Kevin Costner is test driving downtown Ventura’s newest restaurant.
The Watermark embodies the culmination of 18 months worth of work and 62,000 pounds of steel.
Costner will host the premiere of “Swing Vote” in Ventura on July 26 with the first public event at Watermark, a high-end restaurant and bar at Chestnut and Main streets. The grand opening is Aug 2.
“It’s a little bit of Beverly Hills and a little bit of Las Vegas wrapped into one,” said Rob Edwards, Downtown Ventura Organization executive director.
The restaurant resides in the restored Groene Building, which was built in 1928. Property owner and music manager Mark Hartley has completed nine other restoration projects in downtown Ventura, but this one offers something new.
“I think there’s a void for a high-end restaurant in this part of the country. I don’t see any serious contenders, except of course Santa Barbara and the west San Fernando Valley,” Hartley said.
“We have a very unique building and a very unique classic landmark. It will pull people off [Highway] 101.”
Downstairs, the restaurant retains some of the building’s original flavor from 1928. Interior designer Kathleen Coady ensured that the Norman Kennedy murals of historic Ventura were restored. Managing Partner Jim Rice said the mural artwork would also be replicated on the restaurant’s house wine labels.
The Watermark has African mahogany cabinetry, a wrap-around bar of gold onyx lit from below, travertine marble floors and an 80-year-old mirror with a hand-carved gilt baroque frame.
Giving a tour, Rice listed every artistic touch. “Details in the bathroom are as important as anywhere else,” he said. “That’s where people spend a lot of time looking around.” He pointed out mother-of-pearl inserted between the tiles and solid bronze sinks.
A vault, which once served a bank that was once in the building, will be home to the restaurant’s most rare and expensive liquors. A private seating area that Rice called the “wine loft” overlooks the main dining area from the mezzanine. It’s only separated from the restaurant’s first floor by an intricate wrought-iron railing, but has a fireplace and table for 12 people intended to give it a more intimate feel.
The building’s third floor didn’t exist when the project began. Architect Marc Whitman and contractor Peter Livingston couldn’t simply add on to the top of the building. To protect its original structure, they built a hefty steel framework from which the third floor is suspended.
From the outside, the third floor matches the Spanish Colonial revival and zig-zag modern styles but inside, the third floor is a complete departure from what’s below.
Rice said that H2O, the rooftop bar, will have space for dancing, eating, drinking, watching the big game or having a private party. One private area, a potential cigar lounge, seats 16 and includes a large TV.
The building has a few TVs, an extensive sound system, more than a dozen security cameras and a few Web cameras. “This place is wired like the Pentagon,” Rice said.
The rooftop is retractable, providing an outdoor lunch spot in good weather with views toward the city, ocean and mountains. If guests look around inside H2O, they’ll have an eclectic mix of artwork to view and a jellyfish tank.
“We would like to be the spot that everybody stops at on their way to Santa Barbara,” Rice said.
Visitors can pull right up to the curb because The Watermark will have downtown Ventura’s only valet parking. It will also have a dress code.
“It’s definitely going to raise the bar,” Edwards said.
The menu will consist of locally inspired cuisine, Rice said.
The kitchen will contract with area fisherman, buy mostly local vegetables and maintain an herb garden on a neighboring roof.
He said the produce in the region is high quality and “to not take advantage of that is lunacy.”
Entrée prices will have a broad range. Rice said some would be available for less than $20 and some for more than $50.
Hartley hasn’t revealed all his plans for the restaurant’s grand opening, but he hinted that there would be “high-level entertainment.” Hartley is the co-owner of the Fitzgerald Hartley company, which manages musical artists Brad Paisley, Colbie Caillat, Leann Rimes, Vince Gill, Robert Cray and others.
He also didn’t disclose the total bill for the restoration. “Let’s put it this way – a couple of large ones,” he said, adding that his big commitment has kept him occupied. “I’m involved in every decision as it relates to food and plates and forks. I spent two years of my life designing this restaurant and putting the pieces together.”