Transportive Tables: How Shea takes diners to a new place for dinner

While the sharp bite of ancho chili may transport your tastebuds to Mexico or a healthy dose of Old Bay can remind you of Cape Cod, a dining experience is about so much more than the food. From the design of the host stand to the music to the carved decoration on the end of the bar, every sensory aspect of a space comes together to create the full guest experience.

At Shea, we love stretching our creativity to design transportive restaurants—ones that immediately take the guest to a completely new place in the world, cohesive with the food but creating an overall vibe that really whisks diners away. It’s not about designing a “theme restaurant” or employing themed décor—it’s about using inspiration from our travels to other places to create an experience that literally takes guests someplace else, allowing them to share in that experience.

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COV: Nantucket prep meets Lake Minnetonka views

Summer in Minnesota means lots of time by the lake, but there are times when being landlocked can be challenging, and the lake culture just doesn’t cut it—enter: COV, an eatery on the shores of Lake Minnetonka that takes its diners on a getaway to the East Coast and the Atlantic.

Designed with preppy summer getaways in mind, COV is the epitome of fresh East Coast aesthetics: a crisp color palette of blues and fresh whites dominates, oversize silver fish hang from the ceiling, and a full wall of operable windows overlooks the water and allows for seamless integration between the indoor space and the outdoor patio, which features comfortable wicker furniture, wood decking, and coastal landscaping in a boardwalk-style setting.

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While it’s easy to see the inspiration of the Hamptons when you’re dining outside, the inside restaurant space is just as transportive (because winters do happen in Minnesota, after all). The window-filled wall still offers lake views and lets in an enormous amount of natural light, and the oak woods and accents (including a fireplace) inside bring warmth without dropping the East Coast illusion. Little details—buckles on the upholstered booths, white-and-blue striped fabric—maintain the oceanside vibe throughout the space.

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The light, open space features a showpiece oyster bar, taking diners straight to Sheepshead Bay as they watch cooks shuck oysters and crack lobster claws from seats at the cool marble bar. Best of all, boat slips mean that you can dock your boat off the lake and come right in for the freshest of seafood—looking out over the waves is enough to make diners forget that it wasn’t caught right there.

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Barrio: an on-the-border speakeasy in the heart of the city

The first Barrio location (and there was always meant to be more than one) was slated to open in 2008 on what’s often referred to as downtown Minneapolis’ Main Street—Nicollet Mall, the no-cars-allowed thoroughfare in the city where business lunches boom, patio space is prime, and happy hour is when downtown workers hold court.

First and foremost a tequila bar, Barrio adds class to the often-maligned spirit by offering more than 100 premium varieties and an upscale Latin-inspired street-food menu to match. So the restaurant needed to have a similarly sophisticated south-of-the-border vibe, without crossing the line into typical kitsch. We decided to go with a dark Latin Gothic design drawing inspiration from a Mexican church taken over by rebels and renegades.

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Found artifacts and souvenirs blend effortlessly with reclaimed fixtures and custom-built furniture to create a space that’s comfortable and not stuffy, urban but not too street, with an air of adventure and mystery. Standout features include a bull’s skull, chandeliers dripping with crystals, a wall of Mexican masks, hand-painted murals, and a candelabra coated in wax drippings that are art in themselves.

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Though the downtown Barrio—as well as its anteceding locations in Lowertown St. Paul and Edina’s bustling 50th and France neighborhood—is in the heart of an urban commercial area, that atmosphere is immediately replaced when customers step into the dark-wood enclave. The overall feel in the restaurant is intimate, sexy, a little gritty and a little brave, and it puts diners and drinkers in that mindset immediately. They order the creative-sounding tequila cocktail or branch out to try the huitlacoche empanadas. It’s the restaurant atmosphere that influences them, pushes them, and puts them right in that Mexican speakeasy.

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