AHL Insider:

Lincoln Pilcher

Creative Director & Restaurateur

  • Lincoln Pilcher came out of the gates swinging. After working in photography for a few years, Pilcher decided to open up a little restaurant on Mulberry street. And it may have just been the unbridled confidence of a first-time restaurateur, but Pilcher's Ruby's would go on to become a pillar in New York's next generation of dining. Just like The Fat Radish or The Smile, Ruby's injected downtown New York with the energy, style, and sincerity that embody the people behind it.

  • But that was only the start. Pilcher has gone on to create successful restaurants in New York, along with the ever-popular Everly in L.A as well as a stint in Montauk with the bustling Moby's. Though Pilcher just expanded Ruby's with a take-out shop down the block, we were once again drawn to his island-like paradise Gilligan's at the Soho Grand Hotel. The seasonal pop-up has gone through some changes over the years, but what has remained is the perfect outdoor vibe, the entertaining crowd, and the always-fresh menu. Oh, and the famously refreshing frozen watermelon margaritas, which we indulged in during a conversation with Pilcher himself.

  • What do you do and how did you get here?

    I grew up in Sydney on the beach, an hour north of the city at a place called Avalon, and I came to New York when I was 19. I was working as a photo assistant for about 2 or 3 years, and we started Ruby's in '03, and then we went to DC and did a spot in '06 called Rugby with Ralph Lauren, and then we did Kingswood in '07, then Everly in LA in '08, so we kind of just rolled out, and then Moby's out in Montauk, and obviously [Gilligan's]. I'm a creative director, a concept creative director—I'm working more on the design concept side. We've got a great management team that we work with now. Within our group we've got great people working with us so it allows me to do what I love to do which is create, and put these things together from a conceptual standpoint, a visual standpoint, and an energy standpoint. Vibe is a big word for us.

  • Who have you been most influenced by in hospitality and design?

    Roman and Williams are amazing, I think they're incredible, they do great work and they kind of really nailed that 'New York' design down. Keith McNally, anything he does, that Parisian feel he brings to it. He kind of created the New York bistro. I love what they've done at the EDITION—I love London, and obviously New York. I think that concept is great. I think the 11 Howard looks great right now too.

  • How did you go from photography to hospitality?

    I still shoot, photography is a huge thing, imagery is a huge thing. I've been shooting since I studied photography. I guess it was the visual concept, and obviously I'm a very social person, so I guess I fell into it. And then grown with New York, and LA. There's great inspiration coming out of LA, there's a lot of talent design-wise, and obviously also food-wise, culinary-wise, there's a whole cultural scene out there.

  • What did you wish you knew back when you started in restaurants?

    Listen, no regrets obviously, but I think it's changed. I think the landscape of restaurants has changed, in the sense that it's much more simplified now. People want great food in a relaxed environment. We call it 'polished' food in a relaxed environment, it's kind of our motto. And so you definitely you see less food on menus, less wine on wine lists. Obviously elaborate design is amazing and I respect it and I love it, but it's expensive. I love putting something together with the bare bones.

  • Where do you think the industry is headed?

    Fast casual is changing the landscape, because it's multiple venues now, and from a business standpoint, it's the scalability of that. From a design standpoint I think you're seeing more specified venues, and [they're] simpler. I don't want to say Scandinavian, but I think that's where it's going. A little more clean lined, a little less cluttered. And medium to small spaces. Moby's was 4 and a half acres and 220 seats, and it was amazing but it was a beast. At the moment we're focusing in small-mid venues.

  • There's a lot of merging between creative fields right now. With your background in fashion, do you notice any parallels between the fashion and hospitality worlds?

    I grew up in fashion and photography, I think more than ever food and design and fashion are all kind of on the same level right now. People are more conscious of what they're putting in their bodies, and people are aware of what they're eating, much more so than 10 years ago. So I think people are...conscious. I think people want a story now, with what they eat. I think there's an equilibrium now, which is nice, because back in the day there was a handful of restaurants, the old classics, that people would go to, and now people are much more experimental. You've gotta create an experience, and that's something we've always done. People want to be entertained when they come to a restaurant.

  • How has Gilligan's evolved over the years? Do you like working with hotels?

    This has been such a fun project. The first year we had a big pizza oven, I designed the pizza oven, we had three bars the first year and we consolidated. It's changed a lot, a lot of landscaping. Our landscaper definitely loves us. It's been a really great project, to work with hotels. That's the growth model. I've learned a lot over the last 10-15 years, and there's definitely that aspiration to grow into [hotels]. I've worked with these guys for 5 years and learned a lot from all the great people that work here, so I think I would love to do that.

  • What's your favorite hotel in the world?

    My favorite hotel in the world is the Il Pelicano, in Tuscany. I was there this summer and in September with my family, and I have to say, of all the places, it's pretty special. Probably one of the best meals I've ever had in my life.

  • How do you plan on spending your next day off?

    I would love to have a surf, I would love to get into the water. It's been a long, long winter of work, and I was thinking of surfing this morning. I think I'm going to try and head down to Costa Rica before too long...head down and have a little surf.