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Downtown San Diego's new attraction has weird, secret room. And old sheriffs.

By Troy Johnson | Photos by Robert Benson

Refresh or retire. That’s a pretty real mantra for almost every restaurant not attached to a drive-through. But while new starts may be necessary, they’re not easy or cheap. Just ask the owners of Jimmy Love’s, who spared no cost in recasting their historical Downtown restaurant/club space into Florent.

Partners David Schiffman, Mark Huber and Scott Sanders partnered with chef Rich Sweeney (the former Top Chef contestant who also owns Hillcrest’s R Gang Eatery). Then they tapped Michael Soriano of Onairos Design (Vin De Syrah, Queenstown Public) to make the guts real special. The 8,000 square-foot, two-story dinner club is ready for its grand opening on July 10 (VIP at 7PM, public at 9PM).

“The building was designed in 1874,” says Soriano. “It’s been so many things—city hall, a jail, a bank. The client wanted something organic and floral. The architecture itself is Florentine. So we cross-bred that feel with a bank and jail sensibility, while not overdoing it. The quality of the light fixtures alone is amazing—all imported, ridiculous, amazing.”

Here’s what you’ll see:

MONEY: The restaurant bar has a spirograph etching, the same sort used on global currency. “We also convinced an amazing artist Mark Wagner who makes portraits out of money to let us recreate his work,” says Soriano. For Florent, Soriano chose a cropped portrait of a lion—they being the de facto spirit animal of banks and financial institutions.

JAIL: “Downstairs is a jail,” says Soriano. “We contacted the historical society and got old photos of real sheriffs from different points in San Diego’s history.”

VOYEURISM: Behind the back bar in the downstairs club area, a female model will have a boudoir where she’ll be making herself pretty while you order your cocktails.

WEIRD HIDDEN ROOM: When tearing down the walls to re-do the women’s bathroom, Soriano’s team discovered a thick metal door that had been covered up by former tenants. They hired a welder to open it and discovered a secret three-by-four-foot room (safe room? Bank vault? Smuggler cubbyhole?) with a staircase leading to the top floor. “We’re going to fill that space with chandeliers, coins, chalices and stools and cover the walls with refractive mirrors so that it looks like the staircase goes on forever,’ says Soriano. “Men won’t be able to go in there, since it’s in the women’s restroom.”

Without further ado, here are the first photos of Downtown’s newest entry, Florent.

Hey, nice jail. Downstairs at Florent.

Robert Benson

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