Dive Into the Blue With a Bar and Restaurant Awash in Azure

A mélange of cobalt tile, chrome finishes, and walls awash in azure conspire for enchanted evenings tucked away in Only Love Strangers, a new bi-level cocktail lounge and restaurant on Manhattan’s Lower East Side designed by Brooklyn-based Studio Omar Aqeel for a newly-founded hospitality group helmed by directors Amelie Kang, Simona Petrovska, Christian Castillo, Irene Li, and Yishu He. Its electrified environment evokes the spirit of speakeasies where patrons may indulge in aphrodisiacs, imbibe craft cocktails, and vibe to live jazz.

Modern dining area with blue upholstered bench, wooden chairs, marble tables, candles, wall lamps, and blue-framed artwork.

Modern dining area with blue mosaic tiles, a large pendant light, and a table set for four, featuring a large window with flowers.

A bouquet of bright orange and red flowers in a blue vase on a blue table, set against a wavy black and white striped background.

A modern dining area featuring a round marble table with candles, two chairs, a blue curved booth, white walls, and a geometric patterned wall in the background.

When in full swing, the 6,300-square-foot space is blanketed with hearty whiffs of mediterranean cuisine throughout the ground level bar, lounge, and dining rooms just as the bleats, harrumphs, and exaltation of horns – often accompanied by torchy vocals – waft up through the well from the cocktail lounge and live performance space visible below. Aqeel references an ethos from the Roaring Twenties while applying aesthetic tenets from the 1950s and 60s for a subversive, retro-futuristic interior architecture. “We focused on raw assemblies, anachronistic discourse, transmutative perceptions, and material juxtapositions,” notes Omar Aqeel, founder of his eponymous studio. All that is to say, inquiring minds are encouraged to find themselves intoxicated on electric blue hues and blended harmonies of vintage, custom, and contemporary furnishings as they explore each zone following a visual narrative guided by the musings of French-American artist Louise Bourgeois.

Modern interior with curved white walls, a vase of orange flowers on a blue railing, and abstract hanging lights.

Modern staircase with curved black railing, a nearby green vase with orange flowers, and a large abstract mobile hanging on a white wall.

A custom mobile by Max Simon

…The color blue means you have left the drabness of day-to-day reality to be transported into – not a world of fantasy – but a world of freedom where you can say what you like and what you don’t like. This has been expressed forever by the color blue…

View through an arched doorway of a modern bar with blue tiles, hanging pendant light, and a well-stocked bar counter.

Interior view of a stylish lounge with a vibrant blue tiled wall, modern wooden tables, patterned benches, and a large arched doorway.

A modern dining area featuring blue tiled walls, a geometric bench cushion, wooden tables, and a white floor vase with yellow flowers next to large windows.

Modern bar interior with blue tile walls, backlit shelves with alcohol bottles, and stools in front of a white counter.

Modern bar interior with blue tile walls and silver counter, decorated with orange flowers in a yellow vase.

Guests are greeted upon entry by the cantilevered brushed aluminum host stand illuminated with a vintage Goffredo Reggiani wall light. Moving forward through an extruded archway that feels more like a passage than a threshold is the adjoining bar room. Visitors are enveloped in floor-to-ceiling cobalt blue tiles with tone-on-tone blue grouting. Weary travelers can trade the din of New York for a moment anchored by the round-edged, wrap-around aluminum clad bar. The adjacent wall is lined with modern abstract banquettes upholstered in Verner Panton’s iconic 1969 “Black and White Optik” textile while the main dining space is marked by earthy limewash plastered walls intermixed with more brushed aluminum accents, Sottsass Grey tabletops, and additional banquette seating upholstered in Kvadrat’s cobalt blue wool.

Modern bar interior with blue walls, pendant lights, bar stools, and a central disco ball, creating a calm and stylish ambiance.

Modern blue-toned lounge with candlelit tables, spherical pendant lights, and plush seating under a geometric ceiling.

A stylish bar interior with dim lighting, featuring an illuminated counter, blue booths, and orange table lamps.

But for a more private affair, a separate dining room provides plenty of privacy and contrast to the main space showcasing a maximalist wall-to-wall, hand-painted mural abstracting the Bauhaus grid. The room is also adorned with Ant chairs by Arne Jacobsen for Fritz Hansen, a vintage Makio Hasuike for Seccose metro dining table, Maru pendant lighting by Ingo Maurer – and its own entrance with a branded door pull. Other honorable mentions from New York-based artists and designers staccatoed throughout include furnishings from Blue Green Works, Yuyu Shiratori, Nico Anon, Superabundance, Gregory Beson, Adriana Gallo, Ash Allen, and Lucas Willing Studios.

A modern interior featuring a metallic chair and a tall vase with vibrant flowers, illuminated by a large circular wall light on a deep blue background.

Close-up of a modern, blue tufted sofa with a sleek, minimalist design, highlighting the texture and sheen of the upholstery fabric.

Curiosity piques with an elegant mobile by Max Simon suspended within voyeuristic egress, which allows for a view into the subterranean lounge through a lightwell surrounded by several intimate domed dining niches with blue crescent-shaped booths. A siren song of cobalt emanates from the 55-seat lower-level-lounge below calling for listeners to dive into the blue. Every inch is supersaturated in OLS’ signature inky hue for heightened senses to appreciate the texture of space and sound. And every orthogonal line becomes activated by human form that breaks the grid.

A gourmet dish featuring layers of salmon and creamy filling, crafted with love, served in a small, elevated metal bowl against a dark blue background.

Baklava Sundae

A bowl of mussels and a cup of french fries on a dark blue table against a striped blue and black wall, exuding an air of mystery that only strangers might love.

Steamed Mussels

Elegant seafood dinner setup featuring a central bowl with shellfish, adjacent smaller dish with assorted seafood, candles, flowers, and dark blue ambiance designed to make strangers fall in love.

“We often hear that visiting OLS feels like being in a friend’s very chic apartment – you know, that kind you never want to leave,” the OLS team says. “It really is this feeling of being at a great party, people getting up and going to see what’s going on in the other room. It feels very special.”

Four cocktails of varying colors presented on a round table under spotlight, creating dramatic shadows on a dark background, only enhancing the allure for strangers.

Cocktails Post Bop, Acid, Bebop, and Groove

To experience OLS visit onlylovestrangers.com. And to learn more about Studio Omar Aqeel visit omaraqeel.com.

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