The Definitive Guide to Denver and Colorado

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Paying Homage to The Roaring ’20s

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Denver speakeasies are an intoxicating adventure

By Eric Elkins

What is a speakeasy, really? Back during prohibition, a super-secret entrance was a necessity when it came to serving up illegal booze under the radar. But now? Slipping through a sham facade to get into a dimly lit cocktail bar is more a matter of storytelling than hiding out from the feds. Still, surrendering to the spell of a well-crafted tale can be its own special pleasure.

 

Especially when you’re soaking up spirits by the glassful.

Denver is replete with speakeasy cocktail bars, from the throwback feel of Williams & Graham to the decidedly modern style of Retrograde. What they all have in common, though, is a meticulous approach to every aspect of the customer experience — from the way you get through the door, to the sources of ingredients and spirits, to the overall vibe of the room.

The granddaddy of them all is Green Russell, part of chef Frank Bonnano’s empire of chef-driven restaurants. You might miss the entrance if you’re not looking for it as you stroll along Larimer Square’s many options for bites and beverages. Follow the signs down the stairs to Wednesday’s Pie (three kinds daily), a legit storefront that leads into the subterranean bar itself.

And though it may be a tad fussy in its “house rules” – standing at the bar is prohibited and use of your cellphone for a call is an ejectable offense — the array of botanicals, fresh herbs, and unique, handmade bitters and sodas is truly impressive. Sure, you could select a cocktail from the menu, but if you really want to try something different, give your bartender the flavor profiles you’re craving (Base spirit? Sweet or spicy? Spirit forward, or not so much?) and let him or her concoct something special just for you.

For the full-on, prohibition-style, speakeasy experience, make your way over to the LoHi neighborhood for a visit to Williams & Graham, named (or nominated as) Best American Bar at the Spirited Awards several years in a row. What looks like a corner bookstore (do they make those anymore?) is actually an essential stop on any Denver drinking adventure. If you can’t get a reservation, your best bet is to arrive a little before opening and stand in line. Behind a swing-out bookcase, you’ll find a novel-length cocktail menu broken down by spirit preference. But the seasonal specials are where you’ll want to kill some brain cells. And don’t forget to dig into the small plates and desserts created by the talented Chef Matthew Thompson.

Insider tip: The lookout booth is the best spot in the house. From there, you can watch the stellar bartenders at work while taking in the comings and goings of Denver’s cocktail lovers.

Interested in the speakeasy experience but not so excited about the mustache and suspender crowd? Retrograde in Uptown may be more your thing. You’ll wonder if you’re in the right spot when you enter the brightly lit Frozen Matter ice cream shop, with its inventive flavors and homemade sodas. But don’t be fooled; that stainless-steel walk-in freezer door opens to a cozy Willy Wonka-esque bar that’s cool in all the right ways. I’m particularly fond of the Fox Mulder cocktail, but you’ll find your own rocket to outer space on the sci-fi-inspired menu.

Millers & Rossi is another speakeasy with a contemporary feel. The front room is a spacious art gallery with an eclectic rotation of modern works, but walk through the door at the back, and you’ll find yourself in a warmly lit den that almost feels like a friend’s living room (if that pal were partial to Edison bulbs and a wraparound bar). The cocktails range from updated classics (Smoked Old Fashioned, anyone?) to locally sourced creations. The bar is a bit out of the way, so maybe stop in for a drink or two before walking a couple blocks to Hop Alley for dinner, then make a night of it and visit RiNo Art District’s many hip joints and art galleries along Larimer Street.

Sometimes a speakeasy is less about the secret entrance and more about how you find it in the first place. B&GC in Cherry Creek North is a gem, hidden away in the bowels of the Halcyon hotel. Text (don’t call) 720.925.8598 for a reservation, and you’ll be directed to
ring the bronze bell outside an alley door. A host will lead you down a stairwell, past HVAC equipment, and along a hallway to the intimate room, which is well-equipped with some of the most adept bartenders in the whole damn city. The cocktail menu is eclectic, and you’ll be enchanted by the array of potions along the top of the bar.

What’s the line between a speakeasy and one that elicits the style and experience of one? The elegant Ste. Ellie doesn’t have a secret entrance or a storefront façade. And though the frosted glass door to the bar on Platte Street is understated, it certainly isn’t hidden. But descend the stairs to the sister bar and restaurant underneath big brother Colt & Gray, and you’ll find one of the loveliest rooms anywhere. Whether you settle into a cushy round booth or post up at the gorgeous marble bar, the Ellie’s friendly staff will set you up with some of the best food and drink you’ll find in Denver. Choose from the dynamic cocktail menu, or request a bartender to do up something unique. Ask Minetta to make you one of her signature tiki- inspired cocktails in a fish-shaped vessel, if you’re feeling especially courageous.

The food menu is affordable and delectable, too, and the kitchen is open until 1 a.m. Don’t miss the signature sticky toffee pudding for dessert.

 

 

Eric’s Best Bets
Though the speakeasies change up their menus often, most of them have a set of signature cocktails.
Here are some favorites to try:
Green Russell: Barrel Aged Blend
The concoction changes regularly, but whatever’s been aged is going to have a mellow, oaky flavor to complement the spirits inside. Always a winner.
Williams & Graham: Blackberry Sage Smash
Sweet and herby, with a hint of lemon. It tastes fresh and delicious, like an afternoon hike in the foothills.
Retrograde: Fox Mulder
It’s not actually on the menu anymore, but the bartenders will make it for you if you ask nicely. With two kiwnds of whiskey, chocolate bitters, and Yellow Chartreuse, you, too, will want to believe.
Millers & Rossi: The Wakeup Call
A whiskey-based cocktail with the bite of Byrrh, but what makes the drink special is the espresso and custom chocolate sourced from Hotbox Roasters and Temper Chocolates, just a few blocks away.
B&GC: Suit Separates
An unexpected pleasure, with Suntory Whiskey and Plymouth Sloe Gin, all warmed up with sherry and pineapple gum syrup. Try not to guzzle it down.
Ste. Ellie: The Loneliest Monk
Rye, Yellow Chartreuse, Underberg bitters, and one giant rock. My favorite bittersweet comfort cocktail always makes me feel a little less lonely.
Union Lodge #1: Red White Blue Blazer
The fiery floor show is just the beginning.

Is Union Lodge No. 1 a speakeasy? Not strictly,. Set in a storefront on Champa Street downtown, there’s nothing hidden about the place. But step inside, and the vibe is pure vintage, from the 19th century pre-prohibition cocktails to the old-timey attire (and attention to detail and customer service) of the staff. Co-owned by Williams & Graham alum and award-winning bartender Jason Patz, Union Lodge has everything you’d want in a speakeasy experience. The intimate room is warm, the bartenders are ridiculously friendly, and you can even order a drink they’ll set on fire.

Whichever speakeasies you choose to visit, embrace the romance of the experience. Chat with your servers and bartenders and learn what their favorites are. Let them know your tastes and preferences so they can steer you to something new and delicious. And always, always tip well.

Eric Elkins spends way too much time and money on cocktails and delicious dishes. He’s the CEO of WideFoc.us Corp, a social media agency celebrating 10 years in business, and writes young adult novels on the side. His blog about being a single father is datingdad.com.

COLORADO’S HIDDEN TREASURE

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GOLDEN, COLORADO SHINES OUT WEST

by BRITTANY BANDEMER

It’s no secret that Colorado’s real estate market is booming, spurred by an influx of out-of-staters making the Centennial state their home. While many consider Denver or Boulder favorable places to settle down, they often overlook one of Colorado’s most beautiful and understated municipalities: the city of Golden.

