The Thunder Road Steak House of Albuquerque, New Mexico takes its name from the 1958 film, Thunder Road, staring Robert Mitchum: but that’s only the beginning. The restaurant and cantina incorporates iconic imagery from the film into the interior design in a dramatic and cinematic way. Thunder Road Steak House isn’t the first restaurant to draw design inspiration from a film, but often restaurants will just tack posters and stills from the film on the wall and call it good enough. The design company behind Thunder Road Steak House, I-5 Design and Manufacture, takes things a bit further and creates an immersive environment based on the film and spiced up with a southwestern flare.
The film Thunder Road features Robert Mitchum as a hot-rodding moonshiner in the mountains of Kentucky up against the police, gangsters, and his own moral code. The film became a cult classic based on the combination of Robert Mitchum’s cool manner and the amount of screen time dedicated to his souped-up hot rod. I-5 Design honed in on the film’s chase scenes for the most conspicuous design elements, but transferred them to the southwestern portion of Route 66.
The most dramatic reference to the film is the moonshiner’s car crashing through the brick wall above the dining tables. This explosive display puts dinners right underneath the film’s climatic car crash. With the car’s lights still on and bricks flying every which way, the display recalls something you might see on the lots of Universal Studios Hollywood. Across the restaurant, behind the bar, sits the 50s-style police car that has pursued the moonshiner until his fatal crash. Unlike the moonshiner’s car, the police car is mobile. It rests on a performance stage and when it’s time for the bands to come on, the police car is raised up into the ceiling.
Other design elements in the restaurant, such as murals, old signs, and lighting fixtures, showcase a combination of the film and old Route 66 imagery. While one 30-foot mural depicts scenes and quotes from the film, another reinterprets Thunder Road as a stretch of open New Mexico highway, complete with a bolt of lighting striking the road. Thunder Road is definitely a large space, but one can observe the effort made by I-5 Design to create the atmosphere of a moonshiner’s hide out. The walls are clad in the corrugated aluminum doors of a warehouse or mechanic’s shop, and exposed I-beams and timber beams reinforce an rustic and unfinished look. The moonshiner atmosphere is completed by the perfect mixture of dim and neon lighting. In particular, a massive iron chandelier suspended by chains over the dance floor casts the dim light of candles one would expect to find at a moonshine still deep in the Kentucky woods.