Nota Bene is a new destination restaurant located in the base of One Eighty Queen West, a commercial property sited at the northwest corner of downtown Toronto’s financial district area.
The primary occupants of the tower are the Federal Judicial Courts. It sits between east edge of the “legal district” which includes Osgoode Hall, the Ontario Courts Building at 361 University Avenue, Old and New City Halls and the historic Campbell House, the original home of the first chief justice of Ontario, and the western threshold of the vibrant Queen Street West commercial retail district. It is also within a short walking distance from the Four Seasons Opera House to the south-east, and the theatre district immediately south.
The overall design of 180 Queen West was driven in the first instance by its obligation to address this confluence of distinct urban conditions, and included leasable space at street level for mixed-uses and as part of a broader strategy to extend the vibrancy of Queen West to University Avenue.
When the architects designed the tower, they envisioned the podium would be animated with a lively restaurant that would be equally attractive to opera and theatre patrons, the legal community, corporate clients from the Financial District, and ‘hip and fashionable’ Queen West crowds.
The location, the diversity of the target market for clientele, and the base building conditions ultimately attracted the attention and imagination of the the legendary restauranteur, Franco Prevedello. The original vision was realized with Prevedello’s initiative to create a new high energy ‘democratic and elite’ bar/dining spot for Toronto.
The design is the product of a highly collaborative process between client and architects to achieve a seamless integration of business and architectural goals in a timeless atmosphere of understated quality. Within an industry notably driven by trends and high turnover rates, Nota Bene stands out with its vision to be around for the long term and to prioritize substance over style.
Working within the parameters of a conservative budget, the architects optimized the existing base building condition to organize the plan, acquiring the street level space for the bar at the front and the raised platform for formal dining and back-of-house services at the rear. The bar zone, approximately 1/5th of the depth of the platform zone, creates a concentrated hub for social interaction. The energy of the bar is palpable from the street and effectively meets the broader goal of the overall development by injecting vibrancy to this formerly uninviting section of Queen Street West.
Light, sound, materials and colour are strategically and thoughtfully deployed to calibrate a congenial atmosphere conducive to both casual and formal dining.
While there are a number of factors that can determine a restaurant’s success, critical is the total experience offering. ‘Nota bene’, in restaurant lingo, means the party is to be treated with special care and attention. The objective of the restaurant was to create an inviting, comfortable and well-serviced dining platform where everyone is treated equally and which offers experiential choices – from a casual place to drop in for a cocktail after work to hosting a formal, private event.
Durability, flexibility and functionality were among the primary business goals to create a restaurant which would have longevity and facilitate the critical delivery of quality food, service and convenience. The design reflects the client’s serious investment, and responds to a broader ambition to create a seriously pleasurable dining establishment for Toronto in the spirit of the long thriving restaurants of great cities and great hotels.
Every detail was studied and developed with the input of the owner who provided 25+-years of pragmatic experience in the industry. Details spanned from the reinforcement of specific baseboards to the choreography of the dining room for ease of seating and circulation to the location of PSOS stations to ensure unobstructed sightlines between waiters and their diners.
The architectural strategy composes space, light, sound, materials and colour to achieve an environment that prioritizes a patron’s comfort, enjoyment and convenience above all.
Choice: Balancing Dynamic and Calming Zones
The overall concept balances high energy and calming zones through the natural division of the base building zones. The bar is a vibrant, self-contained hub occupying a long linear space with intimate niches set within each horizontal window area that blend the energy of the street and the bar within. The west wall of the bar is defined by a ‘crated’ texture which doubles as a wine storage area and a plasma screen wall, hidden behind black float glass until it is turned on (the client wanted the option to broadcast special events but avoid having it on always and turning it into a sports bar).
Low, comfortable and generously proportioned furnishings in the formal dining space create an overall sense of well-being and ease of service. The private dining area is defined by a millwork partition and features one long table setting which can be split into deuces. The north-east wall emulates the texture of the ‘wine crate’ wall in the bar and is made of wood planks, patinaed plaster and bee’s wax finish.
Lighting was strategically designed to define spatial transitions, to illuminate the interior in a manner that positions the restaurant as a beacon of activity on the street but ultimately to cast the patrons in the most flattering of light, without comprising legibility of menus.
Three major walls define the formal dining area and act as clean art walls, with concealed ambient lighting ideal for art illumination. In the restrooms, mirrors are offset from the wall and lighting emanates from coves to create a soft, diffused effect.
On the exterior, window sills are defined by long, narrow green light boxes, which provide a discreet alternative to street signage. A series of massive light columns (3/4” frosted acrylic, incandescent lit) add warmth and depth to visually catch the attention of passersby.
A significant area of focus was the control of noise levels to allow individuals to hear each other, and to balance audibility with privacy. Special concealed systems were developed, ranging from padding table tops to mute the clink of cutlery and dishes to integrated acoustic panels on ceilings.
Material palette is limited to wood, stone, and leather to compose a solid platform upon which to deliver quality food and services.
The Color palette consists primarily of warm grey tones and two tones of dark walnut to create a subdued yet warm backdrop for the primary action. Accents of chartreuse and raspberry inject warmth and visual pleasure.
The success of the project – a true merger of design and business - is evidence by the fact that Nota Bene is, quoting the client, “consistently very to extremely busy” with an average of 300 covers/day. The restaurant has surpassed its target, and considering the current state of the financial world, is overwhelmed and delighted by the results to date.
Client: Franco Prevedello, Yannick Bigourdan and David Lee
Location: 180 Queen Street West, Toronto, Ontario
Size/Program: 7,000 s.f. destination bar/restaurant with private dining and back-of-house full service kitchen
Architects/Designers: KPMB. Project Team: Thomas Payne (partner-in-charge), David Jesson (associate-in-charge), Brad Hindson (project architect), Carolyn Lee
Conultants: AVAM Mechanical Design (mechanical), Kyneta Group (electrical), Anjinnov Management (kitchen design & construction manager), Suzanne Powadiuk Design Inc. (lighting)
Photos : Tom Arban
Text courtesy of v2com