Pop-up Dining in a Living Art Installation

On the corner of the Factoria Italia lot off Francisco Bilbao stands a structure that sticks out like a sore thumb, even amongst the other heavily aged buildings of Barrio Italia. At first glance it may seem like a highly organized junk yard or an antique shop overgrown with plants. But a deeper look will reveal something far more intriguing.

 La Jardín - Photo by Brandon Stanley
La Jardín - Photo by Brandon Stanley

La Jardín is a constantly evolving art installation that seduces you and invites you in for food and drinks. It is art that rewards those who spend more time there and gives to the environment it creates. Technically, a pop-up restaurant, La Jardín unfortunately comes with an expiration date (March 2013 as of now). Yet for the time being it is very alive and since the beginning has been very popular.

The mastermind behind this quirky, fun, oddly comforting and absolutely random restaurant is London born artist Tony Hornecker. With the help of Chilean brothers Cristobal and Sebastian Muhr they have turned seemingly unusable garbage into a highly intricate and functional funhouse with every nook and cranny filled with plants and trinkets.

 Photo by Brandon Stanley
Photo by Brandon Stanley

Back in 2009 Tony created the Pale Blue Door, a technically illegal, pop-up restaurant inside his London home as a way to pay the bills. He used whatever free, cheap and discarded items he could get his hands on to design and decorate the space. It turned out to be a huge success and soon after his good friend Cristobal inspired him to bring the concept to Chile.

Over the next couple years they took this traveling, temporary art installation/dining experiment around the world - from Valpairaiso and Buenos Aires to Berlin and even Glastonbury Music Festival in the UK. They eventually settled down(temporarily) in Santiago to open a slightly longer-lived restaurant in Barrio Italia. Tony is the brains of the operation while Sebastian is the engineer and Cristobal is a builder and the "plant guy."

 Entrance - Photo by Brandon Stanley
Entrance - Photo by Brandon Stanley

At first, entering La Jardín may be a bit overwhelming. You arrive in a small garden area with tables, chairs, a small lawn and many, many plants living in suitcases, boots, purses and anything else you could imagine. Walk through the front door and you are in a beautifully jumbled room where every inch of the place is covered in multiple layers of intrigue. Every item has had a previous life and is now pieced together to create something new.

The walls are made up of windows of all shapes and sizes, fitting together like a jigsaw puzzle never meant to exist. Sebastian, the engineer of the group, rigged a bunch of old bike wheels and fan belts to motors, creating a network of quietly humming contraptions suspended above the dining tables. Plates, utensils, chairs and tables are all mismatched, but still work well for that very reason.

 Interior Dining Room - Photo by Brandon Stanley
Interior Dining Room - Photo by Brandon Stanley

Journey further into the restaurant and you will find the bar with alcoves of seductively private seating consisting of couches, armchairs and coffee tables. Heavy velvet curtains serve as possible dividers making the atmosphere that much more intimate. The food itself is quite good with a menu of panqueques, pizzas, salads and various daily specials. They also have a selection of teas, italian coffees, wines and finely crafted cocktails. Yet for the curious explorer or artist in all of us, the environment takes center stage at La Jardín.

At any given time you can find Cristobal and Sebastian and maybe even Tony out back building new creations from items they stumbled upon during their weekly scavenger hunts. Just the other day Tony, Cristobal and Sebastian found, on the side of the street, 25 pairs of crutches. They said they didn't have any particular plan for them yet, but soon enough inspiration will strike and something wildly unique will be born. And that is just a normal day for this art installation, social experiment, pop up restaurant and garden with an energy all it's own.

 Cristobal, Tony and Sebastian - Photo by Brandon Stanley
Cristobal, Tony and Sebastian - Photo by Brandon Stanley

Open 7 days a week 11am-1am. Reservations are recommended for dinner, especially on weekends - call 02-2230667 or visit http://www.lajardin.cl/ Prices range from $3.000 CLP - $6.000 CLP (about $6-$12) per dish.

Address: Bilbao 497. To get here take the Green line metro (L5) to Parque Bustamante and walk 5 blocks east to Av Italia. Or take the 504,501 buses along Bilbao to Av. Italia. Any of the many buses along Av. Salvador will also get you within a couple blocks. Just be sure to get off at Bilbao.

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