Like restaurateurs around the country, Bill Russell-Shapiro, proprietor of The Absinthe Group, is acutely aware of how crucial sonic ambience is to his diners’ experience and satisfaction. When he set out to achieve an elegant Spanish restaurant in San Francisco, he made sound a priority. That’s why his company’s new Bellota has become the latest Bay Area restaurant to install a Meyer Sound Constellation acoustic system, which is among the industry leaders in providing creative solutions to restaurant noise. Constellation balances the buzz of a lively room so patrons don’t have to raise their voices to converse comfortably over the din, and allows the staff to control the sound level as the room’s occupancy changes.
"There's a harmony to a great restaurant," Russell-Shapiro said. "Meyer Sound helped us achieve the vision I had for Bellota, which is an idea taken from a warm, welcoming restaurant I found in Barcelona, and also by Rick's Café Américain from the movie Casablanca."
Constellation is a key component in the design of the Spanish-inspired Bellota, located in San Francisco’s trendy SoMa district. The 5,400-square-foot, 170-seat restaurant is built in an airy former warehouse space where diners can observe Bellota's acclaimed executive chef Ryan McIlwraith making paellas and grilled meats in an open kitchen.
“Constellation is a flexible system that creates balance,” said Jonny Raglin, who managed the Bellota project for The Absinthe Group, where he is director of bars. “It allows us to create different atmospheres at different times. We’re able to make it romantic and quiet in a certain portion of the space, and lively in another part of the space at the same time.
“You can go into some restaurants where it’s so loud you can’t hear yourself talk,” continued Raglin. “Or you can be in a place that’s so quiet and lonely you don’t feel like you’re part of the action. Those are the polar ends. We wanted to find the best of both worlds and be able to control it.”
Raglin said he’s no sound expert, but he appreciates the way the Constellation’s tiny microphones, processors, and loudspeakers work together to take in and regenerate the sounds of the room to create a pleasing harmony. Sitting at the bar or in a booth, you can hear the person you’re talking to while absorbing the background accompaniment of the restaurant’s buzz.
“Constellation shapes a sonic environment that’s peppered with things like clinking glasses, sizzling pans, a cocktail shaker, voices, and laughter,” Raglin said. “These are the things that entice us, that make us hungry and thirsty, that make us feel like we’re in a place that’s happening. If nothing stands out too much, that’s the ideal situation.”
At the heart of Bellota’s Constellation system is a D-Mitri digital audio platform housing the patented VRAS acoustical algorithm, which works in conjunction with 24 miniature cardioid microphones, 34 UP-4XP loudspeakers, and 12 MM-10XP subwoofers. Six Stella-8C installation loudspeakers cover the private dining room, where a sound-absorptive Libra acoustic image system bearing a photograph of flamenco dancers reduces reverberation. In the lounge, a system of two UP-4XP loudspeakers and one 500-HP subwoofer provides sound reinforcement for live music played on a grand piano, which is also distributed at appropriate volume levels throughout the dining room via Constellation. Santa Rosa, CA-based PCD installed the system.
Bellota is the sixth dining establishment in the Bay Area to install Constellation with the goal of creating an ideal acoustic environment. The others are Berkeley’s Comal—the first location to embrace Constellation—and The Advocate; San Francisco’s Cala—the first U.S. restaurant of celebrated Mexico City chef-owner Gabriela Cámara—and The Battery; and Oakland’s Oliveto Café and Restaurant.