Exclusive: The Populist's Noah Price opening Finn's Manor, a food truck pod and cocktail bar
April Fool's Day was no joke for Noah Price, co-owner of the Populist and Crema Coffee House. That's the day he inked a lease on Finn's Manor, a food truck courtyard and cocktail bar that will occupy a former 7,000-square-foot auto parts salvage shop at 2927 Larimer Street, just a few blocks away from the Populist and Crema.
"My business partner, Thomas Taylor, owns the space with his family, and he loves beer, so he was initially planning to do a brewery, but there are plenty of breweries down here already," acknowledges Price, who then introduced Taylor to whiskey wizard Robert Sickler. And Sickler, who, for the past ten years, has been a Master of Whisky for Diageo, representing the company's whisky brands -- both locally and nationally -- through trainings, seminars, consumer tastings and dinners, joined the duo as the third owner. The trio sat down together, recalls Price, and hatched an idea to give Denver's food trucks a pod to park their wheels...year around.
"I grew up in Telluride vending with my dad, who sold stir-fries in the parking lots of Grateful Dead concerts around the country, and I love the mobile food movement in Denver, plus what we're doing here is good for the economic growth of food trucks, and it's a pod that doesn't shut down in the wintertime, so we're giving trucks the benefit of being able to serve -- and sell food -- all year long," says Price.
More than 6,000 square feet will be dedicated to food trucks, adds Price, noting that the concreted outdoor space, which backs up to an alley, is large enough to accommodate six to eight trucks at any one time -- and the trucks will rotate daily, giving hungry patrons the opportunity to sample several different cuisines, and the cooks manning the mobile kitchens the chance to showcase their foodstuffs to wide audiences.
Price plans to reface the grafittied front exterior (if budget allows, it'll be brick) and bedeck the food truck strip, which is partially covered, with picnic tables constructed from the salvaged wood the partners ripped off the existing roof, high-top tables, two bathrooms, flowers and other foliage, a tub with bottled beers and wines and, in the winter, heaters to chase away the chill. "We like the grittiness of it, and we're going to keep it rustic, but we'll spruce it up to make it a great place for people to eat and drink," says Price.
And while there will be plenty of seating outside to accommodate the crowds, Price and his partners aren't stopping there: Along with rehabbing the outdoor plot, they're making very good use of the interior, which, decades ago, was someone's single-family home. The peak-roofed structure, walled in weathered brick, will become the manor bar, a watering hole, says Price, that's reminiscent of a "voodoo-Moroccan-Mexican-New Orleans-gypsy-caravan vibe." Or, more simply, a little of this and a little of that, some "vagabond Americana" and a finished space that will be dictated by "whatever we can find for for cheap or free. That's our design style," quips Price.
"We'll leave a lot to leave a lot of the existing brick, redo the floors with wood we saved from the roof, and we'll also have elaborate Turkish lights, voodoo skulls, a few machetes and lots of other cool relics and fun stuff that will give it a cool southern feel," he adds.
Sickler, who's also an annual presenter at Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans and spent five years as a bartender and fine-dining captain in that same city (he even proposed to his wife on the banks of the Mississippi at sunset while a friend played "La vie en rose" on his accordion) is overseeing the bar program, and when the bar is completed, it'll definitely have a Big Easy aura, says Sickler.
"I possess a sincere reverence for the cultural fabric of New Orleans, and one of my aims is to pay homage to aspects of the city that I love through our cocktails, music and overall aesthetic," Sicker reveals. "Many classic New Orleans cocktails will be available, and several of the names of our drinks will pay homage to New Orleans culture." And in addition, he says, "New Orleans brass, rhythm and blues, bounce and zydeco music will be mainstays, along with music from other sensuous lands like Latin America, the Caribbean, North Africa, Eastern Europe and Turkey." Finn's Manor, he adds, will "mimic a tiki bar, in that it transports the senses to another land from where you currently reside, but unlike a tiki bar, we won't be blatantly themed in one specific setting."
His vision of the cocktail program, he explains, is to "create drinks that are truly refreshing and incorporate unique ingredients" from across the globe. "I want each and every drink on the list to be enticing to both common and more advanced palates, and while the ingredients may be relatively complex, the flavors will be straightforward and delicious," notes Sickler, adding that he'll highlight "world-class whiskies and rums, as well as sherries, Armagnacs and unique cordials and bitters from throughout the world."
But whiskey and rum will dominate the spirit syllabus. "I want to focus on primarily on rum and whisky because they're two spirits that evoke rich stories and possess intricate, intriguing, diverse flavors; they inspire conversation and stimulate the imagination," says Sickler.
"We'll showcase ingredients from various lands, and our music, drinks and decor will reflect that diversity," he notes. "Anyone who steps into Finn's Manor will have a genuine experience that's both distinctive and fun." He adds, too, that the drinks he'll make for those on patio will include sangrias, punches and snow cones spiked with spirits.
Sickler, Price and Taylor plan to emphasize a strong beer program, as well, but it won't be Colorado-intensive. In fact, says Price, none of the beers -- tap or otherwise -- will come form a local brewery. "You can get amazing, fresh and local beers from all the great breweries that we have nearby, so there's no point in reinventing the wheel," explains Price. Instead, he says, "We'll have fun, funky and cool beers from the East Coast and Europe." The list is still being finalized, but Price predicts that they'll pour eight to twelve beers on draft and offer another dozen or so by the can or bottle.
And the wine scroll, says Price, will mirror the lovely wine list at the Populist, insomuch that they'll keep the markups low -- just a single markup, rather than the all-too-typical industry-wide markup that averages three times wholesale cost -- and quirky. "We'll have bottles that are fun, eclectic and different, just like at the Populist, and because our markups are so minimal, we'll emphasize wines by the bottle, because they're so much more affordable that ordering by the glass," stresses Price.
When Finn's Manor opens -- Price is pinpointing late August or early September -- hours will be from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, and 11 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday; the trucks will serve both lunch and dinner, and because the entire area is poised for a full liquor license, revelers aren't restricted by boundaries, meaning that if you've got a drink in your hand, you have access to both the pod and the bar. Still, Price stresses that while he's aiming for a celebratory atmosphere, this isn't a place to practice drunken theatrics. "We want people to have fun, but we also want to keep it mellow and be respectful of our neighbors," he says.
Admittance into the food truck area will be free (the trucks will set their own food prices), and beer, wine and cocktails will be sold separately.
"I'm incredibly excited to partner with Noah and Thomas on this monumental endeavor," says Sickler. "I've always admired Noah's vision and what he's done in the RiNo neighborhood with Crema and Populist, and I'm thrilled to be a part of an evolving community of like-minded individuals. Creating a place for food trucks to gather and opening a caravan-like cocktail bar that embraces worldly flavors and a New Orleans accent, is a bona fide dream come true for this southern transplant who loves Denver," concludes Sickler.
For more photos of Finn's Manor, which is just beginning to undergo construction, flip the page.
All photos by Lori Midson.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Denver dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.