If you find yourself in Washington, D.C.’s Union Station, swing by Legal Sea Bar’s newest location. The seafood restaurant, spawned from Legal Sea Foods, is an eye-catching space with an efficient layout designed to lighten the mood of typical train-station dining.
It’s one of nearly a half dozen other food and beverage retailers that opened this past year in the busy, historic transit hub. And while the brand has been around since 1950 and has nearly 40 restaurants, this is the first of its kind. It takes up a footprint nearly one third the size of a typical Legal Sea Bar location. The unique combination of size, locale and historic base building posed a mix of challenges and opportunities for design firm GrizForm Design Architects.
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“Since this outpost was the first of its kind for the Legal Sea Bar brand, the design team was free to create without adhering to strict brand standards, which was a great opportunity for our team,” says Griz Dwight, principal and owner of GrizForm.
At just over 2,000 square feet, the open atmosphere offers options to dine in seclusion or on the open-edge railing. The horseshoe-shaped central bar was designed to maximize seating while still being small enough for a single bartender to cover it during the quieter hours.
“With Legal Sea Bar, we took our one shot by creating a bar that brings in pops of tropical colors, pinks and greens, and stained woods that contrast dramatically with Union Station, which is white and historic.” Dwight explains. “The space jumps out at you when you’re near it and draws people in because of the sheer difference.”
Creative Train-Station Dining
High-top tables with custom light fixtures perch on the open-edge railing, offering the ideal “see and be seen” spot. From this vantage point, and at the right time of the day, guests can get an almost bird’s eye view of commuters. If a more intimate spot is preferred, custom designed tables are set deeper into the space.
Images courtesy Amber Frederiksen Photography, Inc.
“One of the challenges of designing for a smaller footprint is that you have one shot to design something that a majority of guests will gravitate toward,” Dwight says, “as opposed to designing bigger spaces with the opportunity to touch upon three or five different moments.”
The design team employed clean lines and interesting textures throughout the restaurant, which is outfitted in a mixture of light European oak, painted wooden dowels, zinc fish scale tiles and palm frond-inspired flooring. The design concept draws inspiration from the natural world far from the hustle and bustle of the train station, and presents a freshly designed alternative to the station’s typical fare.
While GrizForm wasn’t required to stick to strict guidelines, the designers wanted to stay true to the Legal Sea’s overall brand and personality. They channeled this through the furniture, upholstered in dusty rose-colored leather, and with touches of stainless steel. For some additional texture and illumination, the team installed an over-bar structure which hangs below the station’s historic cast iron exposed ceiling.
Additional contrast was made by covering the bar and structure overhead with natural oak dowels with the occasional painted accent of cactus flower and jade. This colorful yet sophisticated element adds design depth to the bar and acts as a signage banner for travelers passing by.
Honoring Washington, D.C.’s Union Station
Due to historic building considerations, the design team was unable to create a space that could be closed off by walls, gates, doors or other physical structures. This meant designers needed to make specific features and materials tamper proof, which they did by creating a lockable bottle display behind the bar, custom cabinetry using tambour doors, and choosing furniture that could easily be secured each night at closing. Another limitation GrizForm encountered was that the station ceiling needed to remain visible.
“This led us to get creative with lighting, which is seen in the custom floor lamp pendants above the tables,” Dwight says. “We also were not allowed to touch any of the historic features or building structure, which resulted in a bar overhead element which is supported from the floor instead of the structure above.”
As more transit stations and airports revamp their food and beverage options, Legal Sea Bar is part of a growing trend that aims to offer travelers a space that will lighten the mood and provide a memorable place to grab a drink or a bite to eat before catching a train.
“In designing spaces like Legal Sea Bar, I hope to see transportation dining as more of a destination rather than in-between stops for travelers on the go,” Dwight says.
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