Golden rests in a basin against the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, below the North and South Table Mountains. On one side the city is marked by the prominent “M” for the School of Mines; on the other with the infamous “G” of Golden. Golden’s prime location serves as a focal point between Denver, Boulder and Evergreen, and offers a direct route to Black Hawk and canyon access – bypassing traffic to the slopes.

The city’s history is traced to its establishment in 1859. Proudly proclaimed across its welcome banner in the heart of downtown, Golden’s slogan is simply, “Where the West Lives,” and this declaration couldn’t be truer. This city is rich in history and continues to embody that spirit with barn wood trimmings, stucco-styled homes and architecture reminiscent of the Old West.

Yet for all its storied past, Golden is becoming increasingly modern, with red cobbled brick lining pedestrian walkways and immaculate landscaping  – lending the town the uniquely dichotic feeling of being in two periods at the same time.

While technically a college town, home to the School of Mines, Golden does not resonate with that trait. A top-notch university, The School of Mines was recently rated the top engineering school in the nation by College Factual. Clearly, the college is not home to lackadaisical students. In fact, these students are ambitious and disciplined learners, attending the university not for a good time, but for the most advantageous career achievable. While they may go out on the weekends to the Swig Tavern, students are more likely to spend their free time studying or experiencing the great outdoors.

Golden’s myriad outdoor activities attract athletic enthusiasts by the droves. Colin Endsley, an outdoor adventurer who has lived in Golden for a little over a year says, “Golden is great in that you can walk in any direction from town and find some trail to fall into,” and truly there aren’t enough trails to behold. Golden’s trails are perfect for hikers and cyclists – Lookout Mountain serving as a popular route for the avid cyclist – and the views from each trail are spectacular, ranging from downtown Denver to DIA and back to the formidable Rockies.

Yet the ample trails are just a sampling of what Golden offers. There are also water sports such as tubing and kayaking (when the water flow is safe) from the Clear Creek River, and fishing for Rainbow and Brown trout for the avid angler.

Of special note is Golden’s popularity for the extreme sport of hang gliding. Windy Saddle Park offers a great launch point for hang gliders, and these colorful contraptions can be seen sashaying down the mountain most Saturdays and Sundays during the summer months.

Outdoors aside, one of Golden’s leading attractions is its quaint downtown, a charming and unassuming destination for tourists and locals alike. Downtown Golden is privileged to have so many locally owned restaurants and shops that could keep the body feasting and the mind entertained for days. Home to the infamous Coors Brewery and seasonal farmer’s market, the area embodies everything regionally Colorado.

Notable boutiques include Spinster Sisters Co., which now offers three locations in the Denver metro area (Golden serving as its home base). Opened in 2011, its founder Kelly Perkins calls her products “an alternative to the witches’ brew of 

chemicals that many mod

ern skin care products represent.” From body scrubs to men’s shaving cream, Perkins and her team will keep your skin singing and fantastically fresh, no matter how dry Colorado’s air may be.

Sharing a storefront with Spinster Sisters is Baby Doe’s, a retailer showcasing relaxed and bohemian styles for the laid-back mountainista, as well as the craftsmanship of more than 40 regional artisans. Now under new ownership, Baby Doe’s offers a fresh look and feel that is sure to keep visitors stopping in to shop at one of the downtown area’s well-known establishments.

While the shopping is great

, the dining options are varied and delicious. If you’re looking for a good beer and a good time, there’s the Golden Moon Speakeasy and Buffalo Rose with live music weekly. If you’re following your taste buds and looking for superb dishes, you can venture over to Woody’s Pizza or Indulge Bistro & Wine Bar; Indulge has perhaps the best iced tea in Colorado, which they’ll bring to you by the pitcher.

When you’re ready for dessert, a must-visit is the family-owned and operated Gold Mine Cupcakes. Recently  named by MSN.com as one of the top 16 best bakeries in the U.S., the bakery offers delicious, made-from-scratch creations served fresh by an even sweeter staff. Gold Mine Cupcakes will surely satisfy your sweet tooth with its assortment of 35 flavors and specials daily.

With all these successful businesses and the city’s incredible geography, it’s no wonder people are choosing to explore and settle down in Golden. The once outdated homes are constantly under renovation and are becoming prime real estate for those looking to live the mountain lifestyle, while not sacrificing proximity to the Denver area.

In the future, more local businesses will continue to take root and make their home in Golden. Thoughtful development and growth will only add to the area’s allure as a destination spot for visitors looking for something unique and special, and locals wanting to stake their claim in this unsung gem of Colorado’s landscape.

LET THE GOOD TIMES ROLL

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A GUIDE TO COLORADO’S TOP SUMMER FESTIVALS

by MARIAN TUIN

Picture yourself surrounded by the peaks of the Rocky Mountains; a pristine mountain breeze whispers across your skin, and rays from Colorado’s warm summer sunshine engulf you. You stand in the open air, perhaps holding a locally crafted beer or a crisp glass of wine. The music reverberates; sounds authored by the likes of Grammy award-winning country sensation Keith Urban, or the bluesy funk of Colorado’s own Nathaniel Rateliff and The Night Sweats.

Summer is the epicenter of Colorado’s festival season! It’s a place where your senses are stimulated by the sights, sounds, tastes and experiences embedded in our beautiful, sundrenched days and warm, star-filled nights. There are plenty of offerings from the city limits to the mountain valleys. And the collective 2017 lineup promises something for everyone: from music and bike enthusiasts to brewers, balloonists and wine connoisseurs … we even tracked down festivals for yogis!
If you’re ready for the freedom that the vibe of summer and outdoor experience brings, you don’t have to miss a beat researching and planning because we’ve done the work for you. We have compiled a list that highlights some of Colorado’s unique festivals scheduled for 2017, and captured exclusive insight from some of the state’s leading festival founders and producers.
So whether you find yourself surrounded by the peaks of Telluride or the lofty cityscape of Denver, you are bound to have a memorable experience.

FOR THE MOUNTAIN FESTIVAL SEEKER:

Jazz Aspen Snowmass
June Experience – Aspen
“The festival that we do at the end of June is how Jazz Aspen started back in 1991,” according to Jim Horowitz, founder and curator of the elite Jazz Aspen Snowmass June and Labor Day Experiences.
The experience features four nights of headline concerts at the Benedict Music Tent in Aspen. In addition, there are multiple shows at the JAS Cafe upstairs at the Aspen Art Museum and downstairs at The Little Nell. They also host nightly complimentary Lawn Parties on the music tent grounds before the main shows, featuring live bands and an upscale array of food and beverage.
June 23 – July 1, 2017
jazzaspensnowmass.org/june-experience.html

July 1 – August 4, 2017
BRAVO! VAIL Music Festival – Vail
The festival’s 30th season features four of the world’s greatest orchestras, internationally renowned musicians and acclaimed soloists. In the breathtaking setting of the Rocky Mountains, revel in classical masterworks, soulful jazz and electrifying pops programs. Featuring residencies by four returning ensembles: The Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, The Philadelphia Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic. Soloists include violinists Joshua Bell, Simone Lamsma, James Ehnes, Gil Shaham and Leonida Kavakos; cellist Steven Isserlis; trumpeter and vocalist Byron Stripling; and pianists Garrick Ohlsson, Yefim Bronfman and Inon Barnatan.

