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Skydiner, bo-biner, banana-fana fo-finer, fee-fi mo-miner, Skydiner.
Before they opened their second venture, the principals from The Hornet -- Dave French, Brewster Hanson, Paul Greaves and Lisa Quinn -- held a contest to name the space they'd taken over at 1700 Vine Street, the spot long occupied by Juanita's Uptown. But the suggestions that future diners came up with weren't very exciting, so they eventually devised their own: Skydiner.
While the moniker could fit a Star Wars set, it focuses not on the future, but the past. The name reminded the partners of the Skyliner, the classic '50s-era Ford. "We were down to the wire, and at first we thought of Vox Diner, and then Pangea, to call to mind a sort of all-world thing, but we couldn't make up our minds," says Quinn, who is the general manager. "Finally, I said, 'Guys, if we're going to get a liquor license, we need a name right now.'"
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; 11 a.m.- 11 p.m. Friday-Saturday
Skydiner had the added benefit of not just sounding sleek, but also of referring to the dreamy blue ceiling over the bar, part of the exceptional design work of Guy Thornton and his wife, lighting maven Maggie Thornton. And then there was the food that would be served under that ceiling. "We liked Skydiner, too, because it makes it sort of clear that this isn't going to be about biscuits and gravy," Quinn adds.
Skydiner is a difficult name, though, because it doesn't really flow off the tongue. Meet me at Skydiner. We're going over to Skydiner. Adding "the" doesn't help: The Skydiner sounds like an in-air kiosk United Airlines might set up in the back of a plane so it doesn't have to serve its so-called meals anymore. "I kept telling them it was called Skydiner," one woman told another in the restaurant's ladies' room, "and they thought I was talking about something out at the airport." The name simply doesn't evoke visions of the sort of destination eatery this place has the potential to become -- nor does it speak to what Skydiner is right now.
Sure, the space has something of a funky diner feel, both neo and retro at the same time, with gleaming metal tables, gleaming metal exposed air ducts in the ceiling, and booth lights that look like nipple attachments for Woody Allen's orgasmatron in Sleeper. And, yes, the bright, open space has an airy, almost ethereal feel, but it's almost too trendy for a part of town that hasn't caught up with LoDo or Cherry Creek in terms of traffic or residents' disposable incomes. But then, the area around the Hornet wasn't hot when the partners moved into the Baker neighborhood a few years ago, either.
"Half of the houses around here are businesses," Quinn says of Skydiner's 17th Avenue setting. "But the residents are changing. When we first opened the Hornet, we didn't know what we were going to get, and at first it was a lot of Mary and Lou's old customers, who didn't really get what we were about. And that area wasn't really hopping, either, and now it's crazy. So we're thinking the same thing will happen over here."
In the meantime, they're hoping the fun, comfortable cooking of Karl Rinehart will appeal to the mix of customers who find their way to Skydiner: some beautiful people, some neighborhood moms and their kids, a lot of drinking buddies, a few couples obviously on first dates, and construction types who get lost on their way to the Rhino Room, the smoke-filled, dimly lit pool hall that the foursome bought along with the Juanita's space. Before moving on to Skydiner, Rinehart had been cooking at the Hornet for a year and a half, creating a menu that kept the place busy even during hours when excessive beer consumption wouldn't be in good taste. His food leans toward the international in a casual way, and his menu at Skydiner has the same mid-scale appeal as the roster he created at the Hornet, with dishes that are ambitious and interesting but not fancy or overblown.
Skydiner's kitchen has its cloudy spots, however. Although the appetizer albacore rolls ($7.95) were filled with fresh tuna cured with ginger and chiles, as well as soft rice vermicelli and fresh sprouts, the rice-paper wraps hadn't been dampened enough, so parts were hard and chewy, and other parts just chewy. The peanut sauce that was supposed to come on the side had transmogrified into two sauces that did nothing for the mild tuna: one was a too-sweet hoisin dipper, the other a much too powerful combination of red bell peppers and chile peppers. The chiles hit the tongue gently at first, then continued to burn, badly, through bites of everything we stuffed in our mouths in an attempt to douse the fire. Meanwhile, the mussels ($8.95) needed something to bring up the mellow sea taste merely hinted at in the broth beneath the big pile of tender bivalves, a broth enriched with cream and fresh herbs -- heavy on the thyme -- but lacking anything to tie those flavors together, like a hint of cayenne or some salt. Actually, a drop of hollandaise or an egg yolk might have done the trick, turning the liquid into almost a classic billi-bi, an exquisite cream of mussel soup.