Izakaya Den, Denver
“The design embraces the Japanese aesthetic idea of wabi-sabi, defined as the beauty of things ‘imperfect, impermanent and incomplete,’” says Toshi Kizaki, owner and chef of Izakaya Den. Construction involved the use of natural and man-made materials in an intentional juxtaposition of old and new. Throughout the interior, design elements include concrete, weathered steel, stone and wood cladding. The materials are meant to age, weather and gain patina over time, says Kizaki.
Parent company Hiro & Co., which also operates the 30-year-old Sushi Den concept, opened Izakaya Den in June 2013. Kizaki teamed with designer Jeff Sheppard of Roth Sheppard Architects for this new two-story project.
Traditional elements, mainly on the first floor, were designed and fabricated by Japanese artisans who came to Denver to install a variety of components on site. These included traditional shoji screens and stained wood beams and columns, which help to define dining spaces.
The second floor features a more modern and dynamic appearance, says Kizaki. There, natural materials such as stone, onyx, wood ceilings, concrete walls and oxidized steel panels combine casual and eclectic. A glass elevator and a winding staircase, with an encompassing bamboo garden, tie the two levels together.
“The restaurant is divided into separate seating areas, yet there is visibility from each space into the central bamboo garden and sake bar. This allows the interior to maintain its casual and lively atmosphere,” notes Kizaki.
The building measures roughly 15,000 square feet, including a basement. The first floor accounts for 5,800 square feet; the dining room consumes 40 percent of the space, and together the kitchen and prep areas consume an equal amount of space. There is also a small bar. The second floor accommodates a larger dining area and includes a retractable roof over the bar as well as an outdoor patio.
Izakayas in Japan are generally small and modest because of high real estate costs. “Americans are not used to this type of smaller space and we created Izakaya Den to have more space with more atmosphere,” notes the chef. His wide-ranging menu also departs from tradition. Izakaya Den bills itself as “The Sake House with Tapas.” Dishes such as Wagyu beef sliders and shrimp & grits with sriracha butter offer a hint of global fusion. The menu includes sections of sushi and sashimi, noodle dishes and Japanese small plates.