Hot Air Balloon Rodeo – Steamboat Springs
The Hot Air Balloon Rodeo and Art in the Park events explore the beauty of artistry and color both on canvas and in the sky. This stunningly visual weekend brings the sleepy offseason to life in Steamboat Springs and is a celebration of summertime.
July 8-9, 2017
steamboatchamber.com/info/events

Telluride Yoga Festival
This four-day event is a paradise for yogis and features more than 100 different activities including yoga, meditation, music, hiking, dining, SUP yoga and more. Guests have access to more than 50 inspiring and motivating presenters contrasted by the intimate and historic venues throughout the towns of Telluride and Mountain Village.
July 20-23 | tellurideyogafestival.com

Rockygrass Festival – Lyons
Rockygrass is the second of three events Planet Bluegrass produces annually and serves as a celebration of the town of Lyons’ strength and resilience. Originally held just 10 months after historic 500-year floods devastated the town, it is known today as one of the great traditional bluegrass festivals in the world.
Planet Bluegrass’ Brian Eyster gave us more insight into the history saying, “In 1992, the volunteer-run Rocky Mountain Bluegrass reached out to Planet Bluegrass to keep the festival alive. We found a property in Lyons along the St. Vrain River to host that event and two years later we purchased the property, known today as the Planet Bluegrass Ranch.”
July 28-20, 2017 | bluegrass.com/rockygrass

Breckenridge Food & Wine -Breckenridge
Breckenridge’s Main Street Station Plaza transforms into a charming mountainside vineyard each year to host the Food and Wine Festival. Delivering a unique wine-tasting experience, you’ll find an array of varietals created by fine wineries. From the soft and smooth to the unabashedly bold, wine lovers will get more than their fair share of delicious sips.
July 29, 2017
rockymtnevents.com/breckenridge-food-wine

Rocky Mountain Folks Festival – Lyons
Rounding out the three events produced by Planet Bluegrass, the Rocky Mountain Folks Festival is dedicated to spending a glorious summer weekend celebrating songs and stories from around the musical and geographic world.
Brian Eyster shared that community is at the heart of the event. “I love to walk through the crowd or the campgrounds and watch this unique spirit of community,” he says. “At our festivals, there is only one single stage. Guests set up their tarps and spend the entire day sharing music, making lasting friendships with their neighbors and reconnecting with friends from past festivals. People aren’t on their phones, they’re very present, connecting with their fellow Festivarians through this communal music experience in this profoundly beautiful place.”
August 18-20, 2017 | bluegrass.com/folks

Vail Jazz Party – Vail
The Vail Jazz Party could be considered a maestro ushering in the grand finale of the Vail Jazz Festival and the beautiful Colorado summer season. It serves its patrons a jam-packed lineup with more than 35 headliners, who join together to play in group performances, multi-artist jam sessions, and inspiring multimedia tributes to jazz legends.
Aug 31 – Sep 4, 2017 | vailjazz.org

Jazz Aspen Snowmass – Snowmass

Jazz Aspen Snowmass’ Labor Day Experience is nestled in the ethereal setting of Snowmass Village Town Park. This luxurious open-air event is a dance-oriented extravaganza of popular, R&B, rock, funk, blues, world, and soul music. With the spectacular Elk Mountain Range as a backdrop, this three-day experience welcomes to the stage Keith Urban andMaroon Five, among others in 2017.
Event visionary and mastermind Jim Horo-witz disclosed, “The biggest challenges over the years is what it takes to put together a stellar, world-class program of artists. We’ve managed, but clearly that’s the hardest part of what we do. It all flows from there because if the program isn’t good enough, then the people don’t come, or they don’t buy as many tickets.” Summarizing, “That really is our DNA. We are a music presenter, whether it is for 150 people listening to jazz or 10,000 people listening to Stevie Wonder. People are coming to us to hear a great musical performance.”
September 1-4, 2017 | jazzaspensnowmass.org

Telluride Blues & Brews – Telluride
Known as the festival capital of Colorado, Telluride begins to wind down its festival season with Blues & Brews. This celebration of blues, funk, jam bands, indie, rock, gospel and soul performances is paired with some of the best microbreweries in the country.
September 15-17, 2017 | tellurideblues.com

FOR THE URBAN FESTIVAL GOER:

Opening Night at Central City Opera. Featured in Central City Opera’s 75th anniversary book, “Theatre of Dreams, The Glorious Central City Opera- Celebrating 75 Years.”

Central City Opera 2017 Festival
This acclaimed summer festival features Bizet’s Carmen and Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte, performed in repertory in the historic Central City Opera House, and three one-act operas with limited runs: Britten’s The Burning Fiery Furnace, Douglas Moore’s Gallantry, and Amy Beach’s Cabildo, performed in smaller venues in Central City. Founded in 1932, Central City Opera is the fifth-oldest professional opera company in the country, renowned for its exquisite world-class productions. Just 35 miles west of Denver in the charming mountain town of Central City, the company owns 28 Victorian-era properties, including the 550-seat jewel box opera house built in 1878. This is a must-see for opera aficionados!

July 8 – August 6, 2017

Greeley Stampede – Greeley
Greeley boasts one of Colorado’s largest and most historic summer festivals and rodeos. Dating back to the 1800’s, Greeley’s Fourth of July celebration keeps the “Yeehaw!” in Colorado’s Western culture.
June 23 – July 4, 2017 | greeleystampede.org

Global Dance Festival – Denver
Global Dance showcases Colorado’s passion for dance music annually and has grown to become one of the premiere summer music festivals statewide. After spending years at Red Rocks Amphitheater, the dance party expands its boundaries and finds a new home at Sports Authority Field at Mile High in 2017!
July 21-22, 2017 | globaldancefestival.com

Underground Music Showcase (UMS) – Denver
The Denver Post Underground Music Showcase marks its 17th anniversary in 2017. It lays claim as the biggest independent music festival in the Rocky Mountain region and, more importantly, is the premiere showcase for Denver’s incredible local music!
July 27-30, 2017 | theums.com

ARISE Music Festival – Loveland
Arise boasts that it is more than a music festival, rather a movement. It is a music, yoga, activism and co-creative camping event located 65 miles north of Denver, at Sunrise Ranch. Now in its fifth year, it is proving its staying power, and this year’s lineup includes headliners Atmosphere and Ani DeFranco.
August 4-7, 2017 | arisefestival.com

Velorama – RiNo Arts District, Denver
This three-day biking, food, music, shopping and crafting extravaganza will overtake 12 blocks of the RiNo Art District for a street party that celebrates biking culture in Colorado. Daily family-friendly festivities are offered, making this an all-ages event that promises something for everyone.
August 11-13, 2017 | veloramacolorado.com

Bohemian Nights at NewWestFest – Fort Collins
Bohemian Nights at NewWestFest is a free music festival held in historic downtown Fort Collins. Prominently featuring a Colorado-based lineup, they host a variety of genres, including a one-of-a-kind, family-centered Kids’ Music Adventure.
August 11-13,2017 | bohemiannights.org/
bohemian-nights-at-newsfest.html

A Taste of Colorado – Denver
One of Denver’s most delicious weekends serves up some of the state’s favorite food. More than 50 Colorado restaurants and food establishments gather in downtown Denver’s streets over Labor Day weekend to give patrons A Taste of Colorado. Combined with six stages playing live music, carnival rides, shopping and much more, this is hands down one of Colorado’s biggest celebrations of the year.
September 1-4, 2017 | atasteofcolorado.com

Off the Grid: White Fence Farm

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Want to discover places only the locals know about? Longtime Denverite Bill Husted introduces you to this hidden gem:

The Denver dining scene has exploded in the past decade, with nationally recognized eateries opening on every corner. Expensive and somewhat precious, Denver restaurants are to be reckoned with. Ask any foodie.

But one mess hall has been serving up exactly the same simple grub since 1973 to hundreds of people every night (except Mondays). On Mothers Day and Easter they serve more than 3,000. That’s a lotta fried chicken.

Yup, fried chicken. Finger lickin’ chicken at White Fence Farm. Sitting on an eight-acre spread in Lakewood, a short drive from downtown Denver, this extra family-friendly eatery keeps it simple. Oh it serves salmon and the obligatory steak – but people come here for the fried chicken and the sides. The chicken comes piled high, a sizzling plateful the size of your head, almost impossible to finish. And the sides keep coming, bowls of bean salad, coleslaw, cottage cheese, pickled beets, hot corn fritters, chicken gravy, potatoes mashed, French fried and baked. This is all so homey and genuine you think Tom Saw- yer is your waiter.

