During the Feudal Period of Japan, a rōnin was a samurai without a master and while this doesn’t apply to RŌNIN literally, the idea behind the restaurant draws inspiration from this concept. There is a method behind the madness at RŌNIN, which was created by Chef Matt Abergel as a place to test his creativity and cook with more freedom and variety. RŌNIN opened two years after Matt’s first restaurant, Yardbird, and it’s the second restaurant designed together with Sean Dix.
The interiors of RŌNIN are reminiscent of traditional Japanese bars. The space is intimate, small, and special attention is paid to all the small details. In its early stages, it was meant to be a standing only bar but later became a 14-seat bar on one side of the restaurant with standing space on the other. RŌNIN currently has 24 seats total, with 14 seats exclusive to reservations and 10 bar stools for walk-in guests. A matte anthracite steel sliding door with a wooden handle serves as the entrance to one long bar, crafted from 150-year-old kiln-dried Japanese timber selected by Matt and Sean. The bar is frequently hand sanded by Matt, reminiscent of his days working at Masa in New York City.
Sean Dix created custom, leather lined bar seats to fill the restaurant. Their design was inspired by the seats of 70’s muscle cars and of classic smoking rooms. A seat at the end of the bar will bring attention to the illuminated shelves of rare Japanese whiskies and artisanal spirits, and the fridge to the right was custom-made to fit under the stairs of the building.
Upon entering the nondescript entrance, you’ll hear a playlist of reggae, soul, and funk. Acoustics play a big part in the RŌNIN experience, which is why the walls, ceiling, and bathroom doors are all covered in heavy waxed, military canvas – similar to a heavy duty version of VANS canvas material. The bathrooms are completely mirrored, floor to ceiling, with stainless steel toilets sourced from a supplier to prisons.
The lighting throughout the restaurant is dim and unassuming, which creates a special atmosphere reminiscent of a speakeasy. And soft spotlights are placed above the art that hangs on the walls – photos by skateboard photographer Mike O’Meally, which serve as a nod to Matt’s skate background.