The El Gaucho Paintings: Capturing the Essence of the Brand

Ambiance – it’s one of key ingredients in the overall El Gaucho experience; the restaurant is a theater where each guest is the star. Not just a place to eat, it’s a place where people come to celebrate, knowing they will receive personal attention as the details of their experience are carefully and expertly executed.

If you’ve dined in one of the El Gaucho establishments, have you noticed the large oil paintings adorning the walls? They are an important part of the El Gaucho legacy since the doors opened in Seattle in 1996. Owner Paul Mackay was approached by a friend who suggested he fill the empty wall space with paintings. It was something he always wanted to do, and now that he was a restaurant owner, as opposed to a manager, he decided that paintings would be a great investment and help tell the story behind the people, or “players” in the El Gaucho story – guests and personnel alike. The paintings would have a multitude of uses: 1) Capturing individuals for life, 2) advertising and marketing, and 3) giving a local artist business and recognition.

His friend recommended Nina Mikhailenko, a Russian born and educated artist, now local, whose paintings are full of energy, color, and motion. His first impression of her work was not stirring, until he saw one piece of five waiters outside of a New Orleans Restaurant. It struck a chord, and he commissioned his first painting “Elegance.” It now hangs prominently at El Gaucho in Seattle.

Since then Paul and Nina have worked together to add more than 20 more paintings to the El Gaucho collection, all portraying important characters in the El Gaucho legacy, or images depicting scenes you see in the restaurants: chefs skillfully preparing dinner over the open-flame grill; musicians sharing their gift of music live each night; a captain preparing one of the many dishes offered tableside; dapper men enjoying a cigar in the Cigar Lounge; a family celebrating; another pays tribute to one of Paul’s mentors. All of the paintings’ subjects are either employees, guests, or investors.

Paul’s favorite is the one titled, “Anniversary.” It depicts the elegant tableside service that is the El Gaucho hallmark.

“I wanted one that focused on the woman as a princess and the center of attention, so any woman would see that and could picture herself in the setting,” said Paul.

Five waiters encircle the celebrating couple while executing their trade gracefully, efficiently, and with sophistication: the sommelier is opening a bottle of wine, a server presents the food, while another presents accouterments. The maître de, and Paul himself, look on with satisfaction.

Paul says, “This is a knock-out painting and captures the total essence of who we are and what we do.”

In sixteen years of business, 22 paintings have been completed, each one capturing a unique story behind the brand. All are hanging in the El Gaucho family of restaurants: Seattle, Bellevue, Tacoma, Portland, and at AQUA by El Gaucho.


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