When I was a teenager looking for trouble in Denver, I had relatively few choices downtown. There was always Larimer Square, though, where I got into more than my fair share of shenanigans at Soapy Smith's Double Eagle Bar, the Bratskellar and Josephina's. Today Larimer Square is more popular than ever — but the caliber of shenanigans has definitely improved. So has the caliber of restaurants. And when Jennifer Jasinski and Beth Gruitch, the women behind Rioja and Bistro Vendôme, decided to take over the empty space around the corner, they treated the historic structure with the respect it deserves and even restored one of its early names, Euclid Hall.
The building dates back to 1883, when it was the home of Dr. Byron Albertus Wheeler. After that, it was used by the Masons, the Colorado Women's Relief Corps, the Cootie Club and Maudie's Flea Market; according to legend, it was also once the headquarters of a brothel catering to government officials, law enforcement representatives and members of the media. No, that wasn't Soapy's, which opened in 1977, first experienced my teenage self a decade later and lasted until the end of the century. Even though Soapy's survived significantly beyond its natural expiration date, I was still sad to see it go — and sadder still to see what a dark hole it became in the hands of the barbarians behind Martini Ranch. So it's thrilling to see the space getting a new lease on life in the hands of the Larimer ladies.
Also enjoying a second act at Euclid is Cyd Anderson, who opened Aix with Rachel Woolcott in 2001, then sold her share in 2006 before the restaurant closed altogether in early 2009. (Today the former home of Aix is occupied by Olivea.) Aix enjoyed a loyal bar crowd, and Cyd was one of the main reasons why. She's got a great disposition for being behind the stick, accommodating without being too fussy. As she made me her specialty cocktail — Cyd's Vicious ($8.50), made with Westerhall Plantation Rum, fresh grapefruit juice, bitters and a Mandarine Napoléon float — I asked if it was hard making the transition from owner to employee. "I love it," she replied. "It's nice to sit back and just be a worker bee. I really like not having to manage employees."
Just customers. I continued to chat it up with Cyd as I tried a deliciously bitter Cootie Club ($12.50), made with Aperol, Campari, Amaro Montenegro and Monopolowa Vienna Dry Gin with basil and flamed orange peel. Euclid Hall general manager Tony Maciag told me that he'd interviewed for a position with Cyd years before but she didn't hire him. When I asked about snubbing her future boss, Cyd grinned and replied, "I don't remember that."
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But you'll want to remember Euclid Hall.