Only 20 per cent of Babe Ruth customers understand the significance of the name - Babe Ruth, holder of the home-runs record for over half a century, was arguably the greatest American baseball player ever, greater even than the legendary Joe di Maggio. For fans, the eponymous restaurant in the O2 shopping complex in Finchley Road, North London, may come as a bit of a let-down: apart from a helmet, a few signed tops and the Louisville Slugger baseball bat signed by the ny mets, there is not a lot of 'themed' memorabilia - perhaps there is more in the first Babe Ruth in Wapping. On the other hand, sports fanatics will find enough imagery and references to make them feel thoroughly at home.
The Finchley Road Babe Ruth, designed by Barr Gazetas, is on the first floor of O2, where it occupies the north-west front and corner of the building. The limestone entrance is dominated by the kitchen - cooking as spectator sport. To the right is a high-tech basketball court in stainless- steel and Planar glazing - great for keeping hyperactive kids out of mischief while parents chill out in the bar or restaurant.
The route around the central kitchen and services pod leads to first base: two restaurant areas. First, the large, main restaurant overlooking Finchley Road, with giant tv screen and several suspended tv sets, all tuned to different sports channels; second, beyond it, a far quieter eating area, facing away from the main road. This side room can be closed off for private functions by two magnificent 3m-high aerofoil-section timber doors containing display cases for the Slugger bat and other memorabilia. (Barr Gazetas certainly designs a cool door - see also aj 25.6.98). From this haven away from the action, visitors pass to second base, an oak ramp winding through the dimly lit games area, lined with pinball machines and simulator racing cars, before dipping back down to third base: the main bar (more tv monitors showing various games, but the staff will change channels on request - 'We once had The Simpsons on') and finally back to home base, the entrance lobby in front of the kitchen.
Blue is the prevailing colour at Babe Ruth: blue banquettes, blue carpet, blue felt covering to the bar front (stamped in a continuous band with star names from the world of sport), and a dramatically slim floor-to- ceiling panel of blue glass blocks by the rear entrance to the kitchen. Suspended light 'clouds' in each window bay, like giant moth cocoons (why not Slugger bat-shaped?), are made of rubber stretched over timber frames (a concept used before by Barr Gazetas, aj 25.6.98). The clouds, visible from the road, use polyphosphate cycle-phasing fluorescent lighting and change colour on a 20-minute cycle. They seem out of place in this muscle- bound environment and lack the sleek elegance of the slanting steel-framed sofas which mimic the attitude of a pitcher caught in mid-throw.