Like Denver as a food city, Sixth Avenue as a restaurant neighborhood always seems on the edge of becoming the next big thing. Its progression can be tracked the way die-hard fans follow a perpetually losing ball club -- watching through the seasons as the roster is brought up and down by the addition of new stars, the loss of dead weight. With every fresh arrival, there's the hope that this new slugger, this hot property, will turn everything around, that some magical combination of hitting, fielding and management will put the home team on top.
For years, Sixth Avenue has seemed tied with 17th Avenue -- which still boasts an empty eatery named after former Rockies star Dante Bichette, ironically enough -- as an eternal also-ran. But Table 6 (see review) could be the ringer that finally brings Sixth Avenue (and maybe Denver, too) into the limelight.
Chef Aaron Whitcomb, his crew, and the guys from Adega who are behind Table 6 are exactly what this neighborhood needed, because it seems that wherever they go (at least right now), success follows. It was Adega, after all, that made LoDo a national fine-dining destination rather than just another gated game preserve for the hat-boys, skanks, party kids and fourteen-year-old club-hoppers yarfing Jäger shots and Saltines into the gutters. Mirepoix (see last week's "Paradise Found") is another showcase for the best New American food; its location in a Cherry Creek hotel could help spread the word across the country. And now Table 6 is turning away more customers than some restaurants serve on a Saturday night. It's filling three and four turns of the dining room with dedicated foodies and star-chasing gawkers, getting people into the neighborhood and getting them talking about where they might want to eat next weekend.
Table 6 has an arrangement with Piscos, Whitcomb says, so that people waiting on a table can head across the street for a cocktail. Late arrivals make reservations at Barolo Grill when they can't get a table at Table 6. (Blair Taylor, owner of Barolo, was a pioneer on this stretch of Sixth Avenue, with first Dudley's and then Chives in the space that now holds Piscos.) But sooner or later, these would-be diners will come back to Table 6, hoping to find that magic moment between turns when there just might be a table for four freeing up.
This Brownian motion of dining dollars has helped make Old South Pearl Street a success. When there are no tables at Lola, people wander off for a drink and a snack at Hanson's. When Sushi Den is spilling its waiting list out into the street, those in the know head across the street to Stella's to wait out the throngs, or grab a bar stool at the Pearl Street Grill. The newly gentrified stretch of East Colfax Avenue that's now home to Mezcal, Atomic Cowboy, Goosetown Tavern, Goodfriends and Bastien's has the same formula going, as does the Highland neighborhood when Bang! hits its max capacity during the first dinner seating on Friday night. The host-and-parasite relationship, this vaguely socialist idea of sharing the burden, sharing the prize -- this is what brings a neighborhood up. Strength in numbers and all that.
And now Sixth Avenue is getting the numbers. Between Table 6 on the west and Barolo on the east, there's the Truffle (2906 East Sixth), where Kate and David Kaufman act as artisan cheese and fungus pushers for all us inveterate junkies. And Sean Kelly tells me that the expansion of Somethin' Else into the former Two Boys space, which will add a proper bar, some bathrooms and about double the number of seats currently at the 1313 East Sixth spot, should happen by February -- late January, with a little luck.
So I have high hopes. Just as I'm betting on Denver as a whole, I'm betting on that magic combination of addresses, luck and buzz to push Sixth Avenue over the edge. It's been a Red Sox kind of season -- a time for laying the rent money on the longshots -- and I'm thinking that maybe, finally, the time has come.
Leftovers: While certain neighborhoods always seem on the brink, certain addresses always appear doomed. A storefront at First and Broadway has been laboring for years under a sort of hoodoo that, until recently, seemed unshakable.
But now it looks like things may be changing. Spicy Basil, which took over the 1 Broadway home of Sweet BOB'S BBQ late in 2003, is doing well, its success signaled by those fat ceramic kitty sculptures around the place. No matter when I visit (I'm always on the prowl for more shuma dumplings, occasionally a bit of Penang curried fish), two or three tables are occupied. The place is never full, but it's never empty, either.
Next door, the unit that once housed the absolutely doomed Fasano's (a combination pizza and health-food joint that moved into the former home of The Wedge right about the time Sweet's was closing up shop) has changed hands. New owner Ben Guest, who got me on the phone about a month ago after he'd taken a look at the space and then read about the curse of this complex in my review of Spicy Basil ("Lots of Luck," June 17), opened the doors early this month on what he's christened Beniamino's Chicago Pizza. "Things have been going like gangbusters," he told me at 11:30 a.m. last Thursday, but that's about all he could say, because he already had customers stacking up at the counter and an art show to plan for that night.
Down at 151 South Broadway, Sobo 151 has passed its two-year mark and looks to be flourishing as a sports-bar-slash-Czechoslovakian-clubhouse-cum-Bohemian-soul-food-eatery with hockey games on the telly, slivovitz behind the bar and potato latkes on the menu every night. It's the all-things-to-all-people approach, and it seems to be working just fine.
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But over on Leetsdale, Jalapeño Mexican Grill, one of my favorite So-Cal/Mexican joints, est´ muerto. Moving into the space is a another outlet in the homegrown Santiago's Mexican chain, and while my colleague Dave Herrera loves that place, I doubt that Santiago's will be able to wrap a fish burrito like Jalapeño did. At 406 East Colfax, Mt. Everest -- the Nepalese restaurant known for its popular lunch buffet -- may look closed, but it's not. Dependable local tipster Andrea Mather, who has a vegetarian restaurant guide for the Denver, Boulder and Salt Lake City areas coming out this March (but let's not hold that against her), told me that owner Shyam Shrestha is just remodeling the space and adding some seating; the doors should be open again by the end of the month.
Best of Denver french-fry champion Santoro's Brick Oven Pizzeria opened a new location at 8101 East Belleview Avenue in Greenwood Village this past Monday. And in Boulder, Star of India owner Paul Gill has opened Bombay Bistro Restaurant and Lounge at One Boulder Plaza, an Indo-fusion joint featuring traditional Indian, plus a little Indian-Mexican, Indian-Italian, what-have-you.
And finally, congrats to local hero Marco Marquez of Englewood, who just won the second annual Frank's RedHot Buffalo-wing-eating regional championship by sucking down 2.1 pounds of wing meat in eight minutes. Even if Denver never makes the bigtime for our restaurants, we'll always have Marco to be proud of.