When its owners decided it was time to “refresh” the Walt Disney World Dolphin Hotel in Orlando, FL, they didn’t stop with the renovation of guestrooms and corridors. Built in the late 1980s by Tishman Construction Corp., the owners (including Tishman Realty Corp. and Metropolitan Life Insurance) were looking for a way to reconcept the resort and give vacationers, meeting planners, and business travelers a new experience. Bringing celebrity chef Todd English and internationally acclaimed designer Jeffrey Beers on-board cemented the team and almost guaranteed the creation of a restaurant that had the look, smell, and – most importantly – the taste of success. “It has definitely changed the complexion of the hotel a little bit. Now this unique and special restaurant and bar has created a whole new buzz for the hotel,” explains Ron Kollar, chief design officer, Tishman Realty Corp., New York City.
With multiple dining options available at the resort, the new restaurant had to offer a unique dining experience to entice guests and locals. English envisioned a new seafood restaurant, and Beers was eager to create the perfect under-the-sea environment to complement the cuisine. Tishman bit on the idea: An upscale, signature-style dining experience featuring seafood entries would balance the hotel’s offering of other food fare, including its Don Shula Steakhouse.
Defining a Vision
When Tishman’s team looked at the plans, they sensed that something was amiss. The restaurant’s visibility from outside the resort, as well as its ability to accommodate patrons more comfortably, could be increased by occupying the site currently inhabited by the hotel’s three-meal restaurant. “We relocated the old three-meal restaurant from this area and slipped it across the hall. [It was] reconcepted into a fresh food buffet, which is doing amazingly well, too, so it’s been a double home-run for us,” explains Kollar.
Perhaps as important as its location, cuisine, and design concept was the restaurant’s brand. Todd English was inspired as he watched an IMAX movie on marine life with his children. His idea – the name “bluezoo” – perfectly symbolized the diversity of life in the sea and captured the playfulness and mystique of the fine-dining atmosphere Beers was striving for. The sophisticated yet whimsical restaurant would combine art, ambience, and delectable cuisine to provide patrons with a unique experience that epitomized the wonder and awe of the ocean and its inhabitants. “It’s meant to be a theatrical, bold environment,” says Jeffrey Beers, founder and principal, Jeffrey Beers Intl., New York City. “It’s not meant to be a quiet, ‘sit-up-straight’ restaurant.”
Bringing this vision to life would take more than an idea. To anyone attempting this type of project, heed Kollar’s warning: “Realize that these restaurants are an absolute team effort between the designer, chef, operator, owner, and construction management, and you have to have all these people working toward the same goal.” In order to ensure smooth delivery of Beers’ and English’s ideas while guaranteeing an on-time and on-budget project, the team from Tishman mandated regular and frequent communication. “One of the things that [Tishman does] is have weekly update phone calls on all of [its] renovation projects, and all of those people [involved are] on that call,” explains Kollar.
Designed Down to the Details
“It certainly is not your typical hotel restaurant,” says Kollar. He’s right: How many dining experiences have you had where swordfish and snapper dance on a circular rotisserie, the lights overhead resemble cascading droplets of water, and wine bottles form a wall of undulating color? Whoever coined the term “beauty is in the details” could learn a thing or two from bluezoo’s design and construction team. Todd English’s bluezoo is alive with tone, texture, and mood. “I think in terms of artistry and cuisine, we were able to build a wonderful space that will hopefully withstand the test of time,” says Beers.
The 7,000-square-foot restaurant is divided into three main spaces; patrons enter the L-shaped eatery at the bar. “The main body of the restaurant is then divided into two parts – the main seating area, and then at the rear of the restaurant, the glowing [wall of] wine bottles leads you into the private dining room,” explains Kollar. The latter of these spaces can be divided to seat parties of different sizes, and provides outstanding views to the lagoon just beyond the restaurant’s windows. “The vast space can accommodate a variety of diners and is suited to meet the needs of everyone – from the group of people looking for a light bite [to eat] and drinks in the bar/lounge area, to the diner who wants the full treatment in the main dining room, to diners [that] want to see action and be captivated with the view of the spit-roasted fish,” Beers says.
Functionality and Aesthetics without Compromise
Unlike the sometimes-tacky themed spaces so much of the public has grown accustomed to, the design of bluezoo beautifully blends elements that emulate ocean and sea life without having to provide such blatant representations of them. Beers explains: “The main idea was to make things look artistic, and to look like sculpture in abstract – without using literal things. [For example,] we didn’t use water, we used acrylic.” When concerns developed about using water in the space, an artist was commissioned to complete a sculptural wall of suspended acrylic rods. “There was a concern during the process of designing this [space] that with the humidity in Florida, the waterfall might not actually be a positive thing in the restaurant,” says Kollar. “Jeffrey rethought the idea and came up with [a] wire-and-glass sculpture curtain.” The manmade waterfall simulates the look and shimmer of cascading water as light reflects and refracts against the rods. This solution turned a potential headache into a dazzling sculptural feature, bringing inferred motion and sparkle to the space.
The restaurant’s design features numerous materials from wood to copper and acrylic to aluminum. While the space seems swathed in blue, seating covered in warm-colored fabric (red, yellow, and orange) provides just the necessary punch of color to add drama. But don’t be fooled – just as much attention was paid to the performance of interior finishes and products as to aesthetics. “It’s a big challenge to be able to specify and use materials that are theatrically dynamic and bold and visually exciting, yet [because] restaurants get tremendous abuse, they’ve got to be able to withstand lots of wear and tear,” Beers explains. Using his years of experience and relationship with vendors and artisans, Beers selected products that both meet code requirements and would perform well for years to come. “It’s a very easily maintained space,” Kollar confirms.
Equal Parts Adventure and Dining Experience
“We wanted a world where the diner would be dazzled and transported to a new world, which he or she could greatly appreciate and feel comfortable in but not be overwhelmed,” says Beers. From the faux snake-skin covered banquettes to the school-of-fish sculpture that fits in the space swimmingly, the materials and textures create an exotic environment that beckons to hotel guests. “It’s also, much to our delight, drawing the local market as well,” says Kollar. “It’s always a great compliment when the locals also come to your hotel restaurant.”
For patrons that are eager to sample seafood Todd English-style, they will find that the great entrees are only one of the wonders bluezoo has to offer. Carpet patterned like drops of water, a glass sculpture by renowned artist Dale Chihuly, and zebra-wood table tops are just a few of the finishes that make the design as equally appealing as the delicious cuisine.Jana J. Madsen (firstname.lastname@example.org) is managing editor at Buildings magazine.
In order to ensure smooth delivery of designer Jeffrey Beers’ and chef Todd English’s ideas, while guaranteeing an on-time and on-budget project, the team from Tishman mandated regular and frequent communication. “One of the things that [Tishman does] is have weekly update phone calls on all of [its] renovation projects,” explains Kollar.