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They say you eat with your eyes first – and that’s what the Barton G restaurant in LA is betting on. Popcorn shrimp served inside an actual popcorn machine, a four-foot fork stuck in q steak, mac ‘n’ cheese in a mousetrap, and lobsters engulfed by Roman war-helmets are among dozens of dishes and drinks on the menu that will push the boundaries of your imagination.

We spoke to the restaurants visionary and founder Barton G. Weiss about his talent of always being ahead of the curve, the art of creating theatrical gastronomy and the future of fine dining.

In a world filled with so much stress and depression, people need a release. When they walk through the doors of Barton G, we transport them to a land of happiness and fun.

How would you describe your restaurant in three words?

Ridiculous. Absolutely Fabulous.

Can you tell us how Barton G’s story began? When did you decide to become a restaurateur?

It all started with a dare from my business partner in the early 2000s. I took that dare and, a year later, opened Barton G in Miami. It was a big hit. Back in the day, we had guests coming from all over the world because they had never seen anything like that before. It was an absolute novelty.

Do you believe your background as an event designer and producer influenced the creation of the restaurant?

Yes, I’ve taken all my experiences and rolled them into Barton G. All of my set design, costume design, theatrics, and food have melded together.

You opened your first Barton G in South Beach 22 years ago, long before the rise of Instagram and other social media. What was the inspiration behind the concept of ‘Fun-Dining’ and, more importantly, how did you manage to predict the trend?

I didn’t predict the trend; I just dove in headfirst, believing in the strength of the concept. The restaurant business is notoriously challenging, and I knew I needed something novel and different in order to win my place under the sun. Barton G is completely unique.

I remember how people questioned why I was doing it, and even top chefs doubted its legitimacy. Now, many of them are incorporating similar theatrics on their plates. I believe I set the trend, and it’s still rolling out.

Nitrogen cocktails also started here but what’s your secret of delivering that “wow” and staying popular?

I’m not resting on my laurels. Over the past 20 years, we’ve continuously challenged ourselves to elevate Barton G to the next level, evolving as a brand. This involves adding new dishes to the menu, adapting what works, and discarding what doesn’t. We constantly reinvent ourselves. The beauty of our restaurant’s innovation is that every six months to a year, we introduce a fresh lineup of concepts, enhancing the dining experience with each new iteration.

You’ve mentioned in one of your previous interviews that owning and operating a restaurant is like putting on a fashion show. Can you still relate to this statement?

Absolutely. Each dish that comes out of the kitchen and moves through the dining room is like a piece in a well-choreographed fashion show. Some plates have a fashion-forward design, while others incorporate electronic elements. The anticipation of “what’s coming next” is the same in both a fashion show and our dining experience.

Each dish at this restaurant comes with an over-the-top presentation. How long does it take to create a new one – from the initial idea to a meal on the table

It takes almost a year. I have been reviewing dishes for that long, approving only two out of the 20 presented by the team after our initial brainstorm. These two will finally make it onto the menu this summer. They’ll carry us through the next season, after which we’ll reinvent and introduce more.

Swords, knives, lures…What’s the hardest dish to make and why?

Everything is pretty challenging. There’s not just one dish that’s harder than the next.

The whole process from the preparation to bringing food to table can be stressful unless you have a workable system in place. Just imagine: we are serving 800 guests from a very small kitchen, and we have all these vehicles hanging from the ceiling, scattered across the back and front walls. However, we’ve developed an efficient formula for serving and delivering food, ensuring that the props don’t slow us down. My team has done a great job figuring that out.

Is there something on the menu that was there since the very beginning?

The Lobster Pop Tart is one of the first Barton G classics.

A personal question… What is your favourite item on the menu?

Cotton candy.

What’s the most challenging when you create theatrical experience?

The problem with my design is that sometimes the presentation outweighs the food. It’s so dynamic and over the top, that the food doesn’t get the recognition it truly deserves. However, about five to eight years ago, we made a conscious decision to downplay the props allowing the food to take centre stage. It’s delicious and also needs to be celebrated.

Another challenge is the fact that not all ideas lend themselves to successful restaurant execution. Finding that bridge is the biggest challenge.

How many people are on your team?

The team is quite small, to be honest. We have one person who searches for the vehicles, another who handles purchasing, and another who finalizes the concepts before presenting them to me. I then refine the ideas and decide whether they go to our LA restaurant or the one in Miami.

Do both restaurants have the same menu?

Not quite. LA has a different taste buds than Miami.

Do you personally supervise the entire team?

Yes, but I supervise it from being in Miami. I visit LA a couple of times a year. But every time I get there, the only thing I do is shopping (Smiling). My core team has been with me for many years so we trust each other and know what needs to be done.  

Barton G’s celebrity clientele includes Mariah Carey, Salma Hayek, Katy Perry, and Orlando Bloom, to name a few. What do you think they love most about your restaurant?

Because it’s ridiculous (Smiling). Vehicles, the presentation, whole thing’s ridiculous. You have to laugh at it. I laugh at my own creations. In a world filled with so much stress and depression, people need a release. When they walk through the doors of Barton G, we transport them to a land of happiness and fun.

There’s a sense of whimsy in every step which reminds guests that eating out is a form of entertainment too accompanied with colour, sound, texture, aroma, and the stimulation of feeing, all of these is often forgotten in many fine dining places.

How has the restaurant industry changed over the last 20 years?

I don’t see fine dining being the avenue where the future for the restaurant industry is heading. I see it being more casual, more comfortable and more interesting. Having a meal shouldn’t be boring, high-quality is essential yes but it doesn’t mean something formal. Food should appeal to positive emotions, refine all your sense and leave you with good memories for a very long time.

Speaking of food, I did notice that Barton G serves rather generous portions. Do people usually finish their meals or take them back home in a box?

They don’t finish they take the leftovers back home.

Can you take home the big fork or any other props?

No, I’m afraid not (smiling).

Barton G. The Restaurant Los Angeles is located at 861 N La Cienega Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90069, United States. More information can be found here.


Image credits: © Barton G.