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Exclusive: Robert Thompson opening Argyll Whisky Beer in the Las Margaritas space in Uptown

Las Margaritas will close in Uptown to make room for Agyll Whisky and Beer.
Las Margaritas will close in Uptown to make room for Agyll Whisky and Beer.

Back in 2011, when Robert Thompson shuttered Argyll in Cherry Creek, the plan, he told me, was to reopen the gastropub in Baker. Instead, Thompson, a prolific restaurateur and the founder of Seasoned Development, a restaurant group that designs, develops and manages restaurant concepts, graced the ubranized 'hood with Punch Bowl Social Food & Drink, a modern diner, mixology and bowling concept that has since gone national. In the time that Argyll closed, Thompson also opened Le Grand Bistro & Oyster Bar in the downtown theater district, but Argyll, a gastropub that Thompson calls the "booster rocket that got the shuttle off the ground," has always been at the forefront of his mind, and next year, in April or May, he'll open Argyll Whisky Beer in Uptown, in the Las Margaritas space on Seventeenth Avenue's booming restaurant row.

See also: Photos: Le Grand Bistro & Oyster Bar's John Broening on his new fall menu

"We've been looking for a perfect location to open a new Argyll for a long time -- almost two years -- and we've walked away from some good deals but not deals that we're good enough, until we found this one," says Thompson, who signed the lease earlier today.

The original Argyll, says Thompson, who spent several years outside of the industry, was "my reintroduction back into the Denver restaurant scene, so it's really special to me, and it catapulted my company so that I could work on the new concepts I'm working on today," he adds. "I opened it during a recession, I put all the capital I had left into making it work, not to mention my blood, sweat and tears, but ultimately, it just wasn't the right location."

For one thing, Argyll squatted in a relatively small, subterranean space that didn't have a visible street presence, but there were other factors, too, that convinced him to shutter it. "We were in a basement, we didn't have a meaningful bar where people could wait for a table, and people in Cherry Creek tend to stop eating and drinking once the clock hits 9 p.m.," explains Thompson. More important, he stresses, was the fact that Argyll simply didn't have the space to handle the crowds at peak hours. "On Friday and Saturday nights, we'd have as many people on the wait list as there were people dining, and if you don't have the space to accommodate those people, then you're going to lose business," he notes.

The Las Margaritas plot, on the other hand, is 5,000 square feet and sits squarely on a corner that sees a heavy flow of foot traffic. Plus, it's in a neighborhood that swells with a younger demographic -- a demographic that doesn't subscribe to a 10 p.m. bedtime ritual. "The key word in gastropub is fucking 'pub,'" quips Thompson, and Argyll Whisky Beer, which will pour libations until 2 a.m. on the weekends, will undoubtedly encounter a thump of late-night revelers -- at least that's what Thompson is betting on. "I think locals will treat us as their local bar, and a huge part of a gastropub is the drinking element, and unlike in Cherry Creek, this is a neighborhood where people like to be at a bar at 2 a.m," says Thompson. "It's in a location that makes a lot more sense than Cherry Creek."

 

The reincarnation, says Thompson, will "keep the spirit of the quintessential gastropub," but the beer and whisky libraries, he tells me, will be greatly expanded. Tables will all have iPads with complete flavor profiles and histories of whisky and beers, and just like at the old Argyll, Friday nights will be devoted to tapping a room temperature, cask-conditioned, old-style ale from Great Divide -- an ale that has a short, 24-hour lifespan, so if you snooze, you lose. The beer syllabus will include twenty-some brews on draft, some from Colorado, others from the UK, plus a large selection of bottles. And Thompson reveals, too, that his goal is to harbor the largest Irish and Scottish single-malt whisky, small-batch bourbon and non-commodity Canadian list in the city.

John Broening, Thompson's culinary director and the executive chef of Le Grand, will be the opening exec chef of Argyll, while retaining his directorship over all of Thompson's current and forthcoming concepts, of which there are many. "We'll keep some of the staples that we were famous for at Argyll -- the Scotch eggs, the macaroni and cheese and fish and chips -- but other than that, we're going to shape the culinary program with a new set of hands and inspirations," says Thompson, who just returned from a four-day culinary research trip to New York City.

He did some design scouring, too, although his vision for Argyll is clear: "The design scheme will be classic Victorian pub-style with modern, crisper angles and lines," he says, adding that while he won't gut the space, he's expanding the kitchen and bar and scraping the walls and floors. "We're resurfacing everything," he reveals.

"What I noticed in New York is that there's something so pure and honest about the gastropub movement, and I really saw how how many restaurants are actually influenced by the gastropub and yet, they don't even know it," muses Thompson. "We're best at doing things when we put our hearts in it, and I know we were doing it right four years ago, but we're going to do it even better now. The Argyll brand will forever captivate my mind and emotions," concludes Thompson.

We'll raise a glass to that!



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