San Diego’s Kearny Mesa neighborhood is finally having its moment. Thanks to Common Theory owner, Cristian Liang and award-winning designer, Michael Soriano (see: Queenstown and The Pearl Hotel), Liang’s Realm of the 52 Remedies—which opened last December and is housed inside his popular gastropub—is the first to bring fantastical design to Convoy’s already impressive food scene.
“With Kearny Mesa being an Asian town, we definitely wanted to highlight that and create something unique so that more people would flock this way,” said Liang. With years of churning out food that’s dynamic in flavor and distinct in various Asian cultures, Kearny Mesa offered the foundation for 52 Remedies to take the neighborhood to new heights. In its intimate bar rich in heritage, design doesn’t take away from the menu, but, instead, creates an unparalleled experience where people feel transported into another world entirely. Don’t believe us? We’ll let you see for yourself.
Photography by Kimberly Motos
Palate Cleanser: The Waiting Room
Your visit to 52 Remedies really begins when you enter Common Theory. The light hum of guest conversations, the clinking of pints, the industrial decor—all part of the experience according to Liang and Soriano.
“When you’re in Common Theory, you’re in present time. It’s one experience already with a loud, hyped-up energy,” said Soriano. “We wanted to create a tranquil moment before you’re released into this new realm, where you enter the far future.”
Behind the frosted glass door to the left of Common Theory’s entrance is a small, all-white space to reset; a palate cleanser. You’ll notice the simple spices that line the shelves, the peaceful music and even catch the refreshing aroma. “During our research we came across an ancient medical manuscript called ‘52 recipes for 52 ailments,’ which really served as the grandfather to modern Chinese medicine and inspired us in finding our name,” said Liang. Imprinted on a door in the corner, the manuscript serves as the gateway to the new realm.
Behind the Door: The Main Bar
For design inspiration, Soriano looked to Liang’s, and his business partner Joon Lee’s, heritage. Liang is Chinese, but grew up in TJ, and Lee is Korean. “I was happy they were willing to go this route because it’s about showing respect to their heritage and in this space, we have an amazing opportunity to showcase that,” said Soriano. Liang, Soriano and the rest of the team dove head first into research, careful not to cross the line into appropriation, which led to a plan that was an authentic homage to the symbolism and history of the cultures they studied.
Taking cues from the art deco of the 20s, the dark mysteries of opium dens and even subtle nods to movies like Bladerunner, 52 Remedies stands in a category all its own. In a warm and earthy palette of greens, golds and tans, the bar feels every bit Crazy Rich Asians-lush as it does a cozy hideaway to relax and recover. Seven hundred fishing floats—the team calls them dragon eggs—divide the space and are embedded with Korean messages of good fortune and energy, booths are shaded with gentle drapes and neon signs are positioned with words of positivity.
For privacy, Soriano created a lotus-inspired booth that envelops its guests, while other tables encourage connectivity in the center of the room. The dark leather bar top, the gold embellishments in the artwork, whether you’re aware of it or not, every detail in the space is designed around an immersive and inviting guest experience. “We integrated elements that were personal to the client and spoke to the narrative,” said Soriano. “Everywhere you go, you’re subconsciously surrounded by positive affirmations that affect your overall experience.”
On the Table: The Menu
Behind the bar, Liang knew this was a job for Chris Lee (Bar Old Fashioned in Seoul), who created a cocktail menu that’s just as intricately layered as the design. The drinks are separated into three different categories: specialty, classic and global. Here, you won’t find bartenders shaking up two cocktails at once or throwing down behind the bar, Lee runs a tight ship where cocktails take time and the theatrics are in the presentation and backstory of each drink. “There’s an appreciation for the craft,” said Liang. “It really makes the cocktails much more worthwhile.”
And because you’re no doubt wondering about the food, Liang recruited only the best to create a small, seasonal menu of light bites. Though the menu changes depending on what’s fresh, right now you can find dishes like furikake chips, beef tartare and quail knots—all perfectly paired with the cocktail list.
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