WFF is run by legendary Denver restaurateur Craig Caldwell. For de- cades he operated sports bars like Brooklyn’s, checking IDs and planning Happy Hours. Now at WWF it’s always Happy Hour with families and friends pouring in for that familiar chicken.

If there’s a wait, no one seems to mind. They literally like to wait because they’re on the farm and there’s plenty to do. Dancing to a live band, petting the three goats, squeezing the balloon animals, chasing the geese, watching the model trains, climbing the tree house, eating the fudge, posing for the period photographs – even bellying up to the bar for a drink.

This is not your usual tourist destination. This is its own little corny world from yesterday. Work up an appetite and a sense of humor. White Fence Farm has a chicken with your name on it.

Denver Central Market – A Mile-High Market Hall

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BY MONICA PARPAL STOCKBRIDGE
Unless you live or work in Denver’s River North Arts District (also known as RiNo), you may not have noticed the H.H. Tammen building — a former curio shop and Native American crafts store that operated during the mid-1900s. After standing vacant for years, the building was renovated, refurbished and reopened in September as Denver Central Market, breathing new life into the former manufacturing hub of the city.CENTRAL MARKET FINALS_05
Over the past several years, Denver has been steadily building its reputation as a sophisticated and seasoned foodie destination. In particular, RiNo and other neighborhoods north of downtown have seen a revitalization of new businesses, residences, arts and entertainment. Part of this renaissance includes the introduction of gourmet food and retail markets and food halls, a national trend reflecting European-style open-air markets and food emporiums. Concepts like Oakland’s Rockridge Market Hall and Grand Central Market in Los Angeles (which will celebrate 100 years in 2017), Manhattan’s EATaly (with more than three dozen locations worldwide), and Chicago’s recently opened Latin food hall, Latinicity (by Richard Sandoval), are just a handful of national market hall spaces gaining ground around the country.

Before Denver Central Market opened, the modern food hall concept had taken hold in just a handful of distinct places in the Mile High City: The Source, built in a renovated foundry in RiNo, offers a mix of retail and restaurant spaces, a central bar, and upstairs office spaces. The Highlands’ Avanti serves as a modern food court and restaurant incubator. About seven concepts rent space in former shipping containers, aiming to refine their offerings, generate a following, and create a new style of dining in the city. The Stanley Marketplace is another example, currently opening in an expansive 140,000-square-foot space housing more than 50 businesses.

Denver Central Market, however, aims not to hatch new concepts or simply capitalize on a trend. Instead, owners Ken Wolf and chef Jeff Osaka sought to bring fundamental amenities to an under-served neighborhood. “I’d walk the neighborhood and found that, even just a few blocks away, there were no basic services around,” Osaka says.
CENTRAL MARKET FINALS_20
Jeff Osaka’s first restaurant, Twelve, was open for six years in Denver’s Ballpark neighborhood — just a stone’s throw from RiNo. The neighborhood was largely a commercial and manufacturing hub for many years. But Wolf had purchased the H.H. Tammen building nearly two decades earlier and had that very space in mind when he and Osaka connected.

Indeed, the two harbored a shared vision of bringing a market hall concept to the neighborhood — a place where people could purchase fresh fish, butchered meats, bread and produce, as well as sit down for a drink or a bite to eat.

“To be a true marketplace rather than a food hall, we needed retail aspects. We wanted a produce department, a butcher shop, a fishmonger,” Osaka says. “We wanted to cover all bases.”

The first step was to reinvent the space. Wolf and Osaka updated the building with elegant floor tiles, modern seating and mid-century light fixtures to illuminate the original brick and wood beams in the ceilings and walls. They organized cooking, prep, and handwashing stations for nearly a dozen vendors while keeping the space open, airy and walkable. They conjured a combination of original elements and modern furnishings designed to evoke a bygone era, achieving a sense of stepping back in time without sacrificing any of the modern comforts we enjoy.

Osaka understood that when it came to leasing the space, they needed a group of vendors firmly grounded in the Denver food scene. Justin Brunson was a natural choice for artisan cheeses and cured meats with Culture Meat & Cheese. Etai Baron of Izzio Artisan Bakery (formerly Udi’s) would provide the market’s bakery addition. Green Seed produce shop and restaurant would sell whole fruits and veggies as well as plated salads and fresh juices. Neighboring Crema Coffee House was a natural choice for the market’s java spot, and homegrown High Point Creamery was chosen to churn gourmet ice cream. “The Market really speaks to what we love most about Denver: amazing food, collaboration, and community,” High Point Creamery owners Chad Stutz and Erika Thomas write on their online vendor page.
CENTRAL MARKET FINALS_23
In a feat of organization and collaboration, all 11 vendors opened for business at the same time on September 25, 2016, each bringing something unique, high quality and memorable to the market. “We put out a great product, whether a cut of beef or an ice cream sandwich,” Osaka says. “We’re very proud to be who we are and proud of the product that we put out.”

Providing many different options under one roof has proven successful at places like Avanti, The Source, and even the recently revitalized Union Station. And while the people living and working in RiNo tend to be part of a younger demographic, “we get people of all ages in the market,” Osaka says. “Just today there were little kids here,  and elderly people. It’s a progression throughout the day. And while we thought a lot of people would walk here, we see people driving from all parts of town — even from as far away as Castle Rock.

With a minimum five-year lease, the goal at Denver Central Market is to create longevity among its vendors. “We want people to come back again and again and know the butcher will be there, or chocolatier will be there,” Osaka says, adding that he and Wolf purposely designed the building to reflect its mid-1900’s origins. “We want to be around for a long time.”

Visiting Central Market is, for some, a daily or weekly ritual for a fresh cut of meat or a morning espresso. For others, it’s an occasional excursion, a place to experience the sights, sounds, and flavors that define Denver’s evolving personality. In the early morning, when the windows filter sunlight through a patina of an earlier time, it’s impossible not to wonder about the people who used to roam the hall, and the things they found here. Luckily, that element of discovery — as well as an age-old appreciation of good food and vibrant community — is alive and thriving in the new Denver Central Market.

The Big Red F – More than a Meal

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BY MONICA PARPAL STOCKBRIDGE

      The dining scene along the Front Range has evolved in a big way over the past several years, and that growth has helped put Denver on the map as a veritable culinary destination.

     Yet, when we dine out in Denver — or any city, really — we don’t always get to see the heart and soul of a restaurant or the people who make it what it is. The really great experiences, the ones that stick with us long after the meal is over, are the ones steeped in generous service, warmed by undeniable inclusivity and authenticity that make you want to return again

     It’s not easy to find restaurants like this, and most don’t even last long enough to fully develop those traits. That’s what makes restaurateur Dave Query and his restaurant group so unusual.

     It was 1994 when Dave Query first created Big Red F restaurant group, which now includes Zolo Grill, Lola Coastal Mexican, Centro Mexican Kitchen, West End Tavern, The Post Chicken & Beer, and a shoal of Jax Fish House & Oyster Bar locations in Boulder, Denver, Fort Collins, and Glendale.

     While he is widely respected as one of Colorado’s pioneering restaurateurs, Query will be the first to tell you he never set out to own a restaurant group. What he did set out to do was create a place where everyone was treated with warmth and respect. A place where success wasn’t measured in grades or tests, but in serving high-quality food with a smile, every single night.

     One might assume that the “F” in Big Red F represents the group’s commitment to good food. Or maybe the fun-loving staff and cheerful culture. Dave’s wife and Big Red F head of marketing Dana Faulk Query likes to say that the “F” in Big Red F really stands for “family.”

