Red lights can sometimes connote seediness (Amsterdam’s iconic red-light district comes to mind). But restaurants are taking charge of the mood lighting and turning it into a culinary-scene trend.
Across the country, restaurants and bars are embracing red lighting and the warm glow it brings to a space, The New York Times reported on Monday. The primary hue imbues establishments with an intimacy that attracts diners, and it immediately signals that you’ve entered a cozy, nighttime vibe.
In a red-tinged room, “you have this proximity to your friends or the romantic person you’re with,” the color consultant Jennifer Guerin told the Times. “You get lost in space, like a time warp.”
At New York’s C as in Charlie, a Korean-Southern restaurant downtown, a red sign sets the tone, the owner David Yun said. He had initially planned to periodically change the sign’s color, but it became a way for passersby to notice the eatery, and the restaurant quickly became associated with its darkroom-esque interior. Other restaurants that have intentionally chosen ruby lighting include Cincinnati’s Baru and Las Vegas’s Rouge Room, where the lighting signals a shift to the evening hours, and Bozeman, Montana’s est.1864, where the colorful hue makes the windowless basement space feel more welcoming.
While the red tones certainly add a pulse of electricity (pun intended) to restaurants, they also pose a challenge: In some spaces, the dim lighting makes it hard to read a menu, or the coloring can distort the appearance of certain dishes. To combat those side effects, Yun and his staff at C as in Charlie serve their food on mustard-yellow and sky-blue plates, to avoid the food becoming muted.
Even still, some diners have almost sent back dishes because they thought they were the wrong thing. Austin Kim and Odelia Leon, for example, initially believed that a mug of crab drop soup was a latte. But the overall tone of the restaurant makes up for any misunderstandings. “The red light is a worthy trade off,” Kim told The New York Times. “You can’t get as good of pictures, but the vibes are worth it.”
At a time when social media reigns supreme, that’s about as big of a compliment as you can get.