Sure, these Denver restaurants unleash terrific foodstuffs and liquid assets, but the wow factor extends far beyond the kitchen and bar. Within the confines of these knockout dining rooms, you'll encounter inspiring scenery that speaks to the interior architect in all of us. Here are Denver's most remarkably designed restaurant showstoppers:
Restaurateur Justin Cucci (Linger, Root Down) is a design genius — and Ophelia's is arguably his most bewitching endeavor. The multilevel interior, a collaboration between Cucci, a manic collector of all things cool, and BOSS Architecture, a local architectural firm, showcases weathered brick walls lined with posters of pin-up girls, dangling gold spheres hanging from the ceiling, a downstairs bar flanked by 4,000 Jägermeister bottles, vintage movie-theater wallpaper, crushed-velvet seating and a boudoir feel throughout every turn. Occupying an 1894-era Victorian brownstone that formerly housed a brothel, the design aesthetic, says Cucci, is "inspired by vintage finds I've collected over time, and with Ophelia's, we wanted to celebrate the building's history and create an atmosphere of indulgence."
1215 20th St.; 303-993-8023
This snazzy newcomer for stylish oenophiles conjures up a feast for the eyes thanks to sumptuous pops of color, including a striking custom chandelier glistening with multihued glass tiles that look especially beautiful when they're streaked with sunlight. Designed by the super-creative team at Xan Creative, the repurposed space also ballyhoos rustic wood accents, geometrical patterns that evoke an air of sophistication and a conversation-piece book wall that pays homage to its predecessor, the historic Denver Bookbindery. Step outside to the terrace to revel in some of the city's best views of the Downtown city skyline.
2715 17th St.; 303-433-6363
Denver-based interior design firm KTI snagged an award from the American Society of Interior Designers Colorado for its stunning work on the 9,000-sq.-ft. Guard and Grace, a contemporary Downtown Denver steakhouse owned by chef-restaurateur Troy Guard. "Our goal was to interpret Troy's vision of a modern progressive steakhouse with mountain and urban influences," says Kimberly Timmons-Beutner, founder of KTI. The restaurant’s focal point is its sprawling open kitchen that exposes a charcuterie station, pasta station and raw bar. A sensational soaring wine cellar, shielded by glass, is the centerpiece of the bar and lounge, which doubles as a gathering mecca for social conversation; it also lays claim to a swath of large windows that allows for streams of natural sunlight. Plush leather booths and banquettes stretch across the space, and rather than mounting the walls with ho-hum artwork, the design firm employed an artist to etch diagrammed cows that mimic a butcher chart. Tip: Book a seat at the raw bar to eyeball the bustling exhibition kitchen, or, for larger parties, reserve one of the crescent-shaped booths on the elevated platform that let you survey the entire dining room and kitchen.
1801 California St.; 303-293-8500
Designed by BOSS Architecture, this altar to all things aquatic from Jennifer Jasinski and Beth Gruitch is small in stature, clocking in at just under 2,000 sq. ft., but the interior design work is hugely captivating: there's an entire wall whimsically muraled with a slithering, under-the-sea octopus (all hand-painted by a local artist), reclaimed beach fencing stretches across the high ceiling and ladders down another wall, a wholly transparent kitchen exhibits a raw bar lustrous with oysters, shellfish and dewed tins of caviar on ice and an antique mirror is engraved with all the continents and the surrounding seas. And exec chef Jorel Pierce’s plates of hamachi tartare, Hawaiian tataki and California sea urchin are exquisitely presented too.
1701 Wynkoop St.; 303-640-3474
Part European-inspired market, part showcase kitchen, part fashionable dining room and part wine library, Mercantile, whose kitchen is dually quarterbacked by Alex Seidel and Matthew Vawter, is all about the flow between the sum of its parts. Designed by Tricia Mueller — the architect and director of project management of Denver-based Larimer Associates and the designer behind Rioja, LoHi SteakBar and numerous other restaurants — the dazzling space is accented by shelves of housemade jarred provisions (think jams, pickled vegetables, mustards, poached pears and rillettes) and wins major points for its transparency that leaves nothing classified. No matter where you sit, there’s action, and the illumination scheme, a collection of copper lights in the market and colossal chandeliers in the dining room, extends to the open kitchen, where the chefs are all on display handcrafting charcuterie and cheeses and turning out a splendid duck breast.
1701 Wynkoop St.; 720-460-3733
OZ Architecture collaborated with Studio Frank, a Telluride-based interior architectural firm, on The Nickel, which recently took the place of Prima in the Hotel Teatro. And she’s a head-turner: sepia-hued leather sofas inlaid with a paisley print, their backs flanked by a towering wall of racked firewood that supplies the wood-fired oven, share space with patterned black-and-vanilla banquettes, chocolate leather barstools, textured tabletops salvaged from old bleachers, vintage lamps that grace the bar top and shelving displays featuring wooden whiskey barrels. The space, fashioned to evoke the dignified rusticity of the building’s fabled past as the city’s Tramway Building, where travelers paid a nickel to ride the city’s streetcar, retains the industrial elements while evoking modern grace.
1100 14th St.; 720-889-2128
Hotel restaurants often get a bad rap, especially when it comes to design composition, but Range, set in the bewitchingly beautiful Downtown Denver Renaissance Hotel, might make you rethink the characterless stereotype. The restaurant is steeped in Colorado-inspired embellishments and furbished to embody the look of a modern-day whiskey saloon, displaying luxurious leather accents, plenty of rough-hewn barn wood to keep it real, a glass art display that pays homage to horseshoes, gorgeous walnut community tables with live edge corners and a custom-printed mirror behind the bar that highlights a cowboy with his lasso and horse. It’s a fitting tribute to the American West, and all the flourishes are there, including a sunset-hued painting of a roaming bison.
918 17th St.; 720-726-4800
An entryway displaying oyster shells greets guests of this just-opened seafood hub in Cherry Creek, where a backdrop of whale-gray woods and mystical ocean-blue hues set the scene of a serene nautical theme. The elegant space, devised by Arch 11, an award-winning local interior design group, features an eye-catching art installation that mimics oars floating above the centerpiece bar, while the walls are adorned with muraled maps and oceanic photography.
2625 W. Second Ave.; 303-333-2462
Conceptualized by designer and restaurateur Kevin Delk, Beatrice & Woodsley has all the elements of a romantic fairytale. The enchanting space, fashioned to mimic a remote cabin retreat — and inspired by a fantasy love story between a winemaker's daughter and a lumberjack — features intimate curved booths separated by translucent curtains, a thicket of Aspen tree trunks weaved between tables, flickering miner's lanterns that cast a moody glow on the dining room and gold-tinted windows that peer over the streetscape of Broadway.
38 S. Broadway; 303-777-3505