By Jamie Swinnerton
By Mark Antonation
By Lori Midson
By Jonathan Shikes
By Amber Taufen
By Cafe Society
By Juliet Wittman
By Jonathan Shikes
Boller had only been back on duty behind the bar for five days when Black Monday rolled around. Before that, he'd been in New Zealand, of all places, representing Ocean, Denver and the Central United States in the Cocktail World Cup, where he and his team placed second in the world in the mixology competition. On Saturday, September 27, Boller told me, a note was posted at Ocean announcing a staff meeting on Monday afternoon. The smart, veteran employees? They realized this was it, and immediately started putting their resumés together. But the rest walked in knowing nothing. "There was a rumor floating around that it was closing," Boller told me. "Everyone was kind of expecting it, but there was no confirmation. Everyone was more shocked than anything." Still, there had been warning signs: millions of dollars in furniture, 22 managers in two years — not exactly the signs of a healthy business.
The only worse signs? The ones taped to the front doors of both locations right now that say "Closed."
Boller seemed more optimistic than many of the now-ex-employees I talked to (you can read some of their accounts on my October 3 From the Gut post). "It employed me," he said of Ocean. "I'm happy it employed me. And I did what I could." Now he's updating his own resumé and fielding calls about bartending gigs, future competitions and charity events. "Denver's not very serious about the cocktail yet," he told me, "but it's going to be a gold mine."
Leftovers: Over at 2911 West 38th Avenue, the venture that started as Gelman's Gourmet Market has undergone its own transformation, reopening last month as Gelman's Restaurant & Bar, with a more sophisticated dining room, a full bar and, most important, a serious, heavyweight chef on the books. Thomas Connolly, who's standing both as executive chef and partner, comes to Denver by way of food's golden coast: San Francisco and San Jose, with a stop in Hawaii. Connolly has completely overhauled the Gelman's board, going decidedly Froggish and turning the place from an unexceptional half-breed deli/restaurant (with a focus on overdone New American cuisine and New England regional) into a real American brasserie with duck-liver mousse pâté, duck rillette, butternut squash risotto, sea bass bourride and Brussels sprouts with bacon.
I reviewed the original Gelman's in October 2006 and didn't like it. Back then, virtually every sin of the over-confident and under-talented culinarian was being committed with frightening regularity in both the kitchen and the dining room: deconstructions and fusions, exclamation points of Asiana plugged into American classics like fried chicken, and worse. But now, under the steadying hand of a brasserie-bred chef, I'm hoping that the kitchen can turn it around. And for the first time, I'm actually looking forward to a meal at Gelman's — even if Drew Bixby already beat me to it. You can read his assessment in this issue's Drunk of the Week.