3 margaritas: creating an authentic Mexican experience with respect for history | modern restaurant management

When 3 Margaritas decided to move to a prominent location in the historic Kittredge building at the 16th Street Mall in downtown Denver, 3 Margaritas co-owner Esteban Murguia wanted to bring a taste of Mexico to the area. The location was ideal for this since the space originally served as the lobby for the Paramount Theater and still had ornate Art Deco details and beautiful terrazzo flooring from days gone by.

Local design firm re:architecture was chosen to create a contemporary Mexican dining experience for over 200 diners that respects the historic character of the building. Rick Epstein, founder and director of re:architecture, brought over 25 years of experience in architecture, urban design and master planning to provide a comprehensive and integrated perspective to the project.

The team’s goal was to celebrate the historic character of the space, while providing a modern Mexican dining experience for customers. The interior concept was brought to life with Mexican artwork, custom light fixtures and furniture sourced from the owner’s state of Jalisco, Mexico.

“We immersed ourselves in the Jalisco culture to create an authentic Mexican restaurant for customers without leaving Denver,” Epstein said. “We have carefully and diligently considered both large and very small elements to bring the Mexican dining experience to restaurant patrons.”

To ensure an authentic Mexican feel to the restaurant’s design, several trips were made to Murguia’s birthplace, Jalisco, in west-central Mexico. It was in Guadalajara, the capital of Jalisco, that the architect discovered works of art, lighting, Talavera tiles and other particular elements. A native manufacturer from Jalisco has been identified to manufacture all custom-designed furniture for the restaurant. The Tonala Special Crafts District has a wide range of indigenous and locally made arts and crafts and has played a central role in sourcing many of the items used in the restaurant.


The vision was to create three unique environments in the 6,000 square foot restaurant which consisted of a bar anchored by a huge central bar, the galleria as a place to display works of art in a more tranquil setting and the interior patio an “interior garden”. “A space that connects to the outdoor patio at Denver’s 16th Street Mall. Each area required a custom lighting scheme that would tastefully highlight the interior architectural elements to create a fun and welcoming Mexican atmosphere. Murguia and Epstein worked with Addie Smith, a senior certified lighting designer at AE Design Inc., who designed the lighting in collaboration with Ric, carefully choosing the fixtures to bring his vision to life.

Smith said: “Our approach to lighting design followed the architect’s vision to create three distinct spaces that each took on their own identity. Lighting in the bar, gallery and interior patio is carefully matched to each space to tastefully reflect Mexican culture for guest enjoyment.

Transform the bar

The bar has become an iconic space with custom lighting that highlights the historic flooring and trim. The bar top is made from a single piece of parotta, a special wood indigenous to Jalisco. The front of the bar is lined with hand painted black and white Talavera tiles.

“The central floating bar was designed to bring space together, with lighting as the secret ingredient to showcasing its unique features, enhancing the bar experience and generating revenue,” said Smith. “Concealed linear accent lighting is embedded in floating glass shelves with a mirrored backing that reflects the Mexican-origin liquor and the space itself. Concealed track lighting has been installed above the bar to highlight the historic Art Deco cornice detailing around the perimeter of the room Accent lighting under the bar highlights the hand painted tiles of Talavera and creates a strong silhouette for the new barstools of bright red bar, and display niches with custom lighting have been created to display special works of art that celebrate contemporary and traditional regional craft traditions.

Celebrating Mexican Traditions

The Galleria, formerly a long, low seating area, has been transformed into a brilliantly colored dining room with glossy interior paint finishes selected by Epstein, and a new refurbished ceiling vault inspired by Turrell and designed in collaboration with Smith. The cove uses concealed, slowly colored LED lighting to celebrate the tradition of color commonly used in Mexican architecture. “We wanted to unify the space, make it feel larger by using the higher ceiling, and enhance the dining experience with a subtle kinetic lighting effect,” Smith said.

The TLX RGB+TW light strip is located along the bottom edge of one side of an existing pop-up ceiling cornice. Smith worked with Epstein to add a plastered curve to the inner corner of the cove to help carry light around the inner surface for endless effect.

Epstein and Smith specified American Lighting’s TLX RGB+TW Strip Light, which is an economical and versatile strip light with RGB+ Tunable White compatible light output with a high CRI of 90+ for accurate color. Lightweight tape lengths go up to 13.1 feet, allowing for longer lines for easier setup.


“We used the strip light based on its RGB and 2700K-6000K color options, output, local availability and affordability, as well as its easy customization and long-term performance.” said Smith. “The color options allow us to set the appropriate lighting levels to create the exact effect of the experience we wanted to deliver.”

According to Jon Krams, former National Sales Manager for Prizm Lighting, the color of the ribbon light slowly changes and plays with the other painted interior surfaces, creating an experiential ambiance in the dining room. Krams said, “The paint and lighting color of this space is inspired by the bright color traditions of Mexico.” Slowly changing color patterns create an imperceptible change in the experience over time.

Create a floral paradise in the interior patio

Throughout the restaurant, no detail or experience has been spared. The third major area – the interior patio that connects to the 16th Street Mall patio with large garage doors – has been transformed into an interior garden with large custom floral chandeliers from Guadalajara and specially designed patio furniture. This space has a front wall at the entrance that is highlighted with a green parotta tree image to enhance the garden vibe.

Dining room

Even the bathrooms have been given a special treatment with floor-to-ceiling Talavera tiles to create a memorable experience. A new colorful mural in the hallway created by a local Mexican artist features animals native to Jalisco.

“When we started this project, we knew we had the major challenge of transforming a historic art deco space into an authentic Mexican restaurant, so we had to pay close attention to every detail,” Epstein said. “Once the renovation was complete, we were very pleased to see that our holistic design with artistic elements and a custom lighting system embraced the Jalisco spirit as an invitation to bring guests back again and again for an enjoyable dining experience. ”

About Imogene T. Bishop

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