‘A ’60s, Four Seasons feel’: How a Fort Worth architect transformed this restaurant space

When Harold Monroe walked into the First National Bank on Tuesday, April 19, 1961, the Star-Telegram’s then-financial editor wrote that dignitaries and journalists at a posh preview for the building were “not prepared for the true magnificence that greeted them.”

First National Bank was bringing the International Style downtown and not holding back.

That’s the reception restaurateur Adam Jones, chef Blaine Staniford, who both operate Grace and Little Red Wasp in Fort Worth, and architect Greg Ibañez hope to elicit when diners visit 61 Osteria, the new restaurant inside the since-rebranded First on 7th.

Jones, the veteran restaurateur, approached the architect of more than 40 years with a concept and few demands.

“I wanted a 1960s, Four Seasons feel,” said Jones, referring to the legendary former Four Seasons restaurant in the Seagram’s tower in midtown Manhattan.

He left the rest to Ibañez, who, with fellow architect Bart Shaw runs the local firm Ibañez Shaw. They create large, colorful and perhaps divisive structures like Chroma Eyewear on Montgomery and Hotel Revel on Eighth Avenue.

The bar of 61 Osteria, a new restaurant in downtown Fort Worth.
The bar of 61 Osteria, a new restaurant in downtown Fort Worth.

To understand Monroe’s reception and Ibañez’s approach, consider the 21-story tower, designed by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill. It is starkly modern, made of concrete with glass covered by a curtain wall. The interior was a collaboration between SOM and New York-based designer Melanie Kahane. By pairing brightly colored fabric chairs and carpets with a combination of teak, black Formica and steel, she added a colorful pizzazz.

The space, like the lobby, is cased in glass, the same panes from 1961. Ibañez focused on what he saw as a jewel box: a glass-clad exterior wrapped around a brightly lit, sophisticated restaurant and bar.

“The restaurant is a lantern. It has warm glow. It’s convivial and celebratory,” he said.

Ibañez, soft-spoken, direct and not easily charmed, is, in fact, charmed as he watches the final details come together a few weeks before the Feb. 2 opening.

“It’s historical but the language still remains fresh. It’s not deliberately retro,” he said.

His background made him a fit for Jones’s concept.

He graduated from the Illinois Institute of Technology’s architecture school, known for its curriculum and campus designed by Mies van der Rohe, the famous German American modernist architect.

James Ingo Freed was dean for his last two years at the school. Ingo Freed happened to work with I.M. Pei’s firm (eventually known as Pei Cobb Freed & Partners). The renowned modernist’s firm designed the Meyerson Symphony Center, Dallas City Hall and the late Anne Marion Burnett’s Westover Hills home.

It’s also where Ibañez got a job after graduating.

After his stint with Pei, he bounced around the country, wound up in Dallas and was lured to Fort Worth to work for Gideon Toal. He went solo before merging his practice with Shaw in 2017.

Fort Worth architect Greg Ibañez designed 81 Osteria, a new Italian restaurant in the First on 7th building in downtown.
Fort Worth architect Greg Ibañez designed 81 Osteria, a new Italian restaurant in the First on 7th building in downtown.

With the firm’s knowledge and experience, Jones was comfortable enough to give him total control, down to the linens (plain white) and serving ware (ceramics, courtesy Jono Pandolfi).

Like Kahan’s choices, the additional colors range from subtle, like the teal drinking glasses, to brighter, like the tufted yellow bar chairs in the bar area. Red Oak-paneled walls allow the defining elements to command the dining experience. The bar is made with neutral colors with cut tile, and quartz bars (he called the choice “calming”); the dining room’s hues are orange, white and gold with gray carpeting.

Separating them is a grand statement: a six-foot deep and 31-foot-long marble wall made from Indian Rainforest Green carved from a single block of marble then book-matched together. The surfaces give the appearance of an open book, with the stone’s thick brown veins creating the shapes, almost like a natural mural.

Hanging in the center of the room are 24 thin, reflective metal teardrop shapes hooked together by aluminum wire, forming a chain. It’s best experienced at night, he said, but it still shimmers during the day.

Wood columns, each only a few inches apart, stretch across the kitchen, eventually covering wooden walls, allowing kitchen staff some privacy and covering bulky appliances facing the dining room and, by extension, the patio.

The subtlety stops at the bathroom doors.

Cut into the marble and next to a charcoal-dyed concrete sculpture by Austin artist Brandon Mike inspired in part by the Isamu Noguchi triptychs in the plaza, the bathrooms veer from the building’s color palate.

The metallic gold tiled walls connect the vanities, made from Brazilian Black Taurus granite speckled with gold and copper veining. Above the vanities are hand-blown glass globes with brass-fitting light fixtures designed by the late Italian designer Ernesto Gismondi, founder of the high-end Artemide brand.

Jones, dressed in a red suit emblematic of Kahan’s bright colors, was standing in the dining room on a busy night. Despite the dinner rush and customers waiting to be called, he paused to look at the dining room.

He was in awe of Ibañez’s work.

“Greg has been a restaurateur’s dream to work with. He has helped me design a beautiful living space to serve food and drink,” Jones said before rushing back to the entrance to greet the latest customers.

Ibañez is proud, too.

“This was just a project I was passionate about,” he said.