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     And in truth, Big Red F is all those things. It’s a story that begins with Dave Query, and passed along and augmented through the years. Today, it’s a story told by the people who have been part of Query’s life and restaurants for more than two decades and counting.

      He may not have known       it at the time, but when Query first launched Big Red F in 1994 he was creating something of a food movement. “We just thought we knew what good food tasted like and how to serve it with a smile in a way that wasn’t being done at the time,” he writes on the company website. That concept of serving good food to all has guided this mission, and also inspired the tribe of people who have joined him along the way.

   Jamey Fader, Big Red F Culinary Director and Executive Chef at Lola, is one of those people, and reflects on meeting Query in 1996. “I saw this opportunity at Jax, and hearing Dave talk about doing ‘cheffy’ dishes but also a great burger, shrimp cocktail, and po’boys served with love and passion and quality ingredients, no matter who the guest was … well, that was revolutionary at the time.”

     That foundational devotion to good food and passionate hospitality connected Fader and Query with Jennifer Broyles, who came on board at Lola in 2002. “I remember telling Dave I’d be at Lola for maybe a year,” she says, laughing. “Seventeen years later I’m still here, and wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”

     The food and menus at Lola in particular have continued to evolve over the past 14 years, and it’s more successful than ever. Today, the regional Mexican influences and modern creativity guide menu items like Lobster Tamales, Grilled Octopus, and Whole Red Snapper. And that’s just at Lola. From fried chicken to craft beer to fresh oysters, the high-quality food options are only getting better. Thanks to Query’s restless and creative spirit, “the team has never been afraid of innovating and experimenting in order to keep challenging ourselves,” Broyles says.

Atop the foundation of great food rises the ever-growing focus on silliness and fun. From throwing fish at the annual Labor Day fish toss to throwing a great party at each restaurant every night, it’s clear from talking to anyone at Big Red F that fun is baked into   the culture.

     John “Johnny-Mo” Bachman attributes that to the early days at Zolo Grill, which created a culture that has lived on in all Big Red F restaurants.

     “The staff at Zolo was so strong, so knowledgeable, and took so much pride in their work, that anyone who didn’t pull their weight was immediately and daily called out for it,” recalls Bachman. “As a new bartender, I quickly got a reputation for taking a bit too long to make the margs.” For his entire whole first month on the job, he’d hear “Hey Molasses, those drinks ready for 52 yet?” dozens of times a night. Molasses became      Johnny-Mo and the name stuck.

     While nicknames and slinging drinks are part of the fun, Big Red F’s culture runs even deeper than that. Talk to any longtime employee at Big Red F and you’ll immediately get the sense that they’re more than just work buddies. They’re family.

     On the subject of family, Broyles says it’s integral to the group’s identity. “It goes back to the company in general, wanting to really connect with people when they walk through the door, whether they want a three-dollar beer and chicken taco or top-shelf tequila,” she says. “Our restaurants always were and continue to be places where family is created, and places that take care of their own, staff and guest alike.”

     That sense of family even extends beyond the restaurants and into the community, thanks to Philanthropy Queen Diana Underhill (and yes, that’s her real title.) “We want to contribute and support the organizations here that make our communities so rich,” she says.

     Of the many charities Big Red F supports, one notable recipient is There With Care – a nonprofit organization supporting families and children in medical crisis. At the annual Jax Fish House High West Oyster Fest in 2015, Big Red F raised an astounding $590,000 for the charity in a single evening.

     Employees like Underhill and Bachman also have their own personal experiences of family at Big Red F. They each met their future spouses while working at one of the restaurants. Query himself presided over Bachman’s wedding ceremony. And they each have their own children now, who (like all three of Query’s kids) have spent a big part of their lives in those same restaurants.

     “When you have a 21-year-old restaurant business, amazing things start to happen,” Bachman says. “We’ve watched guests go out on first dates, witnessed their courtship and marriages, and now, some of their kids work for us. That’s one amazing part about Big Red F.”

      With so much history and community woven into their story, the real meaning of Big Red F is hard to describe in a single word. Fader puts it this way: “It was evident from day one that it doesn’t matter whether you are washing dishes, bussing tables, shucking oysters, or pouring drinks,” Fader adds. “We are all held in the same high regard. That’s why so many of us have been around for 15-plus years, because we respect each other so much.”

     The sentiment surrounding Query is summed up by his eldest son who put it like this: “He’s really the kind of guy who does it all. He’d be doing kitchen prep, polishing glasses, and making it to a James Beard dinner, all of which took place before or after picking us up and dropping us off at school. DQ is a remarkable man and a remarkable father.”

     It’s big feelings like this that encompass what Big Red F is all about. It’s the feeling you get when you walk into Lola during happy hour, live music and strong drinks filling the space. It’s the feeling that someone is taking care of you, whether you’re working a long shift or finally sitting down to a good meal with your family. It’s that authentic, no-nonsense sense of passion that Dave Query and his team live and breathe each day. And more than anything, it’s feeling — knowing, even — that we’re all in this together.

The Flavors of Chef Richard Sandoval

in Front Range Dining & Nightlife by

Fifteen – Love

Tennis Pro Turned Culinary Icon Richard Sandoval Talks About Food, Flavors and 15 Years of the Denver Restaurant That Started it All

Richard Toro Hong Kong2
Chef Richard Sandoval

In May, one of Denver’s original Mexican restaurants celebrated its quinceañera. “It seems like it’s been three minutes,” Chef/Owner Richard Sandoval says of his now 15-year-old Tamayo restaurant in Larimer Square. “Time flies by,” he adds. “But to see a restaurant that is 15 years old and having its best year ever is pretty incredible. It’s a tribute to the chefs, the team, the staff. They’ve done an amazing job.”

     And that’s how my interview with the world-renowned chef begins — with an immediate nod to his staff and the people supporting him in his restaurants all over the world. He orders us two glasses of water, silences his cell phone, and turns back to me as we sit in the recently renovated Tamayo dining room to talk about his roots, his move to Denver, and his plans for the future.

Tamayo Restaurant in Larimer Square
Tamayo Restaurant in Larimer Square

The Son of A Restaurant Owner    Richard Sandoval was born in Mexico City, the son of a restaurant owner and grandson of a banker. His parents divorced when he was very young, and he spent much of his childhood in his grandmother’s kitchen.

     “In Latin culture, everything revolves around food,” Sandoval says. He describes vivid memories of watching his grandmother set the long dining room table, routinely hosting 20-25 people each Friday and Saturday. The cooks would emerge from the kitchen with ample platters of traditional Mexican dishes — as well as imported European delicacies — and young Sandoval would take part in all six or seven courses, tasting everything from molé and chimichurri to European butter and nutty Gruyère.                                                    “I was very fortunate that, at a young age, I was experiencing and tasting these different ingredients which a lot of kids would never think about tasting,” Sandoval says. “It had a huge impact on my future and my career.” He believes that someone, somewhere, had a plan for him —  a plan that would eventually lead him to a career in the culinary world.

     At the age of 12, Sandoval went to live with his father who owned an iconic restaurant in Acapulco. Not a chef but a great businessman, Sandoval’s father instilled in him the importance of business sense. “My father was always having long meetings about numbers,” he remembers, laughing. “That stuck with me.”

      The budding chef would eventually attend culinary school, but not before pursuing his other passion: tennis. “All I ever thought about throughout high school was tennis,” he says. In his early 20s, Sandoval went on to compete in prestigious matches all over the world. Yet, he eventually realized he wouldn’t make a living playing professionally. “So, I could go back home and teach tennis, orI could choose a different path,” Sandoval recalls.

     His passion for food quickly resurfaced and he decided to enter the Culinary Institute of America — although at that time he had no plans to open his own restaurant. “Never!” he laughs. But for the first time, he found himself engaged in the classroom and actively reliving a passion rooted deep in his childhood. His competitive spirit began to burn anew and led him to wonder what might be possible.

