Dining on the Edge: Table Rock

Populism meets high design at one of Canada’s greatest natural phenomena.

A jewel in the crown of Canada’s natural wonders, Niagara Falls is actually composed of three thundering cascades, but the one everyone thinks about, and which certainly graces almost all tourist paraphernalia is Horseshoe Falls. When visitors come to the Canadian side, they invariably make a pilgrimage to Table Rock, the most dramatic viewing point from which the 2,600-ft.-wide curved lip of the Falls extends across to the American side. “Breathtaking” barely describes the spectacle. So breathtaking, in fact, that many seem to forget to turn around and experience the understated Welcome Centre, a retail and dining complex mere steps away.

Built in 1926, expanded in 1974 and owned and operated by Niagara Parks Commission, the existing restaurant and retail areas were looking “dull and dingy,” as Commission chairwoman Sandie Bellows admitted in a Niagara Falls Review story. So, the Ontario government agency turned to Toronto-based Johnson Chou Design in collaboration with +VG Architects to enact a $9.7-million program that called for a complete modernization of the main floor retail and fast-food area, renamed Table Rock Centre, and extensive refreshment of the former Elements on the Falls on the upper level, now called Table Rock House Restaurant, including the dining areas as well as main entrance, waiting area, kitchen service and bar.

Table Rock Welcome Centre is a notional “hub” that functions in a supporting role to the visitor’s appreciation of the Falls.

Visitors’ first exposure to the facility is the Welcome Centre, which Johnson Chou describes as “a notional hub” through which one engages with the essence of Niagara Falls. Here, all the retail and hospitality features — the Main Entry, Table Rock House Shop, The Table Rock Market, and the Journey Behind the Falls — function “in a supporting role to the visitor’s appreciation of the awe-inspiring, brutally magnificent, cascading natural wonder,” says Chou.

The main circulation hall, or “River”, flows through the Welcome Centre. The ceiling, illuminated in a soothing light blue, is evocative of flowing, rushing water and combined with textured stone flooring echoes the natural and enhances pedestrian movement.

The design concept elevates said experience by “creating spatial narratives with metaphorical forms and details” of both the history and natural wonder of the area, according to Chou. This is most evident in the dynamic main circulation hall ceiling, or “River,” suggesting the movement of water flowing through the Welcome Centre connecting the attractions, retail and hospitality components.

Table Rock House Restaurant

The 6,383-sq.-ft. restaurant — “a sophisticated, high-end dining option on the precipice of one of the Seven Wonders of the World,” according to Paul Sapounzi, president and managing partner of +VG Architects — seats 280 and features locally sourced food and artisanal wines from the adjoining Niagara-on-the-Lake region. “The room was conceived as a means to frame the phenomenal view of this angry torrent of water,” says Chou. “The beauty and raw violence of the Falls is simultaneously shocking and mesmerizing.” An entry sequence starts at the cantilevered entrance tunnel enclosing the host station, after which patrons are led into the restaurant past a weaving, custom acrylic screen and living wall inspired by the bubbles and frothing water of the Niagara River gorge, whereupon they descend a gentle ramp which captures and prolongs the experience of the Falls. “You are met with an immediate, stunning view and suddenly you’re seated,” says Chou.

The entrance sequence was reconfigured via an extended ramp to visually connect guests with a prolonged view of the Falls.

A limited colour and materials palette helps the space to read as a cohesive whole. Copper cladding lends an antique, artisanal quality to the entrance tunnel, bar, cash desk and servery. Stretched, mirrored ceiling material on the room’s central circular bulkhead reflects table settings below it and the scene outside. The ceiling treatment raises the room’s apparent height while letting patrons see the Falls in their peripheral vision no matter which direction they’re looking.

A radial configuration of the dining and bar areas result in every seat having a view, and reflective ceiling surfaces conceal low ceilings while having the impression of being “wet.”

“Our design concept was inspired by the client’s notion that Table Rock is a ‘portal’ to a unique Canadian experience,” says Chou. “Recognizing it as the first destination immigrants often visit to celebrate their arrival, where they take their visiting friends and family and its enduring, visceral impression, our design is intended to build upon that memory, to create an extraordinary dining experience that enhances and defers to the natural wonder, the unbridled power and majesty of the Falls.”

Photography by Ben Rahn / A-Frame