Earlier this year, president of Colorado Bartenders Guild Bryan Dayton was set to leave his five-year post as bar manager of Frasca Food & Wine and head to the Bitter Bar--until his own project kicked into high gear instead.
After months of keeping mum about that project, Dayton just told us that he signed a lease on the former 14th Street Bar & Grill space at 1400 Pearl Street, which shuttered two weeks ago. And that makes it official: Dayton is opening his own restaurant this fall.
"I'd been looking at spots in Denver for a bar," said Dayton over espresso. "Bob [Stuckey] actually planted the seed for looking at the 14th Street spot and doing a restaurant." Dayton got the keys after many conversations with Jack Kerner, who owned the bar and grill that had inhabited the spot for 22 years. Now, Dayton's putting together the build-out plans. He'll keep the wood-fired oven and grill in the kitchen, but the bar will get a new top and feel, and a chef's table, which will seat six, is in the works.
Dayton cites Stuckey, Frasca's master sommelier and co-owner, as his biggest supporter, giving him his "PhD in hospitality" and preparing him for life as a restaurateur. The formidable wine wizard also put Dayton in touch with Steve Redzikowski, who quickly became a partner and executive chef at the new restaurant.
Redzikowski spent two years as executive sous chef of Frasca when the Friulian eatery opened in 2004. His resume includes stints at New York giants Le Cirque and Jean-Georges, and he worked as a sous chef in famed Napa Valley restaurant, Cyrus. He's currently the executive sous chef at Aspen's Little Nell, finishing up there until he moves down to Boulder. And at the new place on Pearl Street, he'll be constructing lunch, dinner and late-night menus centered around haute American cuisine.
"He's still playing with the menus," said Dayton. "Lunch will probably be well-thought out sandwiches, soups and salads. And we want to have a killer burger. Dinner will be geekier. We'll serve wild game -- we want to use whole animals -- we'll make our own sausages and mortadella. And Steve's a master of pasta, so we'll offer a couple of those, whether Italian-influenced or Steve's own interpretation."
Dayton also said the restaurant will focus on local seasonal produce, which presented a challenge when the team realized they'd likely be opening in the fall -- after Colorado's growing season ends. To compensate, they're canning apricots and peaches and taking stock of suppliers of root vegetables.
Given Dayton's passion and involvement in the state's cocktail culture, it probably goes without saying that the restaurant will have a geeky focus on beverages, too. And as testament to his desire to create a program that excels in all areas -- not just mixology -- he's brought on Annie Polk as the third partner. Polk, a wine and spirits expert who spent years as a high-end rep at Pinnacle, a beverage distributor, will come on as general manager, and she'll be helping with the beverage program, too.
"We'll have a well-rounded, focused wine list," promised Dayton. "We want the most serious sommeliers to come in and find a bottle they're excited to drink, but we want to make it accessible for everyone. Most of our wines will fall somewhere between $50 and $100. Nothing will be more than $200."
The same goes for beer. The restaurant will likely have just one tap, but the team is hoping to have a bottle list that incorporates great selections of local brewers.
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Cocktails, though, are a different story, and the spirits offerings will be vast. "I'm toying with having three cocktail menus," revealed Dayton. "Apertifs and non-alcoholic stuff for lunch, classic drinks for dinner and the crazier things late-night."
Though they're still ironing out details -- the partners have yet to name the place, in fact -- Dayton's clear about what he, Redzikowski and Polk want to create in this spot: a neighborhood kitchen and bar with a good late-night option for patrons desiring something more upscale than the bars that line the Pearl Street Mall.
"We want it to be cozy, the kind of place you want to go every day of the week," Dayton said. "14th Street was here for 22 years; we want to be here at least that long."
The team is aiming to open the doors in October.