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Booty Call

Late at night, Sketch looks awfully good.

Lung cancer has never been sexier.

I'm sitting on the patio at Sketch Food and Wine -- lounging on the patio, actually, which is surprising, because I'm just not built for lounging. Fellas tuned high like me don't lounge well. Twitchy men, men always on the make for something, men who -- whether by habit, unusually fast metabolisms permanently kinked by drug use, or mortal fear of boredom -- have come to see sitting still as surrender, tend to look at patios as gathering places for highly suspect slackers and idlers of the vainest stripe.

But Sketch's patio is different because it isn't really a patio, it's a trench. The restaurant behind me -- glittering beyond levered-open windows, like sequins on black velvet -- is a basement, one of those subterranean addresses that tend to swallow the best intentions of restaurateurs without showing any mercy. And the patio is just a cement pit in front of a basement -- open to the sky, but with a view only of wall. Wall and tables. Wall and tables and pretty girls and the slow parade of four- and eight- and ten-tops coming down the stairs at either end of the trench, headed for Sketch.

This spud's for you: Sketch serves both meals and 
late-night snacks.
Mark Manger
This spud's for you: Sketch serves both meals and late-night snacks.

Location Info

Map

Sketch Food and Wine

250 Steele St.
Denver, CO 80206

Category: Bars and Clubs

Region: Central Denver

Details

250 Steele Street, 303-333-1763. Hours: 11 a.m.-2 a.m. daily

Oysters: $2-$3 each
Crab cocktail: $10
Olives: $2
Carpaccio: $8< br>Artichoke: $7
Oysters Rockefeller: $9
Roasted chicken: $14
Hanger steak: $19
Linguine with clams: $12< br>Burger: $9
Desserts: $6

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I can lounge here because on this patio, I can sit and smoke and not care about anything at all. I can watch the world not going by, since the rest of the world is something that exists only up and out and beyond my view of wall and girls and umbrellas over the tables. I'm happy here. Being a little drunk probably helps you appreciate such an uncommon patio, and to be honest, I am completely shitfaced. Sketch wasn't my first stop tonight, but it's going to be my last. I can't really walk anymore, and ascending a steep concrete staircase could do me in.

Above me, I can see stars. Conversation bubbles around me like cheap champagne, effervescing laughter, and there's something dirty and jazzy playing on the sound system that's got just the right beat to make everyone look like they're dancing. People stream in and out the doors, find tables, leave tables, borrow my ashtray and spill the dregs of my Miller High Life onto the cement. Smoke curls in errant breezes that all smell like french fries. I light another smoke, tip my head back and try hard not to pass out. It's a good night down in the trenches. I'm not ready for it to end.

I think to myself how, if Sketch were on an island, it would be a great beach restaurant -- except that there's no view, it's too dark inside and everything is painted black, which would be uncomfortable in the tropical sun.

I think how, if Sketch were in New York City, it would be right on the filthy edge of one of those recovering neighborhoods that first demand their own acronyms, then private tax supports, then twelve or fifteen wine bar/cafe/bistro/ lounges just like Sketch. It would be the kind of place where annoying yuppie foodistas claim to have been going for a year longer than it's been open, and where neighborhood folk fight over the closely packed tables in the back.

How, if Sketch were a girl, she'd be a booty call -- a late-night destination, a saving grace for the tanked and injudicious. Not a slut, just a guaranteed good time. She'd be on speed-dial, but way down there toward the end. A just-in-case holdout, but one that you find yourself calling more and more often.

And how if Sketch were in Cherry Creek (which it is), you might rightly expect it to be a Cherry Creek restaurant: overpriced, overwrought, over-pretty and designed as little more than a delicate machine meant for turning dumb money into crabcakes and goat-cheese salads. But instead, Sketch is aggressively anti-Creek -- or at least anti-Creek stereotype. Address aside, it belongs anywhere but in this neighborhood, because here the tables are too close together, the space is too loud, the music was produced sometime in the last decade and the servers don't try to hide their tattoos. Here the guy bringing your cheese plate has a big blond Mohawk and won't chase you out just to turn your table and up the night's count. And on the menu, there are no thirty-word descriptions of entrees, no complicated ravioli, no frisée.

But there is a plate of just crimini mushrooms, simply sautéed in butter; a plate of new potatoes sprinkled in parsley; a plate of marinated olives for two bucks. The beef carpaccio "Harry's Bar" is the best version of a dish that's become so ubiquitous in Denver that even the cliche has become stale: the big white plate laid with a sunflower of raw beef sliced thin as paper, scattered with capers, drizzled with aioli, juiced with lemon and served with grissini as a kind of edible utensil. The crab cocktail is nothing but split crab legs in the shell poked into a sundae dish full of crushed ice. And the oysters Rockefeller (served to me more than once with a skinned and clotted sauce) are a classical resuscitation of a presentation that hasn't been popular since men wore top hats out to dine.

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