The majority of the 2019 James Beard honors won’t be conferred until May, but Tuesday brought word that Seattle’s storied Canlis has received this year’s Design Icon Award, given in recognition of “national standard bearers of outstanding design and design innovation.”
Perched above the north end of Lake Union, the restaurant opened in 1950, with the architecture of the building itself — designed by Seattle’s Roland Terry — rivaling its breathtaking water-to-mountains view. The James Beard Foundation announcement praises the restaurant’s “warmly modern” style that “epitomizes the period’s Northwest Modern movement.”
Co-owner Mark Canlis calls the Design Icon Award “such an affirmation, a big honor.” The Canlis family’s stewardship of the building has included multiple remodels over the decades — most recently, the bar was reconfigured under the direction of architect George Suyama — with this award acknowledging the seamlessness of the changes in addition to the original design. Mark Canlis says, “It’s a culmination of what our grandfather set out to do, what our parents so diligently worked towards, and what we’ve been doing for 15 years now — three generations of building and running and redefining the most beautiful restaurant we can.”
A fine-dining classic that’s also known for culinary innovation, Canlis received its first James Beard award — after almost a dozen nominations over the years — for Outstanding Wine Program in 2017. This year, the restaurant is up for the Outstanding Service award and chef Brady Williams is in the running for Best Chef Northwest; several other Seattle places also made the list of semifinalists. The finalists will be announced March 27, with winners named on May 6.
If the Design Icon honor doesn’t ring a bell, that’s because it’s a new award, created by the James Beard Foundation in 2016. Chosen by the Foundation’s Restaurant Design Committee, the award goes to classic establishments that have “remained substantially unchanged for at least 20 years” and “influenced and inspired the design of subsequent restaurants.” Previous recipients include The Four Seasons in New York (2016); Grand Central Oyster Bar and Restaurant, also in New York (2017); and The American Restaurant in Kansas City, Missouri (2018).