     After graduation, Sandoval went to work for his father to solidify his skills in restaurant operations. Four years later, he decided it was time. He moved back to New York and opened his first restaurants: the French-inspired Savann and Savann Est.

     In 1997, he opened his flagship modern Mexican restaurant in New York, Maya — an homage to his heritage and a veritable game-changer for Mexican cuisine. Five years after that, he opened Tamayo, his first restaurant in Colorado.

Mexican Food Then and Now

When Sandoval began building his dream of introducing Latin and Mexican cuisine to an international audience, he started with Denver — which is much different now than it was in the early 2000s.

 

    “It was much harder get people to understand modern Mexican food at that time. People saw

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Mexican food as fast casual or Tex-Mex, not fine dining.” Sandoval would gently insist that fine Mexican cuisine is not so different from fine Italian or French food, only accompanied by crema fresca and chile de árbol instead of crème fraîche and herbes de Provence.       

     Today, that perception has noticeably changed.   “As people are moving into town, you get more ethnic groups, more diversity, more people interested in more diverse restaurants.” Plus, he says, there are more and better chefs in Denver now, and that competition helps everyone grow and improve.

     “People are engaging with Mexican food like never before,” Sandoval says. “20 years ago, Mexican wasn’t a global cuisine. Today, you find it all over the world. I feel very proud to have showcased my culture in that way.”

The Move to Denver

Indeed, Sandoval’s early restaurants would lay the foundation for what was to come, namely the launch of his global restaurant group (Richard Sandoval Restaurants), including half a dozen restaurants in Colorado and nearly 40 others around the world.

     Through it all, Sandoval has never fully unmoored from his early anchor in the Rocky Mountains. In 2015, he moved his headquarters (and his family) to Denver for good.

  

ZENGO
Zengo

  “Denver has long been a home to me,” Sandoval says. “When I first opened Tamayo 15 years ago, I was actually in the process of moving here.” He had rented a house in Cherry Creek and even enrolled his young son and daughter in school. But as he was planning the move, more restaurant opportunities emerged which would require him to travel more than expected. He and his then wife decided to move their family to California, while Sandoval kept a simple apartment in Denver. “I’ve always had the most restaurants here, and I’ve always spent the most time here over anywhere else,” he says. “The plan was always to settle down here.”EDAMAME_XO

     Since Tamayo opened all those years ago, Sandoval has carved out his own space in the culinary world, anchored by his native Mexican flavors and colored with international influences from Asia, Peru, and Spain. His concepts in Colorado include Zengo, La Sandia, La Biblioteca, Maya in Beaver Creek, and Venga Venga in Snowmass, while his other 40-some restaurants span Arizona, California, Florida, Nevada, New York, Virginia, and Washington, D.C., as well as Dubai, Hong Kong, Mexico, Tokyo, Qatar, and Serbia. His latest include Isla at The Pearl-Qatar and Toro Toro on the private island of Marsa Malaz.

Never-Ending Inspiration                                            

Echoing his days on the tennis court, Sandoval is never one to stand still. New restaurants are opening all the time, like the forthcoming Aqimero in the Ritz-Carlton in Philadelphia along with others coming to Houston’s Four Seasons and Conrad Chicago.

     His 10-year-old Denver restaurant, Zengo, also continues to evolve. With a name meaning “give and take back and forth,” in Japanese, Zengo has always represented a dance between Latin and Asian flavors. However, the concept has recently taken on a greater Asian emphasis in its Dubai and D.C. locations, and an imminent fall remodel to the Denver mainstay will reflect that shift here, too.

     Sandoval is keenly aware of other changing trends in the culinary world. “Fine dining has taken a drastic left turn,” he says. “You see very few restaurants with white tablecloths anymore. These days, people are much more interested in sharing and having a more interactive experience.” Case in point: the menu at Tamayo was classically structured into appetizers and entrées for years. Now, it’s more of a sharing menu with ever-evolving starters, enchiladas, and chef-driven test kitchen items. Specials like $39 Bottomless Margarita Brunch don’t hurt, either.

La Sandia in Park Meadows Photo by Marc Piscotty
La Sandia in Park Meadows
Photo by Marc Piscotty

     Tamayo’s new urban ambience also defies former expectations. “Mexican restaurants 20 years ago had iconic arches and colorful piñatas,” Sandoval says. “People expected them to have a certain look.” Today, Tamayo is urban, upscale, and trendy with dark woods brightened by floor-to-ceiling windows. Next year, Sandoval plans to remodel the rooftop, which he calls “one of the most beautiful spaces in Denver.”

     As we wrap up our interview, I ask Sandoval what inspires him now, two decades since his childhood passion first drove him to open Maya and Tamayo.

     “Oh, it’s still the food,” he says emphatically. “When I opened Maya, I wanted to show people that Mexican food was not just burritos and combination plates. And now 20 years later, I think I’ve accomplished that.”


Monica Parpal Stockbridge
Monica Stockbridge is a Denver-based writer and editor who has covered the food and dining scene for publications like DiningOut magazine and Moon travel guidebooks. As a contributing writer for Colorado Hotel Magazine, Monica writes chef profiles and hotel stories that reveal inspiring mile-high experiences for visitors and locals alike.

Mile-High Cocktails

in Front Range Dining & Nightlife by

The Sophisticate’s Guide to the City’s Best HAPPY HOURS!

“Looks like you have a lot on your mind … Do you want to drink about it?”

     Another long day is winding down. Feeling tired, a bit overwhelmed, and plagued by a case of the blahs. But wait. There’s hope. The allure of plush leather. Soft lighting and laughter. Lots and lots of laughter.  And then … wait for it because here’s the best part … the guy on the other side of the counter glances your way, smiles engagingly and asks, “What will it be?”

     Magically, those four words transform your mood, and you feel your spirit soar as the burdens of the arduous day begin to fade. Yes, it’s happy hour, a time for fun and frivolity, innovative cocktails and witty conversation.

     For many of us, relief in the form of a refreshing cocktail is a fabulous way to unwind, kick back, and shake off the day. In a flash (or a glass), memories of a tedious board meeting, a high-stakes business appointment or even a spat on the homefront can dissipate. Yes, it’s Happy Hour, a time to rekindle romance, bare your soul to a friend, or forge a new relationship.

     Now let’s focus on you, weary traveler. After a long day of frenetic business meetings, what better way to chill than in a sophisticated outdoor setting with the sun on your face, a cool breeze, and an ice-cold beverage?  But worry not, happy hour is not just for corporate types. Even seasoned shoppers understand the value of letting their hair down at the end of a taxing day spent visiting the city’s great stores and boutiques – kind of like                  retail therapy followed by lounge therapy.

     So time to raise a glass, have some fun, and enjoy yourself in one of Denver’s many fabulous outdoor patios – where fun and sophistication are top of mind, while the people watching isn’t too bad either!

Elway’s Downtown at The Ritz Carlton

RCDENVR_00088Everyone loves The Ritz, and here in Colorado, everyone loves John Elway. So when it comes to an ideal place to relax at the end of the day, Elway’s at the Ritz-Carlton Denver delivers a winning combination. All summer long, the patio opens at 11 a.m. and remains active until closing. Daily happy hour features great food and drink from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., and on Colorado Rockies home game days, happy hour heats up all day long! Live guitar music is a popular new attraction on Wednesday nights, featuring performances by Colin McAfee, who brings his St. Louis blues roots and acoustic sounds flavored after some of the greats such as Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jerry Garcia and Jimi Hendrix.

