Vida Verde, or "Green Life", is a restaurant on 55th Street in the heart of New York City's Midtown, known for its lively atmosphere and delicious, contemporary Mexican fare. Recently, with the help of street artist Victor "Marka27" Quinonez, it also got an amazing new facelift to match its wonderful food, beginning with this beautiful portrait of Frida Kahlo right as you enter the main dining area.
In addition to the Flowering Frida portrait, Marka painted nearly everything in Vida Verde, beginning with the colorful walls in the main dining area, with desert plants under a galaxy-like sky.
As I mentioned, it's not just about the amazing art here. The food is pretty incredible as well. At Marka's suggestion, I made a point of having a meal to see what all the fuss was about. I started off with a Margarita on the rocks with salt and paired that with Guacamole and Chips. (Tip: The chipotle sauce on the side gives the perfectly-salted chips just the right kick.) For my entrée, I had the succulent shrimp tacos with cebollitas and rounded off the meal with a decadent, house-made flan. (I am already planning a return visit for the food alone!)
After eating to my heart's content, I took some time to explore the rest of the place. Making my way to the bar on the second floor, I saw another mural Marka painted entitled Manos de Dios, or "Hands of God". In Mexican culture, food definitely takes center-stage, and there is a respect for the manner in which that food is brought to the table.
Finally, I headed up the stairs and out to the rooftop deck. I was lucky enough to catch Marka at work on the gorgeous wall which would soon be the on view for all to enjoy. This summer, the rooftop will be the place to party with this amazing new mural as the backdrop. Hidden behind two nopales cactus leaves forming the shape of a corázon, the beautiful woman brings the heart of Mexican cooking to New York City.
I had a chance to talk with Marka about his involvement with the restaurant to create such a wonderful space that meshes seamlessly with the delicious food.
John Domine: How did you get involved with the project at Vida Verde?
Marka: I'm good friends with Hugo Orozco, an amazing Mexican Chef, who introduced me to the Vida Verde Crew. They wanted to have an authentic point of view for the restaurant and it was important for them to commission a Mexican artist.
JD: Tell me a little bit about the overall concept behind the walls you painted.
M: We didn't want cliché for Vida Verde but wanted to create a unique experience with strong story telling.
I created a visual story that represents some of the beauty and culture from Mexico. The three main murals
all have the same color palette, and passion is the red thread.
JD: In the Frida wall downstairs, what is the significance of the flowers growing out of her head?
M: When you first come in, the large Frida mural draws you in instantly. Frida was obsessed with fertility, plants, nature, and animals because she could not have children of her own. The plants coming out of her represent that part of her. Frida is extremely iconic, and creating something unique using her image was a great challenge. Frida also crosses over many boundaries for so many people to be inspired by.
JD: You mentioned the wall on the second floor is called Manos de Dios, or Hands of God. Tell me a bit more about that.
M: The mural is an anamorphic mural. The hands make the shape of a large heart when you see the three walls combined. The hands are from a farmer. I wanted to remind people the food we love and enjoy starts with the farmer and people who plant the seeds, work the land, and pick the fruit. We often overlook the love and hard work that goes into the preparation of a well-cooked meal.
JD: The rooftop wall is beautiful as well, with the nopales overlapping to form a heart. What is the significance of this? Also, is there a reason for the large white triangles in the mural, or are they merely decorative? And what about the woman's painted face?
M: The nopales, aka cactus, make a huge heart in this mural because in many cultures food is something we all love to share with friends and family. I wanted to create something that reminds you to slow down and enjoy life, especially in a city like New York. I believe in work hard, play hard, and the rooftop is for a time to relax or celebrate with good company and a good vibes.
Triangles are a part of my DNA you can see them often in my murals, they are personal to me and also serve me well for compositions. The face painting is also part of my "NEO INDIGENOUS" DNA that I often incorporate in all of my work. It's a way for me to create identity in a highly saturated street art scene. The markings are unique to every mural and also have personal meaning. My Mexican heritage and graffiti background come together in my murals naturally.
JD: What is your favorite item on the menu? (I had the shrimp tacos and guacamole, which were both great.)
M: That's difficult to ask because I love so many of them. I love the Lamb Barbacoa Tacos and the all the brunch items are amazing!
My friend Lucas the bar manager turned me on to the Molé French Fries! Damn those things are good!
JD: What projects do you have coming up that you would like to share with our readers?
M: The usual, world domination, one wall at a time. On a serious note I have murals planned for Washington D.C, Boston, and Detroit, and a two man show in São Paolo, Brazil this summer. We're also curating a mural festival in Boston for the Underground Mural Project at INK BLOCK this summer.
Do yourself a favor and stop in for a meal at Vida Verde. You will not only be treated to some fantastic food, but you will also enjoy some pretty incredible art.