Reader: The Kitchen Denver is like an airplane hangar with the jet engines at full roar

kitchendenversemple.jpg
The Kitchen Denver transformed the former home of Gumbo's..
Planning the menu for a new restaurant is only one of the challenges. you have to design the proper setting for that food, a setting that will draw people in -- and keep them there, as Chris Utterback reported in his piece on Semple Brown Design's work with restaurants. "Part of the project is always getting to know your different clients, getting inside their heads," says Sarah Semple Brown, who founded the design and architecture firm Semple Brown Design in the early '80s and has been designing restaurant spaces ever since. "It's like reality TV at its best."

But the reality TV at the new Kitchen Denver, which was designed by Semple Brown, may need to turn down the volume.

Says DenverDave:

Well, some of the restaurants in Lodo (and Uptown and Lohi for that matter) may be nice to look at but most are complete failures in terms of hospitality in my opinion. One of the prime objectives in restaurant design should be to create an atmosphere that encourages one of the key elements to a wonderful dining experience - the pleasure of conversation with your dining companions. The Kitchen Denver is an excellent example of a space that makes conversation virtually impossible because of the lack of any sound absorbing surfaces. It's like having dinner in an airplane hangar with jet engines at full roar. Cram 170 people plus staff into a space whose key elements are glass, hard wood floors, brick walls, an open kitchen, and high ceilings (the most common trend in restaurant design lately) and you get a place you want to go to with people with whom you are not on speaking terms.

What restaurants do you consider well-designed? Which are the worst? Post your thoughts below, and read Chris Utterback's story on Semple Brown Design here.



Location Info

The Kitchen

1530 16th St., Denver, CO

Category: Restaurant

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17 comments
arabella
arabella

Tom Sietsema, restaurant reviewer for the Washington Post, now always includes in his reviews the noise levels in restaurants.  It is a very useful piece of info.

archaalto
archaalto

this is an interesting conversation, and I'll try to add my own perspective from the design side of it.  on many restaurant projects, our clients are renovating an old space that has existing character and volume that wants to be preserved.  Along with [typically] limited budgets and code requirements, there are many constraints that we deal with to try and strike a balance for a space that is comfortable for all the 5 senses.  Of all these, the acoustic issue is the most difficult and one of the most expensive to address. 

To put it in relative terms, our firm also does performing arts buildings [stage theaters], which require a high level of acoustic clarity and definition.  Specialized acoustic treatments [among other systems] in these buildings drive the average construction cost up to around $350-450 per square foot.  Our restaurant projects have a budget of approximately $100-200 per SF. Also-the acoustic analysis that goes into defining performance spaces is far above and beyond what restauranteurs can either afford in both money or time.  Opening schedule is a huge factor.

Also-applying these types of acoustic mitigation treatments [drapes, foam panels, etc.] do very little to reduce volume in a space, but do more to reduce things like reverberation, sound transmission, & vibration while trying to increase speech intelligibility clarity.  Then there is a question of durability--yes, carpet does help to reduce noise transmission, but when was the last time you saw carpet in a restaurant?  [YUK].  It would need to be replaced every 2 years, and even in that time still hold bacteria that could make people sick.

There is a fine line to determine what is merely a side effect of evolving social behavior and what can be controlled through spatial intervention.

donniemaude
donniemaude

what ever happened to hum and buzz... I go out in Boulder several times a week and avoid most of the loud places. And when did making a cocktail become performance art?  Sorry, Europe still has it down for service, ambiance and the long, relaxed dining experience...and those few restaurants here.. Salt, The Cork, parts of The Med, Aion, Black Cat, keep me coming back.  Then again,  I'm older now and don't enjoy "the scene" .  Many of us buy amazing wine and food and enjoy our cool houses!!!

dishpublicity
dishpublicity

Dear Donkey Hotay,

 

I remember giving this quote in 2007...and i stand by it. "It's the sexiest thing in the world, to have such a loud, charged environment when you're eating."  I was not a twenty-something then (33!), and it was no clueless comment or pathetic nonsense. It was a solicited opinion. 

 

As a restaurant publicist, i eat out over 300 times a year and whether I am in NYC, SF or LONDON, my equity lies in a energy-filled experience. I still find it incredibly sexy to be in a room where people are talking passionately about their lives while eating and drinking. It gives me comfort to see such a vibrant display of humanity.

