastical.
Because of their close professional relationship, Jana + Koos and Studio A have worked on a number of projects together including the Mesh Club and A Streetbar Named Desire in Johannesburg, and the Gorgeous George Hotel in Cape Town. As a result, the branding and interiors overlap and complement one another to a level of detail and complexity seldom seen.
‘Alice & Fifth is not a run-of-the-mill restaurant,’ says Spiliopoulos. They’re calling it a supper club: not a nightclub, not a restaurant, not a burlesque venue, but a bit of all these things and more. Spiliopoulos describes it as a ‘mix of restaurant and future theatre’.
‘When our patrons step into Alice & Fifth, they can expect to be transported into the roaring 1920s, but with a dark, warped, sexy, futuristic theatre twist,’ she says. ‘Our visitors won’t only taste our delicious food, but they’ll become immersed into our world – leaving their inhibitions, expectations and realities at the door.’
Jana + Koos explain a bit of the thinking behind the concept. They settled on the name Alice & Fifth, which is essentially the address of the Sandton Sun (with the postcode 2031, a number that at once places it and references a future date) because it speaks of a kind of duality. ‘Because it’s a corner, it suggests the bridging of two worlds – an element of surprise,’ explain the design duo.
The idea is that it’s never one thing. It’s not a restaurant nor a nightclub, neither futuristic nor nostalgic, but somehow all of these things and more. And on top of that, the name also makes one think of Alice in Wonderland – a story about a character who explored a fantasy world.
The brass nameplates at the front door mirror each other, playing with the idea of a looking glass. They’re a sign that ‘things are starting to flip’, say Jana + Koos, who designed a lot of the strategic touchpoints beyond the logos and branding, including the wallpaper. Then you move through a kind of entrance tunnel, which Du Plessis describes as ‘that moment of pause between the attachments of reality and the night full of possibilities that lies ahead’. Its ceiling is a shimmery, watery ‘handmoulded single piece of stainless steel painstakingly made in Cape Town’.
To create the ‘sumptuous and decadent’ world of Alice & Fifth, Du Plessis says he took his inspiration for the decor from the cabaret clubs of the 1920s and New York. ‘I brought that into the contemporary world of African luxury,’ he says. ‘We used lush velvets and handpicked rare marbles across various tonal spectrums to infuse the space with colour, and created a dramatic backdrop for this using handcrafted walnut wall panelling as well as curved French panelling and exposed raw concrete columns that lend support to the Sandton Sun,’ he says. The latter, he suggests, introduce ‘a raw, unrefined, underground edge’. He also contrasts vintage and contemporary elements to evoke the duality that Jana + Koos mention.
‘All of Alice & Fifth is a stage,’ continues Du Plessis. ‘The space was designed so that the performers can walk over bars, contort behind booth seating and interact with the patrons on a more personal level than may be expected. There is even a chandelier made up of a few hundred tassels and rigged with an integrated acrobatic ring, allowing the performers to quite literally swing from it.’
The blending of heady experience and performance is designed, as Jana + Koos say, to leave you with the sense that no two visits to Alice & Fifth will be the same. Afterwards, you should feel like ‘you’ve woken up from a good nightmare’. Isn’t that what everybody wants from a night out?