A new look and a solid menu bring this late-’70s landmark back to life.

But Reiver's had a name, a style, a reputation that did not jibe with the food now coming out of the kitchen, and the fine-dining crowd never materialized. Shipp started tinkering with the menu, pulling back the more costly dishes, losing some of the fancy entrees that simply refused to move. This might have signaled the start of a slow, grim death for Reiver's if not for one thing: Ruperto Dominguez. He'd been in the kitchen since before Shipp bought the place, before all the white-jackets were brought in to fuss and fluff up the menu. Dominguez was a cook, plain and true, and he did what the chefs told him. Chef wanted a tartare? Cool, he'd plate a tartare. Chef wanted filet mignon? No problem: Filet mignon was just a burger with a higher price tag -- two turns on the grill, add some wrap and out the door.

But eventually, the chefs all left -- and Dominguez stayed. He and his all-Hispanic crew had learned some nice tricks from the boys in white. More important, Dominguez had learned what worked and didn't work at Reiver's, because he'd had to cook through all the nights when no one was ordering the tartare and no one wanted the filet mignon or the fancy fish plates on the specials board. And Dominguez used what he knew to put together the current menu, that telling document of one cook's intimate understanding of his crowd. The burger-and-sandwich roster was still the largest section, because burgers and sandwiches were still the biggest sellers at Reiver's -- but not many pubs out there offer sandwiches of zucchini, squash and portobello marinated in balsamic vinegar, smeared with a restrained pistachio pesto and topped with slabs of melted brie; not many make their own barbecue sauce and their own custom salad dressings; roll their own compound butters; have daikon, baby spinach and pickled ginger on their order sheets; list four different aiolis on just the first page of the menu.

When Las Margaritas closed across the street (the space became Chi Bistro, reviewed last week), Dominguez bulked up the Mexican offerings at Reiver's, adding rellenos, simple steak tacos, five kinds of enchiladas and a killer smooth and smoky-sweet Colorado-style homemade green chile. Then last May, Shipp closed Reiver's for a while and gave it a top-to-toes remodel, gutting the dining rooms, putting in new taps, new TVs, new everything. "We kept what worked," Shipp explained. "We got rid of everything else."

Reiver's recent renovation took it from dusty fern bar to hip neighborhood hangout.
Mark Manger
Reiver's recent renovation took it from dusty fern bar to hip neighborhood hangout.

Location Info


Reiver's Restaurant

1085 S. Gaylord St.
Denver, CO 80209

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: South Denver


1085 Old South Gaylord
Hours: 11 a.m.-close daily

Mussels $8.95
Crabcakes $9.95
Chips and salsa $3
Veggie sandwich $7.95
Chicken sandwich $8.95
Burger $6.95
Chicken fried steak $12.95
Grilled salmon $15.95
New York Strip $18.95
Gorgonzola penne $11.95


And so today, while Reiver's still has the same old name and reputation, it's a completely new restaurant. It's comfortable, constructed along clean and simple lines, with a centrally located bar and wings of table seating stretching off to either side. There's a hostess stand, an antique wooden cabinet where the top-shelf liquors are kept, that patio with the tenting held down against the wind with sandbags. And the crowds have started coming back, the former regulars as well as recent arrivals in the neighborhood -- a lot of them with kids in tow, their strollers parked against the walls. Lunches are crowded, dinners are getting there, nights are busy with college kids, locals and serious drinkers who couldn't care less about the aioli drizzled over the calamari or the red grapes and walnuts tossed in with the penne and chicken in the parmesan-heavy béchamel. Bucket prices on PBRs? That they care about.

But slowly, other people are ordering not just the burgers and sandwiches that cover the bills, but the tenderloin cobb salad with green onion and horseradish cream. And the chicken marsala that's the special one night, the Cajun salmon the next, both coming out of some deep, communal well of line-cook know-how, from a playbook of never-fail plates.

Reiver's is not yet a great restaurant. It will probably never be a great restaurant. But it is a very good one with a reputation for being much, much less. Which just goes to show that a restaurant's reputation is only as good as the last meal there -- but meals can change a lot faster than most people's opinions.

And if it hadn't been for that emergency brake and those plantains, I might never have changed mine.

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