 

if you like a more quiet restaurant, you definitely have options. Many restaurateurs are empathetic to your cause and do all they can to make their restaurant appealing to you. The Kitchen, once a client of five years, has always done whatever they can to make guests feel comfortable. They have actually put a considerable amount of time and money into figuring out how to make the acoustics work for their guests. 

 

And Radda, another client of mine, really wanted a place where families could come with their kids of all ages and not have to feel embarrassed because their child dropped the silverware. It's funny, the kids never end up being as loud as the girls at the bar. Point being, all cacophony is welcome.

 

To your point, I applaud the restaurant critics that report on noise level because I believe that guests have a right to know what to expect when it comes to ambience. 

 

As for Bacaro, they don't DJ during dinner service. But thank god they do bring the party, we all need a place to shake down in this town.

 

Best,

 

Kate Lacroix

dish publicity

 

BDHguy
BDHguy

totally agree, the noise at some restaurants is totally out of hand.  I'm not at a concert, I'm trying to eat.   And as donkeyhotay says, it goes in the DoNotReturn pile, no matter how good the food is.

DonkeyHotay
DonkeyHotay topcommenter

Funny -- the "Restaurant Consultant" for Dave Q's Big Red F chain of restaurants was quoted in the Daily Camera a few years back as saying that "A LOUD Restaurant is the Sexiest Thing In The World" ...

 

Such pathetic nonsense from clueless socially inept 20-somethings might explain the idiocy of some of these ear-splitting obnoxiously noisy restaurants.

 

Some local restaurant critics have even begun adding a "Noise Level" metric to their reviews.

 

Radda restaurant in Boulder is one of those ear-shatteringly loud places where you would bring an illiterate non-conversive deaf and dumb date. No matter how good the food may be, when the noise level is rock-concert loud, the place goes in the Do Not Return bin.

 

Same is true for Bácaro with their excessively loud incongruous DJ Ghetto "music" blaring from the rooftop patio -- not the theme and atmosphere one expects for a fine Italian dining experience.

 

Extreme Noise = Epic Fail

 

 

 

 

Denver Dave
Denver Dave topcommenter

 @archaalto I'm not sure that evolving social behavior is the issue.  I don't think the desire to have a conversation with your dining companions is an archaic notion but rather that we are stuck with what is being passed off as the current trend in restaurant design.  I do believe that your are correct that restaurant owners and designers are either too cheap or too lacking in creativity to address the problem.

dishpublicity
dishpublicity

 @donniemaude Black Cat is my baby as well. Chef Eric Skokan really doesn't like music and so having it extremely low cues the guest to not get too amped up. Guests seem to modulate their vocies accordingly. Their new place, Bramble & Hare, gets a bit more festive in the evenings since they are open every night until 2am. I was in on Sunday with my family and they were just playing chill fiddle music. It was sweet. 

DonkeyHotay
DonkeyHotay topcommenter

 @dishpublicity 

 

Dear Kate,

 

At least you have the courage to own your comments.

 

I do feel sorry for you though, if at the ripe old age of 33, the "sexiest thing in the world" you'd experience was a LOUD RESTAURANT!

 

Hope your pleasure quotient improved a bit since then.

 

Sincerely,

Donkey

 

PS: Let me know if I can be of assistance ...

Denver Dave
Denver Dave topcommenter

 @dishpublicity I, disagree that noise level = sexy.  If you're just there to see and be seen - fine.  But, if you're trying to get "close" to your date nothing is less sexy than not being able to hear what sweet nothings are being whispered in your ear.

 

I also disagree that most restaurants put much thought into the decibel levels that the current trend in restaurant design will only exacerbate .  Ever try to have a conversation at Euclid Hall (Rioja isn't much better), ChoLon, Olivea, Potager, Kitchen Denver (Boulder may be different), Table 6, Jax  or TAG?  Impossible without shouting.  I like a nice convivial buzz (nothing is more depressing than to be in morgue of a restaurant) but too much is just too much and ruins the evening.

