Coba Cocina opened in Lexington, KY, in 2013. The two-story restaurant, which includes 400 seats and the world’s largest jellyfish aquarium, is positioned adjacent to the city’s Idle Hour shopping center on Richmond Road.

Coba, the first half of its name, is the location of an ancient Mayan ruin in an area of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula featuring many cenotes — natural pits or sinkholes that funnel water into underground passages where it gathers in warm pools — which are common on islands and coastlines.

Architect Todd Ott and interior designer Brittney Lavens of Lexington-based architecture firm, CMW, Inc., did extensive research on the Mexican area to create a space with a blend of semi-private and wide-open dining and bar areas that simulate the cenotes’ mix of wide and narrow spaces, which feature tiles that are indicative of that area.

“The Meso-American concept for the building drove much of the [tile] selections,” said Ott, who evaluated many tile types and systems for the restaurant. “The design was influenced by Incan and Mayan buildings and materials. The exterior tile was selected to communicate a travertine-type stone block. It needed to be sedentary in its horizontal striation, modeled in its sepia and earth tone palette, and of a large-format dimensional format that it could communicate stacked stone block.

“The interior is conceived as a marine menagerie, inspired with finishes, lighting and organizational compositions derived from the cenote and the shallows of the ocean off the Yucatan Peninsula,” the architect went on to say. “All of the interior tiles were selected to contribute to the marine theme.”

More than 60,000 square feet of tile was used for both the exterior and interior elements of Coba Cocina, which was supplied by Louisville Tile in Lexington, KY. “The [interior] floors were composed of a combination of bronze inlay, terrazzo, and multiple types, formats and coursing patterns of porcelain tiles,” said Ott. “The center of the space around the aquarium was the organizational cardinal point; a 40-foot nautical-type north arrow and compass was cast in travertine, surrounded by a border of the Atlas Concorde’s Doga collection in the color ‘Pepper,’ and then pixilated there out with a wide palette of porcelain tile.

“The pattern fade of the Bisazza tiles at the base of the aquarium and the toilet rooms required a dry-set for pattern match and then methodical placement process to maintain continuity on curved and serpentine walls,” the architect explained. “Maintaining consistency on so many radiused wall surfaces was a constant focus of our attention. A lot of tile required waterjet cutting to fit the applications.”

Although the interior of the space features the majority of the tile, a little less than half of the total supply was used to clad the exterior. Large-format 12- x 24-inch porcelain tiles from Atlas Concorde’s Marvel Pro collection in “Marvel Travertino Alabastrino” were used for the facade, which melds designs from natural travertine and alabaster to create a unique variegated pattern reminiscent of the natural materials.

“Coursing the large-format tile required diligent attention to specific layout protocol,” said Ott. “This was a great team effort between the architect and the contractor.”

Natural stone was also used for some aspects of the restaurants, which was supplied by Stones & Granite of Lexington in Lexington, KY. “They supplied black specular granite, as well as onyx and alabaster for the underlit stone surfaces at the bars and the hostess desk,” said Ott.

The design of the restaurant took a little more than one year, with an additional 15 months required to complete the construction. Since most of the building — interior elements, lighting and finishes — was custom-fabricated for this project, Ott and his team were onsite daily during the construction phase to ensure everything went according to plan. “I was focused on the craft of the assemblies and quality of finishes and applications,” said Ott. “Specifically, the tile system, which was patterned and composed, and required onsite monitoring to ensure the design intent was accomplished as envisioned.”

To install all of the tile, a local contractor was enlisted, who utilized products from Tec in Aurora, IL, including IsoLight™ and Power Grout®. IsoLight, a lightweight mortar that protects tile from up to 1/8-inch substrate cracking from in-plane horizontal substrate movement, was used to bond all of the tile. It contains recycled materials and can be applied over many substrates, which was an advantage for the installer.

“The mortar was applied over various substrate surfaces and used with a variety of tile materials,” said Donnie May, president of May Contracting, Inc. in Ashland, KY. “Not having to change products during installation saved us time and allowed us to focus on the intricate details of this installation.”

Power Grout, which provides permanent stain, crack and efflorescence resistance, as well as color uniformity, was also used all on interior and exterior applications.

Although Coba Cocina was closed in April 2016, the Cowboy Brazilian Steakhouse that took its place in October 2018 kept the original layout and tile features, which continue to draw visitors to the structure. “It has been well received by the public at large,” said Ott.

Coba Cocina

Lexington, KY

ARCHITECT: CMW Inc., Lexington, KY

TILE SUPPLIER: Louisville Tile, Lexington, KY (Atlas Concorde’s Doga collection in “Pepper” and Marvel Pro collection in “Travertino Alabastrino;” Bisazza’s Mosaico collection in “Shading Blends”)

STONE SUPPLIER: Stones & Granite of Lexington, Lexington, KY (Alabaster, black granite, onyx)

TILE INSTALLER: May Contracting, Inc., Ashland, KY

INSTALLATION PRODUCTS: Tec, Aurora, IL (Power Grout, IsoLight)