Behind The Design: Black Eye Coffee in Capitol Hill

Behind The Design is a feature is which we spotlight incredible design around Denver.

The craft coffee offerings in Denver can be downright dizzying in their options. So today, we seek to spotlight, not just a place that does coffee exceptionally well, but takes its design just as seriously. We’re talking about Black Eye Coffee in Capitol Hill, and we’re not the only ones who took notice of their intricate design aesthetic that combines a mashup of throughly modern design details (neon signs, a community table with brass swivel seating) with nod to the poets who once resided in its neighborhood (think built-in cubbies for the booths which house the poets’ work): Colorado Home & Lifestyles magazine choose Black Eye Coffee as the winner of the first-annual Best Restaurant Design Award.

Knowing that Black Eye Coffee designed everything on their own, with no outside help, and knowing that each detail was designed in mind to let the coffee shop seamlessly transform, nightly to it’s its evening bar concept, alter-ego, White Lies, we became even more intrigued. Here, we  asked ones of the owners, Steven Waters, if he’d shine a light on some of the thoughtful design details behind Black Eye:

Thank you for doing this. Just last week, when at the shop, I looked up and for the first time, saw the vintage boxing gloves hanging (Note: If you’re familiar with Black Eye Coffee at all, you know boxing is a motif, both in the branding and decor). It made me think about all the design details that restauranteurs spend so much time and careful-thought on that people often miss. So I thought I’d ask you to reminisce on certain design elements

Where did the idea for the boxing gloves come from?

The gloves were actually an opening give from one of our good friend Ryan Conklin.

There’s a design motif of an early-era boxer weaved through your branding, and in some of the photos hanging on the wall, as well. What was the inspiration for that?

The original boxing logo came out of inspiration of the LoHi shop and it’s neighborhood. It was pretty notorious for underground boxing matches and the logo is an inspiration of an image of Jack Broughton, who was accredited for developing some original “rules” of bar knuckle street boxing.

Black eye coffee

Photo: @lyzrush

Tell me about the tiled pineapple inlay in the floor. I’ve heard people muse that it looks like a skull to them, so I am curious if it was intentional to not be on the nose with the design.

The pineapple is a famous symbol for hospitality, so we wanted to highlight that in the space. The hallway where the tile transitioned colors seemed like the best place to make it very large and to also fade the colors together. It was meant to almost be unnoticed at first but then once you stop and look at it you notice that it is a pineapple. But it is also a coincidence that it looks like a skull from the other side.

I’d love to know more about the bar. I know there’s a secret compartment, how did that come about?

The entire bar flips around to reveal our back bar of booze. there are 6 sections that rotate. So during the day all that is showing is glassware and at night all of the bottles are revealed. The mirrors on the far sides also have storage behind them as well.


Photo: Black Eye Coffee

The Charles Bukowski quote, tell me about featuring that so prominently.

We wanted it to be a centerpiece on the design of that front wall. Our Black Eye/White Lies alter egos go very well with a notorious lifestyle that lots of poets and authors often lead. Bukowski was one of the most notorious for having a dark side (although he isn’t one of the poet’s row authors) and we found the quote fitting. It was hand drawn by Dan Garza at Consume & Create.


Photo: Black Eye Coffee

One of my favorite pieces is the  large black and white photo of the man covering his face  – who it is?

That image is actually of Robert Frost, one of the poet’s row authors.

Tell me a bit about the tiled floor, I’m wondering if you knew the “COFFEE” spelled out in it would be splashed all over social media or is that a happy accident?

When we were designing the space we were very mindful of what we thought people were going to take photos of. The coffee in the tile was one of them, it’s a cool addition for people to take photos of during the day and ask questions about at night. We actually laid it out by hand and laid those tiles in when the rest of the floor was being done. (I actually think one of the funnest angles in the whole space is looking out of the peep hole in the bathroom closest to the barbershop. you can see out into the rest of the space and during the afternoon with the right light it is an incredible photograph. Although I’ve yet to see someone actually take and post one through the peephole…kinda tricky).

How did you choose the neon signs, “Forever Is Composed of Nows” and “I Dwell in Possibility?” Any rejected signs? Did you know they would resonate so much with people?And why the choice to put them in the bathroom?

Those are both Emily Dickinson quotes, who is also a poet’s row author. This was actually what we went back and forth on the most with the entire space. We knew we were going to have the neon sayings in the bathrooms from the beginning of the design process, but we went through about 100 quotes before we all agreed on the Dickinson ones.

Tell me the story behind the drink window that joins you and the Proper Barber? 

The safe in between the barbershop and hallway is how we send drinks into guests in there. The order is placed with us at the bar and we put the drink back into the safe and turn the light on. The barbers then give the drinks directly to the guest to enjoy and turn the light off.


Photo: @rustandvarnish

Is there any design aspect of Black Eye Coffee that you’d like to spotlight? 

I think the biggest thing that goes unnoticed is that we have tried to make every seat in the space comfortable but also different from each other. The entire space can give you different experiences based upon where you sit. Each style of seating not only has its own lighting that we can adjust, but also its own zone for sound that we can adjust the EQ and volume on.

Cover Photo: @stevenwaters

Black Eye Coffee is located at 800 Sherman St, Denver, CO. You can find  their hours, here and info about White Lies hours, here. You can also find Black Eye Coffee, in LoHi, at  3408 Navajo St, Denver, CO 80211.