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At Maialino, the Roman-style trattoria on Gramercy Park, they hover in groups of two and three. At the Standard Grill in the meatpacking district, they snake through the cafe, restaurant and patio. And at Recipe, a rustic spot on the Upper West Side, they cluster near the entrance as an enticement.
They are not the latest cliques of beautiful people, but something quite old and plain: exposed-filament bulbs, energy-guzzling reproductions of Thomas Alva Edison’s first light bulb. And despite the escalating push to go green and switch to compact fluorescents — or perhaps because of it — their antique glow has spread like a power surge.
Whether in hip hangouts tapping into the popular Victorian industrial look or elegant rooms seeking to warm up their atmosphere, the bulb has become a staple for restaurant designers, in part because it emulates candlelight and flatters both dinner and diner.
The filament light is now so ubiquitous that it has prompted a backlash among those who deem it overexposed — a badge of retro cool that is fast becoming the restaurant-design equivalent of the Converse All Star.
A lot of thought and expense go into restaurant lighting — upscale budgets easily reach six figures — because it can shape a diner’s experience almost as much as the food. Some lights favor certain colors and make others look unappetizing. But the old-fashioned bulb, though less efficient than fluorescent or L.E.D. lamps, can build an ambience at a relatively low cost.
“It creates a very warm glow, through a broad spectrum with many colors,” said Paul Bentel, whose firm Bentel & Bentel hung cascades of reproduction Tesla bulbs, similar to the original Edison, throughout Craft restaurant near Gramercy Park in 2001. “A red apple will look as good as a green pear.”