Chasing the Green Fairy
It should be enough that the Royal Peacock (see review, page 49) serves some of the best Indian food I've ever had. It should be enough that owner Shanti Awatramani is willing to ship that food to transplanted Coloradans in Washington and New York and California, to loyal fans so desperate that they're willing to pay for having his saag, tandoori and chaat put on ice and mailed to them. And it should really be enough that Shanti's son Sebastian is single-handedly trying to expand the Peacock's food offerings by introducing Indian-style game meats to Boulder -- critters like South African ostrich and deer and caribou.
But no. The Peacock is always doing more. And that includes the occasional Absinthe Lounge parties that Sebastian schedules in the restaurant -- events that regularly draw a hundred or more fans of the bitter, green, arguably poisonous liquor so favored by grumpy French midgets and aficionados of all sorts of strange kicks. The parties (which take place on Fridays once or twice a month) are a showcase for dancers, drinkers, artists and musicians looking to get weird while local DJs spin psytrance -- a dark, melodic kind of party music that clocks in around 140 bpm and originated with Israeli DJs working the Goan club scene.
And yes, my friends, the bar is pouring real absinthe, a liquor made from wormwood that could kill you in high doses, but when imbibed with some restraint merely makes you want to become an impressionist painter or commit highly public acts of performance art. For the record, it's not absinthe that's illegal, but wormwood -- which is listed as a controlled substance by the FDA. But since absinthe is made with wormwood...well, you get the idea. For a long time, there was no real absinthe to be had anywhere in the United States (although you could get a poor facsimile, anisette tinted green with food dye) because the importing of wormwood was roughly equivalent to importing giant bales of weed. But at the Peacock's Absinthe Lounge parties, the house brand is Savoir Traditions, imported from the south of France and made with Roman wormwood -- a very important distinction, because while there are many types of wormwood out there, the FDA has only gotten around to making one of them a controlled substance, and that one ain't Roman.
Sebastian -- a musician when he's not promoting club nights at his dad's restaurant or hunting up unusual and delicious animals to add to the menu -- is a big fan of absinthe. He tells a story about how, after sipping a little one night, he went home and wrote an entire six-minute piano sonata. "A lot of the people who come here are artists and musicians," he says. "They say it helps them work. It gives you a feeling of calmness and clarity, like being drunk but not too drunk. People talk about mind expansion. It makes them think in unusual ways."
Check, check and triple-check. I remember the first time I tried absinthe, back in New York after a chef friend smuggled a couple of bottles into the country. It made for an interesting night. We played the Pogues very loud, chased the stuff with ginger ale (I don't know why, but it seemed like a good idea at the time), and I accidentally invented the frittata after hopelessly bungling the French omelets I was trying to make for everyone. I'm not saying that I was the first guy to make a frittata, mind you, just that I had no previous conception of anything called a frittata but somehow made an excellent one that night.
The cocktails at the Peacock's bar aren't cheap, and absinthe runs anywhere from eight to fifteen dollars a pop. But think of it this way: There just aren't many places in the country where you can try it, and someday the FDA may realize its mistake and makes all types of wormwood illegal. Here's more bad news: The Absinthe Lounge parties will end with the summer, because Sebastian is headed to Washington, D.C., come fall. Still, he assures me that after he's gone and the parties are no more, the bar will still serve the green fairy for as long as folks keep asking for it. Check www.royalpeacocklounge.com for information and to schedule a night to get your drunken French freak on.
Leftovers: When Snooze opened a couple of months ago at 2262 Larimer Street, owner Jon Schlegel promised super-late-night hours on the weekends -- but they've been slow to materialize. "Kitchen issues," Schlegel explains. "We didn't have the staff yet to be able to do it right."
But apparently that problem has been solved, because Schlegel informs me that Snooze's vampire hours will start this weekend or next, with the place opening at 1:30 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays and staying open through 2:30 p.m. in order to capitalize on both the bar rush and the late-morning breakfast crowd. "It's good," Schlegel adds. "We're staffed now. The kitchen is learning the difference between Œover easy' and Œover medium.' I'm psyched for the shift to start."
More change is in store for the New York Pizzeria, which last month left its home at 4990 Leetsdale Drive. The move panicked local New York thin-crust purists, who called to tell me that one of the best spots for a good slice had suddenly gone dark. And the joint wasn't just dark, it was stripped bare -- down to smudged glass and a lone toilet shoved into the back. But as it turns out, owners Rick and Warren Mahlke already have a new space lined up over at 600 South Holly Street that's not only twice the size of the original, but comes with enough parking.
The brothers hail from the Midwest (when I asked Rick about his unusual accent, he admitted he just tells people he's "from upstate," as in New York, but if pressed will confess that it's actually upstate Minnesota -- about as far from New York as you can get before falling under the influence of California's foul gravity), but that doesn't prevent them from turning out the most authentic New York slices you'll find in Denver. And while a lot of New York Pizzeria's charm (for me, anyway) lay in its physical being -- cramped dining room, the smell of yeast and pulverized tomatoes, flour-dusted everything -- Rick explained that the move was necessary if the brothers wanted to continue turning out those killer pies.
"That old place had been too small for a long time," Rick explains, his accent more powerful (and recognizable) when he laughs. Not only that, but the brothers' landlord was looking to jack the rent on their old, dilapidated, 36-seat space by about six hundred bucks a month -- not the kind of hit a little neighborhood place takes lightly.
The new, eighty-seat spot, which shares a strip mall with a Colorado Athletic Club, should be up and running by mid-June, and is already in line for a beer-and-wine license come August. The menu will stay pretty much the same, except the brothers are adding a couple of salads to entice the CAC crowds. "After they see the salads, they might just say, ŒEh, I really want a pizza anyway,'" Rick says, outlining his plans for proudly corrupting the good habits of his new neighbors. "When people heard that we were going to be opening a pizza place next door to a gym, they thought that was a bad idea. But I tell them, ŒYou know, there's a lot of people who work out just so they can eat whatever they want when they're done.'"
And when they do, New York Pizzeria will be waiting.
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