Zach Bell, Yale University
At Hearth, red felt hangings adorn the walls, softening noise and casting the restaurant in warm hues. Hearth transplants hearty Italian cuisine into the modern American kitchen, while trying to preserve the hospitality of the home. Even before I sat down to begin the meal, I noticed the walls. I found the felt curious, since other soundproofing materials would work just as well and more inconspicuously. The felt must have had some purpose beyond the practical.
The honking, accelerating light show of New York is often portrayed as cold, unyielding, hard. Hearth, like so many other restaurants, tries to create a safe haven from the mean streets, a soft blanket of red felt. The felt walls reminded me of the conceptual art by Joseph Beuys. Flying for the Luftwaffe, Beuys was shot down over Crimea during World War II; this much we know is true. Then, Beuys claimed that he had been rescued by Tatar tribesmen who wrapped him in felt and animal fat and nursed him back to health. For the rest of his life, Beuys included felt as a central material in his conceptual work, covering objects and entire rooms with the fabric.
Beuys used the felt to introduce organic sensuality into formerly blank spaces. He created home spaces, safe spaces, similar to Hearth’s objective in using felt on their walls. Yet, an air of doubt diffuses Beuys work, considering his mythologized backstory; one questions whether the safety of his felt is a myth as well. Similarly, Hearth uses felt to mythologize its space. It tries to create the quintessential home, a home we wish existed. The food mirrored the walls as well. Veal and ricotta meatballs arrived succulent, juicy, and texturally off. The meatballs were too smooth for my taste, the only flaw in a dish served over perfectly al dente spaghetti and homestyle red sauce. The textural flaw jerked me back to reality from the fantasy home swathed in red light.
Beuys pioneered the social sculpture, calling for the participation of all people as equal artists. Hearth knits together a social fabric inside its walls, the Italian home cooked meal coming together with good food and good friends. This fantasy is fragile though, one tiny flaw makes the felt disintegrate into thin air. In the end, the decision to believe the myth of Beuys and the myth of Hearth is up to the individual. Once engrossed in the dream though, be careful of the tiny doubts that threaten the weave.