Great art comes from the particulars, which might be why two itinerant jazz musicians from the Midwest have spent the last five years of their life hauling bits and pieces of a folksy Wisconsin restaurant into Bushwick, one brightly colored neon sign at a time. A celebrated, bizarre fixture along the Badger State’s Highway 63, right off the town of Hayward (pop: 2,318), Tyler Erickson and Varun Kataria tasked themselves with reimagining a place called Turk’s Inn just a few blocks north of the Maria Hernandez Park. Doors opened for the first time this weekend.
An aggressive onslaught of pastels, dollhouse windows all centered around a large cartoon-ish hat, Turk’s Inn gives the impression of something placed onto a model railroad town. The gravel of the sidewalk is interrupted by spats of red paint near the doors. Inside is a bar underneath a golden awning meant to evoke an embroidered turban. The embroidery on the floors bring to mind the cover of Edward Said’s most well-known cultural treatise, Orientalism.
In a press release, their restaurant describes this as an “imagined Ottoman Empire aesthetic.” More words include “whimsical” and “kitschy.”
“Most often it was closed,” Kataria reflects to Bushwick Daily on his years eating at the orginal, which closed for the last time in 2013, after the death of remaining descendant of George “The Turk” Gogian, an Armenian immigrant who moved to the U.S. in the early 20th century. The items were bought by Kataria and Erickson at auction, the proceeds went to a local school district. “The food also wasn’t really good anymore, though we were told it was great at one point,” Kataria says.
The new menu is helmed by Alberto Carballo, who left his post running the kitchen at Claudette, a Provençal spot on 5th Avenue. Press photos suggest metal skewers holding thin slices of Monkfish and plates of tastefully arranged steak. Classic cocktails will be offered with “a Turk’s Inn twist.”
Kataria describes himself as obsessed with roadside oddities and eccentric spaces and Turk’s Inn appeared to him as a kind of jumble of the past century’s architectural history. He sees splashes of art deco on the walls, mid-century modern in the furniture.
It marks his first time applying these skills toward helming a restaurant, a project he had began with Erickson shortly after getting a law degree from the University of Minnesota. Before then, he played in a jazz band with Irvin Mayfield in New Orleans. “I also led group tours to India,” Kataria says. “I had to take a vow of unemployment so I could do this.”
The project has been gestating long enough for Kataria to consider it something of his lifetime’s work. A piece in the Verge, published last year on the subject of Instagram kitsch, quotes Kataria on his “$3 million labor of love.” Kataria says the funding came “friends and family-style.” Erickson, who Kataria describes as his best friend from elementary school, comes a generation removed from Midwest new money—the Ericksons once owned a chain of a few hundred gas stations that recently went for an estimated $1.9 billion.
The most interesting jewel in the Erickson fortune however, might be the Dakota Jazz Club, which Erickson’s father had opened in 1985 and where Kataria had worked over a decade ago. (And a longtime haunt of Prince, who died two days after seeing the jazz singer Lizz Wright there.) Kataria and Erickson describe it as the primary influence on The Sultan Room, a venue space that abuts Turks Inn and opened its doors this past weekend, headlined by Amanda Blank, a Philadelphia electro-clash singer.
Kataria is more excited about to have booked David King, a drummer for the Bad Plus, a Minnapolis jazz trio celebrated by NPR and who will play the room early next month with Tim Berne and David Torn (architect of David Bowie’s late-career turn to jazz rock). “It’s not part of a band or anything, they can all just do an experiential thing at our space,” Kataria says, thrilled. He describes himself as once a fixture of Minnapolis’ musical milieu, where he and Erickson once ran a studio that they later sold to indie super-producer BJ Burton.
On the other side of Turk’s Inn, sits Döner Kebab, a Turkish takeout spot that offers huge pita sandwiches filled with chicken, breaded halloumi, or the locally-popular meat substitute seitan. Kataria is equally gregarious on its influences, which he says is meant more as a representative of midwestern fast food culture, which in certain spots has a strong Middle East flavor. In place of the Turks Inn’s melange of centuries and styles, Kebab’s design is allegedly meant to nod at the whimsy of Ettore Sottsass, a late Italian designer fond of flamboyant colors.
“We thought being among the warehouses here would be a cool place to drop our art project,” says Kataria.
The Turk’s inn
Tuesday 12–10 PM
Wednesday 12–10 PM
Thursday 12–10 PM
Friday 12–11 PM
Saturday 12–11 PM
All images courtesy of Turk’s Inn.
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