By Jamie Swinnerton
By Mark Antonation
By Lori Midson
By Jonathan Shikes
By Amber Taufen
By Cafe Society
By Juliet Wittman
By Jonathan Shikes
In the September 18, 2003, installment of this column, titled "Luna Eclipse," I detailed the fateful, drunken and calamitous last hours of Flow-- the restaurant in the basement of the Luna Hotel at 1612 Wazee Street then helmed by one of Denver's best young chefs, Duy Pham -- and the history of mistakes that seemed to have this place destined for humiliation from the get-go. That last night was one of those from which legends spring -- and a great story, to boot, what with a narrowly averted fire, people ending up in the hospital, and me accidentally walking out on a good-sized bar tab at Dixons around the corner. It was a magnificent disaster, and a fine time was had by all.
Given all the trouble with Flow (and subsequent snafus when hotel owner John Hamilton tried to resurrect the space as a Thai joint), it's not shocking that Nova, the nouveau fondue and comfort-food restaurant that had been scheduled to open last week in this same, embattled basement location, has been...
Wait for it...delayed! Yes, an all-media party on the books for Tuesday, November 30, was canceled just hours before it was supposed to kick off, leaving dozens of journos and foodies in the lurch, with nowhere to go and no one to bring them free booze. The public opening scheduled for the next night? Put off two weeks. And Nova? Dark, dark, baby.
1610 16th St.
Denver, CO 80202
Region: Downtown Denver
The rumors immediately began to fly. Granted, given the cursed record of this space, there was a good deal of scandal-mongering going on even before the postponed opening, but once the e-mails went out announcing the cancellations and delays? That's when the stories really started to pile up. I heard gossip about everything from terminal meltdown in the front office to a massive overhaul of kitchen and concept; was told tales of staff revolts, horrible test dinners, and a menu that went from tableside fondue to rotisserie, back to fondue, to fondue plus rotisserie meats, to steak and lobster, to comfort food, to dipping grill, to fondue again (but this time prepared in the kitchen and served as an appetizer), to Indo-Bulgarian fusion (okay, that's a joke), and on and on and on. And then there was the report that the restaurant, if it ever got open, would be carried by twelve-buck signature cocktails at the bar -- another stretch, since Flow, which is now the name of the upstairs lounge and bar, actually has a good $4 martini happy hour running every night and nothing on the drink menu over ten bucks.
The truth of the situation comes somewhere in the middle of all this -- somewhat left of "business as usual," but far from "closed due to Godzilla attack." Yes, a consultant -- West Coast super chef Jody Denton -- was brought in over Thanksgiving to work with chef Sean Lowenthal(late of the nearby Sambuca Jazz Cafe, but also with a lot of foreign work behind him) on retooling the menu. As of last week, it was still being sold as featuring "nouveau fondue" and comfort food, and got a real tryout at a four-day series of "friends and family" dinners that were supposed to work the kinks out of the system.
"I'll tell you, the second night was ugly," says general manager Mike Luther. "The second night and the third night." But luckily, it was ugly in private -- employees and their guests only -- and it was ugly for a reason. "When I was running it, I wanted to give these guys the worst possible scenario to see if they could handle it," he continues. "So I sat the place all at once. I hit them with every order in the room. And, yeah, some people had to wait a long time for their food, but I went around to every table and collected the [comment cards], and I wanted to see what we could do. I'll tell you what, though. I was glad this was a training session."
Luther also came from Sambuca, which at one point tried to contract with Hamilton to provide outside management for the restaurant space but instead wound up giving up a bunch of staffers who're now working directly for him.
Luther's heard a lot of the rumors and has a much simpler explanation for the cancellations. "You guys would have all been guest-cicles," he says, explaining that a part the HVAC guys had been waiting for -- had been expecting to show up last Wednesday -- never did. No part meant no heat. And that meant no opening. Or, at least, not yet.
"Look, we were all disappointed with having to delay this," he adds. "This is the Christmas season. I've got a whole staff down here ready to go, and I understand the situation they're in. They need to be making money." So he and Hamilton and the management at Luna are trying to find the staffers temporary banquet work during the unexpected downtime.
And do they have a date for when Nova will actually open -- with heat? "We do," Luther says. "December 13 we will be open to the public, and you can print that."