1881 Curtis St. in The Ritz Carlton

303.312.2800

elways.com/downtown

Del Frisco’s Grille in Cherry Creek North

DELFRISCOS_0102Newly opened and already this is a favorite among locals wanting to see and be seen in the Mile High city. The expansive new rooftop patio at Del Frisco’s Grille is perched nearly three stories above the street, offering up views of the eclectic Cherry Creek North neighborhood. The patio is beautifully appointed, with landscaping, fire features, and a lounge-like atmosphere including community tables and high-top tables. The rooftop patio has its own bar and entrance via elevator or grand staircase. And best of all, Del Frisco’s Grille’s great food and cocktails are available up on the roof!

100 St. Paul St.

303320.8529

delfriscosgrirlle.com/cherrycreek

Shanahan’s Steakhouse in The Denver Tech Center

patioIf you appreciate an original handcrafted cocktail accompanied by great food and great music, Shanahan’s Steakhouse is your bet. It’s upscale, tasteful and full of beautiful people having fun. The huge outdoor space is inviting and gorgeous, with contemporary furnishings, large glass windows that open into the restaurant, and live music all summer long. Propane heaters abound for cooler evenings, and a stunning two-story granite and quartz fireplace provides the perfect setting to gather round and raise a glass.

5085 Syracuse St.

303.770.7300

shanahanssteakhouse.com

The Palm in Downtown DenverPatio Table Cloths

Recently remodeled, The Palm Denver is a favorite of locals, who love the new open contemporary floor plan, large bar, great menu featuring classics and new dishes, and of course, signature caricatures flanking the walls. This summer, make sure you sample the new Summer Lobster special, accompanied by a fantastic new cocktail list. The Mile High Hanging Chad, created by local Palm bartender Chad Skrbina for the 2008 Democratic National Convention is a hit, along with the Bourbon Blackberry Smash. Happy hour takes place Sunday through Friday from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. in the gorgeous new bar, with half off all Prime Bites including oysters, calamari, cheeseburgers and more.

1672 Lawrence Street in The Westin Hotel

303.825.7256

The Hyatt Aurora

Hyatt-Regency-Aurora-Borealis BarAurora has a new address, and it’s nothing short of spectacular. The new Hyatt Regency Aurora-Denver Conference Center opened this Spring, and boasts all the modern amenities that you’d expect from a luxury hotel. In additional to state-of-the-art meeting facilities, the hotel also has a beautiful outdoor terrace that accommodates guests and meeting goers. But our personal favorite spot is Borealis, the great restaurant that reflects a variety of culinary styles that let guests embark on a culinary journey presented by the hotel’s award-winning chef, Tim Freeman. Happy hour lives up to its name, where guests can unwind with cocktails or craft beer on the terrace. Every day from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., this is the perfect summer venue to enjoy a glass of champagne or sparkling wine, a signature cocktail and delicious, mouthwatering hors d’ouevres.

13200 E. 14th Place

303.365.1234

Aurora.regency.hyatt.com

The ART Hotel in The Museum District

Nestled within a one-of-a-kind hotel is a one-of-a-kind venue that is a must-see for tourists desiring a cocktail with an artful twist. This unique hotel, ArtHotel_GardenTerraceFire_v2scentered on an experiential adventure, is part and parcel of what makes the spot so special. Up on the fourth floor is the FIRE Terrace, where patrons can savor cocktails and fare while watching the activity on Broadway Street. The terrace overlooks the city’s Museum District and History Colorado Center, and who can resist the ARTful cocktails paired with delicious nibbles and fun live entertainment.

1201 Broadway

303.534.6400

thearthotel.com

Troy Story

in Dining & Nightlife/Front Range Dining & Nightlife/Profiles/Uncategorized by
Chef Troy Guard on cooking, community, and taking the Denver dining scene to infinity … and beyond

By Monica Parpal Stockbridge

Troy Guard_Headshot_to useIf you dine out in Denver with any regularity, you’ve heard of Troy Guard. He’s the one behind Larimer Square’s much-lauded TAG restaurant and nearby Los Chingones taco joint. He’s the one who opened TAG Burger Bar and, later this year, a second location in the former Sunnyside Burger Bar spot. He’s the guy we just saw take home first prize at Cochon 555 in March — that traveling culinary competition centered around heritage pork.Troy Guard is, to many, a rock star here in the Denver dining community. Between his culinary innovation, his ever-growing restaurant portfolio and his ability to balance a family through it all, it seems there’s nothing he can’t do. But if you ask him about it, he’ll tell you that he’s just a regular guy.

“I think of myself like anyone else,” Guard says. “I put on my jeans the same way every day, and tie my shoes, and go to work. [Cooking] is just what I love to do every day.”TAG - Dining Room (1)

Let’s back up to a time before Troy Guard was a Denver household name. The eldest of five kids, he grew up on the island of Maui, Hawaii. Cooking was a big part of his life long before he knew he wanted to be a professional chef. “My mom was a flight attendant, so she was gone a lot. I helped out around the house and in the kitchen,” Guard remembers. His father was — and still is — a barbecue chef on the weekends, cooking kalua pigs in underground imu pits. Guard describes a particularly special holiday tradition involving his father’s Hawaiian-style barbecue. “Every Thanksgiving, to this day, he digs a hole and tells everyone to show up at six in the morning with their turkeys. He wraps them in aluminum and chicken wire, puts them in the fire pit, and covers them with banana leaves, burlap sacks, rocks, and dirt. Six hours later, the turkeys are done.”

An homage to his father, Mister Tuna will open in mid-2016. One of Guard’s newest concepts, Mister Tuna, will open in the INDUSTRY business and community development in RiNo this summer. Somewhat contrary to its moniker, the restaurant will focus on wood-fired and rotisserie grilled meats and Mediterranean fare. The best part? In place of a raw bar, Guard plans to install a pickle bar where guests can purchase vinegar-soaked novelties like pickled Colorado peaches. “I am always trying to do things a little differently,” Guard says.

Although memories like these continue to inspire Guard’s cooking today, it wasn’t until he was 16, when his parents thought it was high time he get a job. that he found himself in a restaurant kitchen. “It was the first job I could find that was closest to my house,” he says, “so I kind of fell into it.” Guard started as a dishwasher and worked his way up, all the while admiring the gritty cooks who ruled the kitchen. “The were the renegades, the badasses,” Guard remembers. “I wanted to be like them.”

Guard continued working in restaurant kitchens through high school and junior college. He’d moved to the mainland at age seven, and at 21 decided to move back to Maui to work for culinary legend Roy Yamaguchi of Roy’s. “At the time, east meets west cooking was just coming into its own,” Guard recalls. “No one else was really doing fusion cooking, which was why it was so exciting.” It was here that he experienced what he calls his “aha moment.”

“The dish was Opakapaka,” Guard says, describing the Hawaiian pink snapper swimming in a creamy beurre blanc-based Thai curry and topped with spicy stir-fried vegetables. Guard had never tasted anything like it. “I thought I knew how to cook, but I realized then that I knew nothing.”

Working at Roy’s was formative for Guard. He learned about farm-to-table cooking before it became a common term. He bought tuna and opah from fishermen right off the docks. He learned to use fresh tomatoes, onions, papayas and guavas, all from local farmers. “I had never seen or done anything like that before,” he says. “I started from scratch again, and worked my way up.”

And up he went. After three years at Roy’s on Maui, Guard moved to Hong Kong to open another location there. “If I was going to learn Asian food, why not live in Asia?” he remembers thinking. From there, he went to Tokyo, then Singapore, then New York. He was young and unfettered, moving from one adventure to the next. “I didn’t care how much I got paid,” he says. “I just cooked, and it felt really good.”

By the time he reached his early thirties, Guard found himself in Denver working with notable chefs like Richard Sandoval to open Zengo, helping to create a never-before-seen Latin American and Asian fusion restaurant concept. He later opened Nine75 and Ocean, and eventually began to consider opening a restaurant of his own in the Mile High City. “I thought, if I never try it, I’ll always say ‘what if.’ I figured that, if I failed, I could always get another job,” he says. “I went with my gut.”