 

monopod
monopod

 @dishpublicity Kate, your comments are appreciated.  I think the problem is not with places where "people are talking passionately about their lives while eating and drinking," or where you don't have to be embarrassed because your kids dropped their silverware.  I agree, these are great factors in a restaurant design.  But there are tons of places that meet these criteria and yet don't sound like Rockies stadium after a home run.  Certain restaurants, however, seem to have a problem with the acoustics that actually AMPLIFY the sound of a child dropping the silverware, and make it so that I can't hear my own passionate conversation over the person's next to me.  That's a problem that doesn't make for a better experience no matter how you cut it.  Similarly, places that play the "background" music at party volume make it hard to enjoy the experience - it's not sexy or hip, just annoying.  You're not a club, you're a restaurant.

 

I'm not looking for a "quaint" restaurant, nor do I think it should be quiet in a busy restaurant.  I like busy and vibrant places.  But places like the Kitchen's three rooms in Boulder, Zolo Grill, SALT, Euclid Hall, etc. seem to find a compromise that maintains a hip, vibrant environment without driving out customers who really like the food but can't stand the noise level.  Heck, Southern Sun and Vine Street Pub are THE places to go with young kids, and they have no problem with noise levels (perhaps because they (a) don't pack the tables shoulder-to-shoulder, and (b) have carpets on the floor to absorb those falling forks).  I'm sure the chefs at the noisiest places (Radda being a prime example) aren't particularly happy that people who enjoy their food are skipping them because it's just uncomfortable to try to talk over that level of noise.

monopod
monopod

 @DonkeyHotay Wow, I again find myself in agreement with DH (gratuitous insults excluded).  I too have heard restaurant designers and owners speak of loudness as somehow being a good thing.  If any of you designers or owners are reading, take note: people 30 years and older - you know, the ones who have enough disposable income to regularly go out to restaurants and eat more than happy hour bar snacks - do not want to go to loud places to eat.  We will sometimes tolerate it if everything else is done well, but please don't mistake that for us enjoying it.  The background hum of a busy place is great, but when you jack up the music and force us to yell over it, or design the place with all hard surfaces so that background noise is amplified into a dull roar, that's a check in the "minus" column.  I know many people that have stopped going to Radda and Jax because they can't have a conversation.  

 

Note that a place doesn't have to be super-loud to seem hip and busy.  Pizzeria Locale is always bustling, as is Zolo, for example, but you don't have yell to make yourself heard.  Using loudness as a proxy for trendiness is just pure laziness on the designer's part.

tropicalchrome1
tropicalchrome1

 @monopod  Has Euclid Hall managed to manage the noise level? We have only been there once, and while the food and drink were outstanding, we have never returned because our ears were actively aching by the time we left. (It didn't help that when they turned the music up even louder at 8pm, we couldn't even hear our server when she came to the table.)

 

I don't require a dead silent restaurant - most of the time I like some background noise. But pain is where I draw the line.

dishpublicity
dishpublicity

 @monopod  @dishpublicity I hear you but It's a tough one because every restaurant you list has given consideration to the noise level. they all have varying degrees of sound proofing but they either have a) limited budgets and b) other pressing matters and c) a full restaurant of people who aren't dissuaded by the noise. or all of the above. in the end, it's hard to fix what ain't broke. and to a restaurateur, a busy restaurant is anything but a failure.

Bagwhan
Bagwhan

 @monopod  @DonkeyHotay Have to agree with the curmudgeons.  It feels like noise volume is treated by the restaurants and their designers as a sign of hipness, but really it's just annoying.  When you can't hear the waiter as he's answering your questions, the restaurant has a problem.

Mantonat
Mantonat topcommenter

 @dishpublicity  @monopod Cacophony, by definition, is not good. I've been to packed restaurants where I could carry on a normal conversation, and I've been to half-empty restaurants where my voice was hoarse the next day from having to shout to be heard. 

 

You are right that sometimes restaurants lack the budget or desire to do anything about their cacophony, but to imply that it's a desired trait in any setting (except maybe when trying to extract a confession from a prisoner at Guantanamo Bay), is to show a lack of understanding of the word. Restaurateurs who hire consultants to design their space and who have the money to intentionally manipulate the auditory experience would do well to avoid hiring someone who thinks cacophony means anything other than "harsh and dissonant".

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