Matsuhisa’s Zen Palate

The top floor of the beloved Aspen eatery gets revamped.
The redesign was completed by Rowland + Broughton Architecture. Photo: Brad Yamamoto

By Ray Rogers

What better way to celebrate a milestone birthday than a tasteful refresh? When the upstairs of Aspen’s favorite Japanese eatery, Matsuhisa, turned 20 this past year, its owners decided it was time to give the top floor a thorough overhaul, while maintaining the essence of the beloved restaurant. 

“We started in 2003, and 20 years later we took it apart and put it back together on the anniversary,” says Todd Clark, partner and director of operations. “We modernized it while still respecting the aesthetic of a Japanese restaurant that’s in a 120-year-old Victorian house.” 

Local design powerhouse Rowland + Broughton Architecture, who completed Matsuhisa Denver with the owners several years back, adhered to a tight timeline during the fall so it wouldn’t interfere with the employees’ high-season schedule. They incorporated design elements from the Denver space in the upstairs remodel of Matsuhisa Aspen, including “the dark stone on the floor and walls of the bars, the wood acoustic ceiling, the WhisperSpan acoustic ceiling treatment and an overall organic, edited aesthetic,” notes architect Sarah Broughton. “The restaurant is housed in a historic miner’s cabin, and the historic character is maintained with the refinished wood floors and gable pitched ceilings highlighted with the acoustic material and a new lighting design.” 

Along with the updated finishes, a new kitchen was designed and installed that enabled some menu items from the larger Matsuhisa downstairs to also be available upstairs; there are other new additions to come for upstairs as well. “The kitchen and sushi bar were completely reconfigured and streamlined for better function and aesthetics,” says Broughton. “The exposed stainless-steel kitchen highlights the craft and precision of the menu.” 

The team worked directly with Nobu Matsuhisa on the design of the sushi bar, a thrill for Broughton, who’s been dining here throughout its two decades (the yellowtail jalapeno sashimi and shiitake mushroom salad are two of her favorites). “This included working together with the tape measure to make sure the dimensions allowed each sushi chef to be able to hand-deliver the sushi directly to each patron,” says Broughton. “His attention to detail and service was inspiring.” 

The nine-seat cocktail bar remained in its original position, but was drastically improved, says Broughton. “We redesigned the liquor display with an antique mirror, quartz surface, walnut wood and integral lighting to highlight the bottles.” A perfect location to enjoy Broughton’s go-to, The Gardener cocktail—“a must order!” she raves.

The improvements to the space will also be a boon for the brand’s robust catering business. “It’s a very special place for private events—it’s got an intimate feel, an amazing sound system, and a big-screen TV, so you can play sports or a video if it’s a birthday or anniversary,” says Clark. “You have your own private cocktail bar and your own private sushi bar—what could be better than that?”