In 2009, Guard opened TAG, christened with his own initials (that “A” stands for Atherton, a family name). This first restaurant aimed at achieving his goal for a chef-driven, innovative destination with inventive items like Taco Sushi and Flash Seared Hamachi with Pop Rocks, anchored by classic NY Strip and seared and confited Canadian Duck. If time is any indicator, he’s succeeded — yet he remembers being challenged immediately by the increased demand and plunging economy. “Going from chef to owner meant that everything was 10 times harder. I was constantly learning, growing, educating myself, and adapting … otherwise, I could have closed the place,” he recalls somberly. “But the next thing I knew, someone was asking me to open another spot.”

Just like that, Guard found himself laying the foundation of an empire. After TAG came TAG Raw Bar, which later morphed into Bubu — a fresh fast-casual eatery with two locations, named for the snack-worthy puffed rice treat Guard grew up eating in Hawaii. After that, Madison Street opGuard and Grace Food + Staff-45ened in Congress Park, later updated to TAG Burger Bar to focus on his winning burgers. 2013 was a big year, when Guard opened his graffitied taco joint called Los Chingones; a dessert bar called Sugarmill with partner Noah French; and an upscale, wood-fired steakhouse called Guard & Grace. He hints at expanding the latter out of state in the near future. Los Chingones has proven so successful that a second opened in DTC, and yet another is slated for Stapleton — where he’ll also open a new breakfast restaurant this year. As if that weren’t enough, he’s got a Mediterranean concept planned for River North (RiNo) in June, and a family-friendly restaurant will open its doors on the corner of 32nd Avenue and Perry Street in early 2017.

“It’s all been very organic,” says Guard of this seemingly breakneck growth. “I go by my gut. I have to believe it’s the right spot in the right neighborhood and deliver what the neighborhood needs. It’s a thoughtful process. And so far, so good.”

Through it all, Guard still sees TAG as his flagship restaurant. “We’re on Larimer Square, the best square in the city, and there’s a lot to live up to.” He goes on to say that all managers and chefs who work at his restaurants are trained in the TAG cultural values. As Guard put it, it all goes back to his Hawaiian roots.

“In Hawaii, we call it ‘ohana,” Guard explains. “Family.” He describes how he works to create an environment of humility, passion, and caring in every one of his restaurants — and at home, too, where he’s raising two kids with his wife and industry accomplice, Nikki. Even his restaurants resonate that idea of family: Guard & Grace is named for his daughter, Grace; Los Chingones is an homage to his brothers; and that Mediterranean restaurant we mentioned? “It’s going to be called Mister Tuna, after my dad’s nickname in Hawaii. He was always in the ocean, diving and fishing. The restaurant honors him, and the name makes me feel good.”Troy Guard_Headshot

Those values of family and community are anchored deep into Guard’s psyche — and his business practices. Each year, he contributes tens of thousands of dollars to charity, and he recently recruited his management staff for a Habitat for Humanity build. On top of that, for the last six years Guard has participated in the Taste of the NFL — a charitable culinary event held every year on Super Bowl eve. And oh, do Guard’s eyes light up when he talks football. “When we got Peyton Manning, everyone got so excited. It only took one guy to get everyone talking about the Denver Broncos again,” he says. “It really only takes one person to make a difference.”

Recently, Guard harnessed that excitement and launched the Taste of the Broncos annual tasting event at Invesco Field at Mile High, with samples from more than 30 restaurants and mingling Broncos players to boot. (We can only hope that Guard’s food will be enough to keep Peyton in attendance.)

Of course, Guard’s restaurants aren’t the only booming developments in Denver. The past few years have seen unprecedented growth in the city’s restaurant offerings — Guard cites Acorn and Biju’s Little Curry Shop among his favorite places to grab a bite — along with an almost alarming increase in population and housing developments. Even from inside the TAG lobby, Guard can see the industrial cranes and towering ironwork expanding into a shrinking downtown. “Change is inevitable,” Guard says. “I embrace it. In my opinion, Denver doesn’t get enough credit for how cool and dynamic it is. I’m glad I was here to see it and be in the midst of it all.”

We’re glad you’re here, too, Troy. With chefs like you, Denver’s culinary reputation is going nowhere but up. To infinity … and beyond.


Monica Parpal Stockbridge
Monica Stockbridge is a Denver-based writer and editor who has covered the food and dining scene for publications like DiningOut magazine and Moon travel guidebooks. As a contributing writer for Colorado Hotel Magazine, Monica writes chef profiles and hotel stories that reveal inspiring mile-high experiences for visitors and locals alike.

The Palm Denver Wows Foodies with Fabulous New Look

in Dining & Nightlife by

The Palm Denver unveiled its stunning new look when it reopened for business on April 21. The beautiful new space features a more open and contemporary floor plan, restaurant and barlarge bar, three private event rooms, a new menu with classic favorites and new dishes, a prominent cityscape wall mural and new signature caricatures flanking the walls.

“We are so excited to introduce the new Palm Denver to our devoted diners and to new guests as well,” said Bruce Bozzi, Jr., Executive Vice President and fourth-generation owner. “Through our remodel we kept the Palm’s signature elements, like the caricatures on the walls and menu favorites, but we also wanted to make sure we keep our restaurants fresh to connect with the next generation of diners.”

The Palm Restaurant has been a staple in the Downtown Denver dining scene for 20 years. Located in the Westin Denver Downtown hotel, the restaurant serves USDA prime aged steaks, seafood including signature jumbo Nova Scotia lobster that has been sourced from “ocean-to-plate in 48” hours, and honest Italian-American fare like Chicken Parmigiana and Veal Marsala. Along with the new look and feel, the restaurant is also debuting a new revamped menu, which still includes classic favorites but also boasts new dishes like the Ahi Tuna Tataki, Maple Glazed Slab Bacon, Crispy Kale Salad, Jumbo Crab over Grilled Romaine Hearts, Bison Burger as well as Ancho Chili & Espresso Rubbed New York Strip.

The new look gives the restaurant a sexier, up-to-date atmosphere and also includes a refresh of its overall visual identity, tableware, and uniforms. The large bar will include six large booths in addition to high top tables, seating about 50 people. The restaurant also has three private dining rooms that can be opened up to create one large room with patio access at the front of the restaurant. Together the rooms can hold 120 guests, making it one of the largest private dining spaces at a steakhouse in Denver. The private dining rooms also have all new Audio Visual systems. The restaurant is 6,034 square feet and will have 220 seats and a patio with a fire pit and warmers that seats an additional 40 guests.

The infamous caricatures of celebrities and loyal customers that flank the walls at The Palm have also been given an update, with new drawings created by local artist Paul Vismara. Inaddition, Denver is one of just five Palm restaurants to get a large Colorado-based wall mural created by artist Zach Bird, to add a local touch to the restaurant.

“We have been creating lasting relationships with our guests for 20 years in Denver,” said Cathy Cooney, general manager at The Palm Denver. “As a family-owned company, The Palm is all about creating connections in our own community. Not only does the management team create relationships with our guests who, to us, are like family, but our servers and bartenders do, too. We look forward to serving our loyal guests who we have known for many years and cultivating relationships with new guests, as well.”

The restaurant is open for lunch Monday through Friday from 11 AM to 3 PM; for dinner Monday through Friday from 3 PM to 11 PM; on Saturday from 5 PM to 11 PM; and on Sunday from 5 PM to 10 PM. The restaurant is also open for Prime Time at The Palm Bar from Sunday through Friday, 5 PM to 7 PM.

The Palm is located in the Westin Denver Downtown Hotel at 1672 Lawrence Street off the 16th Street Mall. For more information, visit The Palm’s website at https://thepalm.com/.

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