Banqing On It

1210352849Finding parking on what used to be the fringes of the South End is getting harder. Last night, I had to squeeze my tiny hatchback into a dubious spot on Shawmut just before Washington. The block had multiple, vaguely conflicting parking signs, requiring a degree in logic to solve. Well, at least the Boston Traffic Authority and I interpreted them the same way, this time.

So, off to Banq. While the restaurant has an enormous belle-epoch canopy to announce its entry, actually finding an operable door was less than easy. Once you discover where it is (indicated by a small arrow below eye level for most), you’re suddenly in-the-know, and can relax sipping beer (or one of the myriad urban concoctions on the drink menu), amused by others’ foiled attempts to gain access.

But that gets old, much like the clientele, which tends toward empty nesters who just traded their Sudbury colonials for 1,000 square foot “lofts” with floor to ceiling windows and “artistic” neighbors.

Banq occupies what was once the Penny Savings Bank, a lovely 19th century marble-clad, neo-classical construct that lay fallow for years while the South End was left to rot. Then came the heavy machinery, gutting it entirely and busting through the roof, leaving an eerie shell, open to the sky. Now an atrociously non-descript curtain wall sprouts from the bank’s once patrician head, providing more housing for upscale urban wannabes and others who like drywall and the smell of new paint.

The interior of Banq was designed by Office dA, the architecture firm that also designed Mantra. The restaurant’s claim to design fame is its undulating ceiling and dripping columns, an effect created by the layering of hundreds of plywood sections, hung from the ceiling. This design would have been impossible to execute without computers and laser cutting, a powerful combo for enterprising architects who want to get that organic, Gaudi look.

Once the lights go down, it’s dark in there and very cave-like, quite nice in the winter, I’d imagine. But my dinner companion shook his head mournfully. “Sorry—it turned out to be a beautiful night. We should be outside.” Then he pondered why there were no restaurants along the Charles, which is where any normal person would want to be on a beautiful spring evening like this one.

Ah, fair Boston, so many opportunities… so many loud caves with expensive food.