Brother and sister duo Aileen Reilly and Paul Reilly are coming up on the five-year anniversary of their Uptown eatery Beast + Bottle. The restaurant's birthday falls on Friday, March 16, so the siblings are planning a celebratory bash — and they're inviting friends to pitch in. The dinner will start at 6 p.m. that night, with appetizers from chefs Justin Brunson (Old Major), Jamey Fader (Lola and other Big Red F restaurants), Brandon Foster (Project Angel Heart), Jennifer Jasinski (Rioja and other Crafted Concepts restaurants) and Alex Seidel (Fruition and Mercantile). Beast + Bottle beverage director Jon Feuersanger will bring back favorite cocktails from the past half-decade, and there will also be special wines and a toast with bubbly.
While Beast + Bottle has become one of the restaurants that defines the Denver dining scene as it has evolved over the past five years, it's not the first go-around for the Reillys. They ran Encore at 2550 East Colfax Avenue before closing it in 2012 after rent negotiations fell through (that space is now The Goods). After that, they hunted for a new location to open Beast + Bottle, nearly landing at 1201 Cherokee Street in the Golden Triangle before finding a home at 719 East 17th Avenue (which was previously Olivea).
Paul and Aileen talked to us about the ups and downs after five years, which can seem like an eternity in the restaurant business, but which has passed in a blur for the two, who also have since opened Coperta nearby at 400 East 20th Avenue.
Westword: How did the closing of Encore affect your plans for the future?
Aileen Reilly: We said, "Let's just do what's us."
Paul Reilly: It was events that happened then that let Beast + Bottle become what it is now.
You nearly opened in the Golden Triangle [at 1201 Cherokee Street]. Are you glad now that it didn't work out?
Aileen: We walked out of that meeting and we were distraught. But our agent had the new spot literally 24 hours later.
Paul: I only wish we had about 350 more square feet here. We don't have a place for the cooks and servers to put their coats in the winter. But we've kind of amazed ourselves at how much we can do here. The week we opened, we had sixty cases of wine and nowhere to put it all, but we found the space.
Was 2013 a big year for the entire Denver dining scene?
Paul: I totally look at the new Denver scene and how it correlates with us opening in 2013. There was "co-op-etition." We all kind of grew up together.
What are some of your most memorable experiences here?
Aileen: After our first six months, the back bar fell off the wall at 5:30 on a Saturday night. We kept going, but closed service early. Luckily, no one was hurt.
Paul: I remember sweeping up piles of glass.
Aileen: The first Musical Chairs dinner — Led Zeppelin.
Paul: Yeah, people showed up with albums for us to sign. They were pulling up in limos, people were raging — it was crazy.
Aileen: When we first started brunch, [I remember] the electricity and momentum.
Paul: People lined up on the sidewalk outside. We'd start this slow brunch chant and get faster and louder — "Brunch, brunch, brunch!" — banging on the counters.
So many restaurant employees see brunch as a chore. It sounds like you really enjoy it.
Paul: That was always the goal from the get-go. It's a continuation of what we do [during dinner]. And this is the height of brunch season right now — the weekend after the Super Bowl to Mother's Day.
What are your favorite dishes that you've done since opening?
Aileen: The crispy pig's-head terrine. It was served with a sauce grebiche. The pulled pork with watermelon raviolo — that was one of the most popular.
Paul: The pork was served between two thin slices of watermelon like ravioli. Another popular one was lobster spaghettini — we did it with corn, tomatoes, favas and half a lobster on top and a tarragon emulsion. It was like summer on a plate.
Aileen: The crudite, that was a good one. Was it ricotta or goat cheese?
Paul: It had goat's-milk ricotta and chèvre, and a caraway crumble, so it almost looked like a potted plant.
Scallops and cantaloupe — that was one of the only dishes we've ever brought back. It had seared cantaloupe and prosciutto.
Paul: Bollito misto — it was one of the dishes I thought was going to get us into Food & Wine, but it was a total flop. It was one of the dishes that captured what we were trying to do with whole-animal sourcing. I was so proud of the dish, and it was a total flop. I was begging the servers to sell even one or two.
Was sourcing important from the very beginning? And has it gotten any easier over the past five years?
Paul: If I look at how we've evolved, we've always been seasonal and farm-focused. But we've taken it to a whole new level...in terms of our passion and our policies. Our relationship with farmers is something I never thought possible. In the beginning, we were having to knock on ranchers' doors. Potager and Duo were doing it at that level before us.
Eileen: There are more people now that are coming to us.
Paul: We're also more concerned about seafood. We have different conglomerates and fisheries that have reached out to us; we think about things like catch methods. ... As a dining public, we are so naive about this.
Are there any kinds of seafood you try not to carry because of the problems?
Paul: Shrimp. Shrimp is horrible. For every one pound of shrimp caught, there's ten pounds of waste. But we're working with someone on that.
Has the recent industry labor shortage affected you?
Aileen: Our entire service staff has been here for over a year now. We've had people leave, and we've called them up and they've come back.
Paul: It was worse a year ago, but it's been up and down over the years.
Was it always part of the plan to open more than one restaurant?
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Aileen: I think we always had that in mind — knowing what we wanted to do, that one was never going to be enough. In spring 2015, we found the space where Coperta is now.
Do you hope to open another restaurant in the future?
Aileen: Possibly — but I highly doubt it's this year. Although things just have a way of happening when they're meant to.
Beast + Bottle's five-year anniversary dinner will be held at 6 p.m. on Friday, March 16, and will cost $85 per person, with a portion of proceeds going toward Project Angel Heart. Advance tickets are required; get yours by calling the restaurant at 303-623-3223. The restaurant is also redesigning the menu with more shareable plates in mind. Eileen says that it will be more than just small plates, but rather dining with a shared, communal experience in mind. Look forward to new dishes in the coming weeks.