When Johns Hopkins University set out to convert a vacant former restaurant into a usable student space, its foodservice department didn’t anticipate the eventual outcome. “When they approached us, they basically came to us and said, ‘We have this space and we want a cafe out of it—a simple, straightforward approach like a small coffeeshop,’” says Caitlin Daley, project manager at Buell Kratzer Powell, the design firm that worked with the Baltimore-based school.
But after examining the space and talking with Johns Hopkins staff, Daley and her team found another kind of need entirely. What resulted was a flexible hangout offering food, entertainment and study space, with a techy touch.
A space beyond the classroom
What came about was The LaB, a 3,200-square-foot late-night entertainment venue fit for studying, school clubs and general gatherings. While it’s located on Baltimore’s bustling Charles Street, The LaB, which opened earlier this year, is a bit south of Johns Hopkins’ main campus, making it more likely to draw students who live off campus.
“In between classes, you wouldn’t necessarily go there because it’s closer to apartments,” Daley says; it’s also located on the ground floor of a university-owned apartment building. That’s part of the reason why Johns Hopkins decided to operate The LaB from 7 p.m. to 2 a.m. only.
Industrial meets modern
After going on inspirational trips to coffee shops and other Baltimore eateries, Buell Kratzer Powell chose to keep the building’s exposed ceilings and brick for the $640,000 revamp. “Instead of a new vision, we wanted to embrace what was there and the history of the building,” Daley says. For a modern touch, the space was updated with convertible features; one area can accommodate a portable concert stage, sliding doors turn a large collaboration area into a large meeting room, and lounge and cafe seating can be reconfigured to host varying group sizes.
Milkshakes and more
While The LaB does feature a regular menu, themed nights—from nachos and tapas for salsa night to wings for the Super Bowl to a Milkshake Monday special—are special draws. But one thing students won’t find available is alcohol. “One of the goals was to provide an alcohol-free alternative for evening programming,” Daley says. “Or maybe if students had been drinking and want to eat, it’s there for that, too.” In the months after opening, The LaB was “getting 200 students in on a Monday evening, so they seemed pretty happy with the space.”
The tablet will take your order now
Another feature students won’t find: human cashiers. All food and beverage orders at The LaB are taken via a touchscreen tablet; students can pay with either their dining card or a debit or credit card, and will receive a text message when their order is ready. Any questions can be answered by employees behind the bar who are assembling the order.
“The way the space is set up, you enter into the ‘bar’ area to order—it’s a relatively small space—and stairs lead you up to a bigger seating and dining area,” Daley says. “The idea was really to get people to come into the building and move through instead of creating a queueing issue and a congestion point.”