A formerly nondescript hotel restaurant gets a regionally inspired makeover with a standout street-level bar.
At Seattle's Alder & Ash, design firm Wilson Ishihara installed a dramatic bar, layering in materials and textures to create an eye-catching destination for post-work cocktails.
Ask most Seattleites about the longtime occupant on the corner of 7th Avenue and Pike Street, and most people will give a shrug or some kind of half-hearted answer involving the words “café” or “restaurant.” Despite its prime downtown location—just across from the Seattle Convention Center on the street level of the Sheraton Grand hotel—the formerly nondescript eatery didn’t inspire much enthusiasm. So, when the hotel decided it was time to renovate the space, it was important that the new restaurant, Alder & Ash, stand out—they wanted it to become a favored destination for the city’s downtown core.
“The space has a very checkered past,” says Mark Wilson, a partner at California-based Wilson Ishihara, the design firm responsible for the renovation. “It started as a loading zone, and when the hotel built an additional tower, they turned it into a restaurant. It had a pseudo-diner concept—there were booths everywhere and the layout was cut up and convoluted.”
The seating area next to the bar allows for more intimate conversation between guests. The custom wood casework is filled with pieces from local artists.
The new spot takes on a decidedly more refined tone through its materiality, custom fixtures, and open layout that better connects the main dining area with the bar and lounge. “We did a near-gut renovation,” Wilson says, “cutting back the space to the point where some ‘no parking’ signs were exposed, left over from when it was a loading dock.”
“One of the main goals was to create synergy between the bar and dining room,” adds Yoko Ishihara, a partner at Wilson Ishihara. “We wanted the bar to have a very social vibe that would pull people in off the street, and the dining room to be a very dramatic anchor.”
According to the designers at Wilson Ishihara, screens throughout Alder & Ash are designed on the concept of the tensions between the three different street grids that Seattle had in its nascent years.
After taking things down to the studs, the designers built the space back up, layering in materials including stone, walnut, and brass. The firm has offices in northern California, so they did a deep dive into Seattle's history and culture to garner ideas for the project.
“We were inspired by the beautiful nature in Seattle,” says Ishihara. “The mountains, the softness of the water, the texture of the rain. Looking into the heritage of the city, there’s an innovative side of Seattle with a streak of rebelliousness. There’s also the grunge movement and the boating culture—and the craftsmanship that comes with that. We tapped into all of that and more.”
The main dining room features a natural, earth-tone palette and several different seating configurations. Lighting is custom-designed by Wilson Ishihara.
At the front of the restaurant is the bar—topped with dramatic black-and-white Andes quartzite, “inspired by the texture of the mountains,” according to Ishihara, it runs the length of the room, curving at the end nearest the door, creating a communal seating area that encourages conversation between guests. Balancing the stone and giving the eye a place to rest, is the bar front, made from walnut wood. Custom Art Deco-inspired light fixtures run along the bar top, and a large, glass-globed chandelier hangs at one end—a welcoming beacon for passersby.
“We didn’t want to change the location of the bar,” Wilson says, “but before, you couldn’t see it well from the street. It was under-scale. Adding the curved portion and the dramatic light fixture at the end pushes it towards the window and draws people in.”
Handcrafted lighting, tiled booths, and detailed upholstery in the dining room tap into the Northwest region's dedicated to craftsmanship.
The dining room has a more subdued palette but still boasts its own set of theatrical design details. A large banquette upholstered in plaid runs down the center of the room, situated under a custom industrial chandelier. Additional seating comes as two-tops against the wall or curved booths walled in zellige tiles. Artwork and accessories throughout were sourced locally, from pottery to paintings.
“We wanted a very dramatic space in the dining room,” says Ishihara. “There is that ‘wow’ moment with the central lighting fixture and seating area, but we wanted to create a special moment in each corner so that customers can come back and try a different spot each time.”