When Café Lurcat and Bar Lurcat on Naples’ posh Fifth Avenue South closed in 2018, Cameron Mitchell Restaurants was too busy to consider another fine-dining spot two blocks away from its then 2-year-old Ocean Prime restaurant.
But developer Phil McCabe urged CMR President and COO David Miller to take a hard look at the distinctive two-story building at 494 Fifth Ave. S. It offered something no other Fifth Avenue building had: Naples’ only second-floor dining option, with outdoor seating.
“I call it the catbird seat overlooking Fifth Avenue South,” Miller says, adding that they worked for a year on a deal before opening Del Mar Naples in late December, making it award-winning CMR’s 97th restaurant. “The building is spectacular. It’s an iconic, stand-alone building.”
Second-floor dining was grandfathered into city codes, making this the only second-floor dining spot on the eclectic, heavily trafficked, pedestrian-friendly street.
“It didn’t have a defined look, but it was sparse and cold,” Mitchell says. “We gutted it … When you looked at it, it screamed Mediterranean.”
So they opted for Mediterranean coastal cuisine, with influences from Italy, Spain and Morocco, due to their success with island bars. They worked with Chicago-based interior design firm Knauer Inc. to create a warm, comfortable, lush space. “We had a vision and Mark (Knauer) is great about listening to our vision and bringing in his own touch,” Miller says.
They ripped out the staircase and took everything down to its studs. They opened the first-floor ceilings and painted over the exterior Tuscan yellow with soft white. “The tricky part was the second floor. The ceilings were 20 feet high,” Miller says, adding that they spent $700 per square foot to refurbish the nearly 9,200-square-foot space, or about $6.4 million in improvements.
They brought the ceilings down, added contemporary, slatted woodwork that covers ducts and acoustic tile and added two olive trees in the center.
The old staircase was replaced with a modern, lighted version with wood slats, stone walls and a lighted mural wall. To add warmth, softer candle-inspired pendants hang over tables, while stunning clear glass pendants in varied sizes and hammered copper pendants highlight the two bars, and pinpoint spotlights allow diners to read menus at tables. An Amish carpenter created tables from reclaimed oak, with no hard edges to bruise legs, while chairs throughout feature twine.
There are two floors of dining, a covered patio and second-floor balcony that feature dining tables and soft couches in a cocktail lounge atmosphere, bars on each floor and a 24-seat private dining room that opens out to the outdoor terrace. Both floors open to the outdoors, and soft lighting was added to highlight the distinctive curved façade, making it a standout at night. “We try to personalize every restaurant we do for the market, even if it’s an old concept. This is a new concept designed for Naples,” Miller says, noting it’s nothing like Del Mar SoCal Kitchen in Ohio.
The huge $60,000 Grillworks hearth, wood-fired grill and expo kitchen allow the chef to be on stage as diners watch the hustle and bustle. There’s also a 500-bottle wine display. Throughout, area rugs were added to porcelain wood tile, increasing the acoustic functionality.
“Music and people’s voices create energy, but you need to be able to hear,” Miller explains.
Local artists’ works add pops of color. CMR also hired award-winning Naples garden designer Jack Barnwell of C3 Gardens to add plants and 60 colorful planters and maintain them weekly. Barnwell added white highlights, hung orchids above first-floor diners, brought in hundreds of hardy plants such as bromeliads and palms, and designed a stunning entryway that features a calming waterfall, curvy pavers, gray stones and colorful plants. “They wanted a very Naples, tropical, fun, lush feel,” Barnwell says, adding that anything diners walk by and can touch is real, while most harder-to-reach plants are faux or silk. “I loved the challenge of having so many different shapes, sizes and styles of planters and working with faux and living plants to make the whole space feel like it all ties together,” he says. “It’s not every day I get to do a project like that.”