The dazzling debut of Del Mar Naples: Mediterranean inspiration on Fifth Avenue South
When Cafe Lurcat and Bar Lurcat on Naples’ Fifth Avenue South closed in 2018, Cameron Mitchell’s restaurants were too busy to consider another fine dining restaurant two blocks from his 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: the only second-floor dining option in Naples, with outdoor seating.
“I call it the catbird seat overlooking Fifth Avenue South,” Miller says, adding that they worked on a deal for a year before opening Del Mar Naples in late December, making it RMC’s 97th award-winning restaurant. . “The building is spectacular. It is an emblematic and autonomous building.
Second-floor dining has been incorporated into city codes, making it the only second-floor dining venue on the eclectic, busy, pedestrianized street.
“He didn’t have a defined look, but he was sparse and cold,” says Mitchell. “We gutted it… When you looked at it, it screamed Mediterranean.”
So they opted for coastal Mediterranean cuisine, with Italian, Spanish and Moroccan influences, due to their success with island bars. They worked with Chicago-based interior design firm Knauer Inc. to create a warm, comfortable, and lush space. “We had a vision and Mark (Knauer) is great at listening to our vision and bringing his own twist,” Miller said.
They ripped up the stairs and took everything down to the uprights. They opened up the first floor ceilings and painted the exterior Tuscan yellow with a soft white. “The tricky part was the second floor. The ceilings were 20 feet high,” says Miller, adding that they spent $700 per square foot to renovate the nearly 9,200 square foot space, or about $6.4 million worth of upgrades.
They knocked down the ceilings, added contemporary slatted woodwork that covers the ductwork and acoustic tiles, and added two olive trees in the center.
The old staircase has been replaced with a modern, lighted version with wooden slats, stone walls and a lighted mural. To add warmth, softer candle-inspired pendant lights hang above the tables, while stunning clear glass pendant lights in varying sizes and hammered copper pendant lights highlight the two bars, and spot spotlights allow diners to read the menus at the tables. An Amish carpenter has created tables from reclaimed oak, with no hard edges to hurt legs, while chairs feature twine.
There are two floors of dining, a covered patio and second-floor balcony with dining tables and plush sofas in a cocktail bar atmosphere, bars on each floor and a private 24-seat dining room which opens onto the outdoor terrace. Both floors open to the outdoors and soft lighting has been added to highlight the distinctive curved facade, 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 made for Naples,” says Miller, noting that it has nothing to do with Del Mar SoCal Kitchen in Ohio.
The enormous $60,000 Grillworks firepit, wood-fired grill and show kitchen allow the chef to be on stage while diners watch the commotion. There is also a showcase of 500 bottles of wine. Throughout, area rugs have been added to porcelain wood tiles, increasing the acoustic functionality.
“Music and people’s voices create energy, but you have to be able to hear,” says Miller.
Works by local artists 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 sturdy plants such as bromeliads and palms, and designed a stunning entryway that features a soothing waterfall, curving cobblestones, gray stones and colorful plants. “They wanted a very Neapolitan, tropical, fun, and lush feel,” Barnwell says, adding that everything diners pass by and can touch is real, while most of the 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 artificial and live plants to make the whole space feel connected,” he says. “It’s not every day that I do a project like this.”