As both a hub for people in transit and a place for out-of-towners to get their first taste of local flavors, hotel restaurants present a particular challenge for building a sense of place. In downtown Denver, the Hilton Garden Inn has cycled through plenty of iterations of its in-house dining in an attempt to create something delicious, convenient, and uniquely representative of the town its visitors have come to explore. Initially, the Hilton’s full-service dining option went by the name Pi Kitchen & Bar, and served a variety of dishes incorporating the word’s mathematical equivalent—3.14—in playful ways throughout the menu, which was pizza-centric. But there are limits to what a menu can offer, of course. Later, Pi moved into an Asian-fusion phase (and didn’t everyone, in the 90s?). Finally, the concept settled on classic American bar food.

At this point, while the happy hour specials were phenomenal and quite popular, the “Pi” moniker had lost its significance, and still hadn’t solidified any sort of identity.

Enter Studio3877, the architecture and design firm brought in to finally bring cohesion to the concept—from menu to aesthetics—in the hopes of representing the hotel’s home city in a way that would be singular and marketable to locals and hotel guests alike.

Designer David Tracz, co-founder of Studio3877, was excited for the challenge of bringing together rustic lodge-esque elements with a modern aesthetic to match Chef Brent Butterfield’s locally sourced menu of creative classics, like the Colorado Rack of Lamb, which features local, herb-rubbed lamb atop apple-mint chutney.

“It was very much just a hotel-lobby bar before, and we wanted something that really brought in the local flair, and could have just as easily been successful as a stand-alone,” Tracz says. Walking through the newly dubbed Territory Restaurant & Bar, one could easily imagine that the rustic-chic aesthetic and locally sourced details—such as the upcycled ski-lined bar front—could indeed exist as a successful stand-alone. Unless of course it’s breakfast time, when guests can walk behind a rope wall that subtly hides the breakfast buffet; because yes, breakfast buffets are still a must-have for busy travelers, even within a scaled-up bar and dining concept.

Territory has also found a new niche as a concept that provides quality, local food within a laid-back environment at a price point that many customers find to be more attractive than what can be found at area restaurants offering similar fare, where “local” can equate to a less leisurely—and, according to Tracz, less affordable—dining experience. Via email, Butterfield says that Territory, despite being a hub for non-locals, is centrally focused on Denver dishes, writing, “I felt it imperative as a Rocky Mountain native and chef to showcase what Colorado has to offer from a culinary stand point,” adding that the hotel location provides a prime opportunity to cater to guests hailing from all areas of the country and the world at large. Tracz feels as though the new design will allow Butterfield’s cooking to shine: “We really wanted to create a space that (Butterfield) would feel comfortable in. The menu was already there, what was really missing was the feel.”

Territory’s new ambience is successful in providing both casual and up-scale dining experiences in part because of the clever division of space. There are trellis elements that break up the space between the communal, casual bar area and the more intimate sit-down spaces in the back of the restaurant. Mason jars bring a homey feel to the kitchen area, toboggans on the ceiling give a nod to both the woodsy and whimsical, and stylized faux taxonomy moves the feel from lodge to leisurely modern dining. “We wanted to make it a place for people to be comfortable and hang out, but we really wanted include places for discovery too—these little surprises to give it more umph on the inside,” Tracz says. What’s less surprising than these unexpected elements, such as the painted Adirondack chair art installation lining a back wall, is the customer response, which has been overwhelmingly positive. The hotel’s location in close proximity to the city’s convention center brings in plenty of recurring business traffic, and return customers have been giving their compliments and their free time to the Territory’s revamped space.

While the location doesn’t provide much in the way of local foot traffic, Tracz hopes that the new vibes will open the door for customers hailing from across the country or across the street. The space is also friendly for all seasons—with both wintery reminders of snowy weather and al fresco dining options for the busy springs and summers.

From looks, to food, to profitability, things are changing at the newly re-opened Territory Kitchen & Bar. And the happy hour? Don’t worry, it’s still known as one of the best in town.

By Emily Byrd

Industry News, NextGen Casual, Restaurant Design