Flashy Mexican restaurant Lolita is back in action after a two-year, $2.75 million renovation to crank up the volume again on the decadent, design-forward party spot.
Fans of Lolita’s original location will notice some similarities. The taco-laden menu is the same, as is the overall layout of the space. Stepping into the restaurant still feels like descending into a (party-ready) underground lair. But COJE, the vibey restaurant group behind Lolita and other hits including speakeasy-style bar Yvonne’s, poured money into redesigning the 12-year-old restaurant to better match its swanky Fort Point sibling — and keep pace with the current, leveled-up state of dining out in Boston.
The ceilings were ripped out, raised up, and rebuilt in curving barrel shapes decorated with ornate chandeliers throughout the 112-seat main dining room. An eye-catching cascade of skulls, which regulars will recognize from a similar design at the Fort Point location, blankets the walls and ceiling of a new private dining room. And, the most anticipated part of the remodel is slated to open by the end of the month: The group expanded the restaurant into a former haberdashery and clothing store next door, converting the vacant space into another 60 to 85-seat dining room that includes a swanky new bar devoted to mezcal, overseen by the group’s beverage director Ray Tremblay.
The redesign was handled in-house by COJE owner Chris Jamison, architect Jef Leon, chief-of-staff Anastasia Mattes, and designer Mandy Waryasz.
According to Jamison, the overhaul started first out of necessity. During the summer of 2020, a pipe broke in the building and caused the whole restaurant to flood. The decade-old restaurant was already “due for a bit of a facelift,” Jamison says, and the flooding ended up sparking a significant renovation of the property. In total, the remodel cost $2.75 million. To help make it happen, the group extended Lolita’s lease on the location and their landlord also contributed money to the renovation.
“It certainly was a much bigger endeavor than we ever projected at the beginning,” Jamison says. “But as we got into it, we just said, ‘Look, I think this is something that we can make worth our time.’”
This location of Lolita, which first opened in 2010, was Jamison’s first restaurant and set the tone for what the group is now well-known for in Boston: focusing on the design and the experience of dining out just as much as what goes on the plate. Jamison has been happy to see that heavily investing in design has become far more commonplace in Boston in the intervening years, as evidenced by local standouts like Island Creek Oyster Bar and monied outsiders like Major Food Group, which first launched their opulent Italian restaurant Contessa at the Newbury Boston hotel in 2021 before expanding the brand to Miami.
The Boston restaurant industry has grown in “leaps and bounds” since Lolita first opened, Jamison says, and he sees the multimillion-dollar revamp as a necessary move to keep challenging the group’s design standards. “We’re always going to try and kind of push the boundaries on what we think a beautiful space looks like and should look like,” Jamison says. “And I think we’re pretty proud of how this came together, even in the context of everything else opening up around us these days.”
Lolita Back Bay is located at 271 Dartmouth Street, near Newbury Street. It is open daily from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. Reservations are available here.