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We have had an interesting 24 hours at Luna." That's how the conversation started when Wendy Aiello, who's doing PR for the new hotel, got me on the red phone here at Bite Me World HQ last Friday.
First, the easy stuff. The space at 1612 Wazee Street that had been the LoDo Inn -- and there's nothing easy in the story of that venture's demise (see "The Shah Was a Sham," February 8, 2001) -- is now home to Luna, a nineteen-room boutique hotel with some major green behind it that's ready for business-traveling jet-set hipsterati and glam-seeking locals alike. Heavy on sophisticated design elements (with interiors by Denver-based Semple Brown and designer Thomas Schooz, and art pieces by Andreas Nottabaum), Luna is making its bid to siphon some of the juice from old-guard classics like the Oxford (1600 17th Street) and the Brown Palace (321 17th Street) -- as well as newer up-market hotels -- by trading size for style. The rooms are all fitted out with those fancy-pants amenities -- French coffee presses, high-tech sound systems, Aveda products in the bath, Dean & Deluca in the mini-fridge -- that the post-crash, new-money elite simply cannot live without, while personal service and the heart-of-LoDo location contribute to what could prove to be a winning combination in an already crowded market.
More important to us here at Bite Me World HQ, two restaurants will soon debut at Luna. Come the beginning of May, Velocity -- a crepe shop helmed by Starbucksveteran Kris Lane-- will be serving both sweet and savory varieties (along with a good cup of joe) from early in the morning till late in the evening. Say what you will about Starbucks, it's one helluva place to learn the business of dealing with hungry, cranky, jet-lagged road warriors in need of a boost.
800 Coffman St.
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Region: Northern Colorado
Luna will also have a spot called Flow, and this is where things get complicated. Up until last week, Flow was going to be a restaurant and cocktail lounge with its bar in the competent hands of Oran Feild(a London-born barman with a cook's credentials and an obsession for high-quality ingredients that he brought with him when he made the jump from back of the house to front) and its kitchen tended to by Kevin Savoy. But while Feild will still be on the taps when Flow opens to the public sometime next month, the kitchen will be the exclusive playground of Duy Pham. He's the man who, while behind the burners at Opal (100 East Ninth Avenue), cooked me one of the best meals I've ever had, earning that place Best New Restaurant in the Best of Denver 2003 just four weeks ago. But now Pham's going with the Flow.
Aiello was fresh out of negotiations, the ink still wet on the deal, when we talked, and many things were still up in the air. But she was absolutely certain of one thing: "Duy has left Opal and will be coming to work for us here at Luna."
And, as if having one of the best chefs in town leave the kitchen he'd made the best in town wasn't intriguing enough, the news got even weirder. "The universe of the restaurant world was operating in a strange fashion," Aiello said -- because Savoy is headed straight for Opal, where he'll be on the line as sous chef to new exec (and Pham's former sous) Aaron Benjamin.
"Our wonderful, sweet Kevin Savoy was discovering that the situation was not a good fit at Luna," Aiello explained. At roughly the same time, Pham was in the process of leaving Opal -- he had one foot on a plane to California, where he'd been interviewing for a spot with the Wolfgang Puck organization -- when he fell in love with Luna. "The beauty of the place is what got him," Aiello said. "What's very unusual is that everyone walked away happy. That never happens."
Boy meets restaurant, boy falls in love with restaurant, and both live happily ever after -- oh, if it were only that simple. On Sunday, I finally reached Pham, who really came into his own at Opal and took on a true luminescence. He wanted to make sure everything was smoothed over with former Opal boss Jay Chadrom before he said a word, and the first words he did say were to the effect that he didn't go after the Luna job to take it away from Savoy. And then he continued talking.
"Everything happened so fast," Pham said. "To be totally honest, I was already gone. I was done at Opal and all set to go to California, and I wanted a break. I wanted some time for myself. I wanted some time to be with my family." When word of his leaving started leaking out, he was contacted by many local restaurant outfits, he says, but he wasn't interested. His bags were packed. He was good to go. And then came Luna.
"The first time I had an interview -- the first time I talked to them -- I wasn't quite sold," Pham recalled. "They didn't seem to have a focus on the food, you know? But the second I walked into the space, I had goose bumps all over my body. I was just so blown away. I knew this was the place I needed to be."