By Jamie Swinnerton
By Mark Antonation
By Lori Midson
By Jonathan Shikes
By Amber Taufen
By Cafe Society
By Juliet Wittman
By Jonathan Shikes
It was the steak knives at the Capital Grille that really got to me. They were beautiful, utilitarian works of art with gleaming, sharp blades laser-etched with the restaurant's logo near the forte, perfect balance, full-tang handles and black grips cold-riveted with bright steel. On the table, they had the look of good Wustoffs; in the hand, the solid weight and seriousness of professional Henckels. I loved them so much I wanted to steal one, only I'd forgotten my bag and didn't like the thought of smuggling out something so sharp in my pants.
My lunch at this four-month-old steakhouse was a last-minute thing. Unprepared, I'd wandered in off the street because it was there and I was hungry. I wasn't dressed for it, hadn't done any of the research I usually do before making my first commando-style pass at a restaurant. I just walked, bumpkin-like, up to the front door, gazing slack-jawed at the pretty glass-and-steel arch over the entrance to the four-and-a-half-million-dollar building that finally filled that last ugly gap in Larimer Square, and thought, "Geez, this place is purty. Please don't let me be the only one without a tie."
I was. Well, the ladies in the crowd weren't wearing ties, and the waitresses in their oversized dun-colored jackets weren't wearing ties. But the hosts and floormen were. The bartenders had crisp, black bows around their necks. And every last man in every last booth had his silk noose cinched tight. Both men and women were dolled up in suits of significantly finer manufacture than my Old Navy chinos, and they were seated in packs like the successful predators of the New Economy they no doubt were -- capable of intelligent discussions about T-bills, variable interest rates and the like. I stood, looking at them from just inside the front door, and when the hostess asked, "One for lunch, sir?" in a tone that was nothing but polite and welcoming yet still sounded to me like "Couldn't find anyone else at the Salvation Army to dine with you, sir?," I decided that the only sensible way to handle myself in an intimidating room like this was to pretend that I belonged, to pretend that this was just a break in a day otherwise filled with terribly important, non-tie-requiring things, and then get drunk.
1450 Larimer St.
Denver, CO 80202
Region: Downtown Denver
Lobster bisque: $9.95
Filet mignon with béarnaise: $20.95
Shrimp cocktail: $11.95
Sirloin, 14 oz.: $29.95
Steak au poivre: $30.95
Roasted chicken: $17.95
Lobster, by the pound Market
The plan worked wonderfully. I had a meal that was, hands down, the best lunch I've had since rolling into this town almost two years ago. I was incredibly well-treated by the staff, well-fed by the kitchen and well-watered from the cocktail list. When I retired to the bar for a smoke and a final martini (powerfully and properly made, it was nothing more than a drop of dry vermouth swimming in a small pail of top-shelf gin), I made the acquaintance of a fine young woman whom I amused by insisting that I was Irwin Fletcher, a sportswriter for the New York Post in town to cover the Kobe Bryant trial, and the man who'd first coined the term "March Madness." The fact that I know virtually nothing about basketball beyond that it involves a ball, a basket and sneaker contracts didn't slow me down one bit. And the fact that I can't now remember the young lady's name or any specific detail about her makes it a distinct possibility that I spent twenty minutes trying to romance a bar lamp. But none of that matters. Like I said, it was a very good lunch.
About halfway through, I'd decided that I needed to come back for dinner wearing my leather jacket with the big cargo pockets -- the one I use for lifting menus, the occasional really nice ashtray and, this time, that steak knife, gorgeous, heavy and sharp as a razor. By the end of lunch, the knife had become an object of truly unhealthy obsession.
Flash-forward six hours. I'm strolling down Larimer Street in leather jacket and tie, my best professional drag, hair pulled straight back off my forehead, Gordon Gecko style. I'd put about forty bucks in a meter three and a half blocks away to buy an hour and 22 minutes of time, and I had every intention of blowing into the Capital Grille in a whirlwind of hair gel and expense-account cash, having my dinner, boosting my knife and getting out of there faster than jackrabbits hump. That was the extent of my plan -- brilliant, I thought, in its bluff and simplicity.
There's this joke I like: How do you make God laugh? Make a plan.
The scene inside the Capital Grille was a madhouse of suits, silk and swank, with a smell in the air of seared meat and money. The noise level was Super Bowl-Sunday-in-a-sports-bar loud. An army of servers and bartenders and hosts and managers and floormen were working a crowd that looked like a fancy-dress singles' mixer at the Kennedy Compound after Joe lost the keys to the liquor cabinet, a Brownian nightmare of arms, legs and heads, champagne flutes, cigarette embers, smoke, designer shoes, designer shirts, designer tits cantilevered into little black party dresses, pretty necks touched with dusky perfume, and rocks glasses with neon plastic ice cubes like something out of Blade Runner. And while the woman at the hostess stand in charge of The Book was far too courteous and polite to laugh right at me when I asked (again) for a table for one, she did say, "Perhaps if you could find a table in the bar..."