Rae is wide open in every sense of the word. Located in Philadelphia's brand new CIRA Centre, the restaurant flows from the lobby of the building into its own space without the use of doors. Curving polished plastered walls lined with grass are the only things distinguishing Rae from the lobby. The walls are also moveable to reconfigure the space for parties.
Patrons entering the building get a clear view into the eclectic 6,500-square-foot restaurant. Large two-story glass windows allow for a view both from the outside and inside, and an open central kitchen is visible from anywhere in the restaurant.
"My business partner and I thought the location was in a developing part of town," chef-owner Dan Stern said of the location. "It was well populated with good restaurants and retail and a tremendous amount of students. It's also easy to get to from the suburbs."
Rae, Stern's second venture, in the lobby of the 29-floor CIRA Center, which also houses professional offices. DAS Architects of Philadelphia designed the outlet.
The menu ranges from such items as onion soup and roast chicken, to classics with a twist, like smoked rabbit nachos. Rae's menu also features bar food like venison cheese steak, truffle pizza and tuna pizza. Stern describes the menu as "American creative."
The restaurant opened in December 2006 after four months of construction. "It is a three-story space, with full glass walls on all sides and a beautiful view of the skyline," said Schultz.
Rae's architecture also allows for the customer to choose the ambience, with eight different dining environments. At the side of the restaurant is the Chef's Table, with a private window to the kitchen. The upstairs Wine Room is a private dining room with glass walls that showcase more than 1,000 bottles of wine. The downstairs ballroom area is a full-service, sit-down dining space that can accommodate 200 and is expandable for events. The overall effect is similar to different rooms in a house.
David Schultz, founder and architect for DAS Architects said: "The lobby dining is a very festive public space with beautiful views and also probably the most intense space because its near the bar and there's a lot of energy. For those who want more privacy, they can either ask to be seated in one of the rear dining rooms or the booths because acoustically those are more quiet."
Stern had seen DAS Architects' work before when they were commissioned for a fall renovation project for Georges Perrier's Le Bec-Fin in 2004. Stern was executive chef of the restaurant at the time.
From Rae's lobby, where the host station is located, guests can see all the way into the restaurant and Rae's bar. According to Schultz, the bar is intended to link the lobby to the restaurant.
Schultz described the general color palette of the restaurant as "very light and elegant."
Soft fabrics were used throughout the space, including suede and velvet, which were used for upholstery. In addition sheer drapery hangs from the windows. Also, colors such as aqua, mink, taupe and cream provide a cool and calming effect.
"We developed a palette through many months of meeting with Dan [Stern]," Shultz said. "We wanted to complement the building but not overpower the food. We were searching for a timeless environment that wouldn't become outdated, so the idea of doing this in light, contemporary colors makes the food more important."
Lighting plays an important and tricky part in the design. Since the space is surrounded by glass windows, sunlight pours in during the day, Schultz said. To mute it, sheer drapes are used. The space transforms in the evening when crystal pendants of light brighten the restaurant while giving a sense of starlight.