One of the best parts of happy hour is mixing and matching dishes into strange table spreads that would have a Cordon Bleu instructor in tears. At happy hour, no one's going to tell you not to order a sandwich, arancini and a pizza all at the same time. This is a possibility at Gozo, a fine Baker establishment with no apparent ties to an ancient Sumerian deity with designs on destroying the world, as the name would suggest. (Ray, if someone asks you if you want pizza, you say yes.) Armed with well-priced wines and cocktails plus diverse plates, Gozo's happy hour shows that you really can have it all.
Gozo sits in the former home of Deluxe, a place that not long ago helped redefine fine dining in Denver. The new all-white-everything treatment looks good, more of a piece with current design trends than Deluxe's retro brick aesthetic. On a street where the slightly worn look is prized above all, Gozo really stands out, inside and outside, in a way that dovetails with what's going on in the kitchen. Opened in 2014 under the eye of chef Nicholas Petrilli, the mission and menu haven't changed much since former sous-chef Chris Falcone took over. Initially billed as a Mediterranean mash, Gozo is almost entirely focused on the Italian side, with a slate of strong seafood backing up pizzas and pastas. And in case you somehow haven't heard, happy hour here is so much more compelling than the modest advertisement of cheap drinks and discounted pizzas; there's a whole mini menu to explore, ripe with chances to create something odd and memorable.
You can choose how you want to experience Gozo's happy hour, which appears only on weekdays from 3 to 6 p.m. but is available throughout the expansive space. Sit at the bar with the cool kids, or get a two-top to yourself. Hang at the chef's counter, or mob the community table with the squad. Gozo offers many fine bottles of wine — some for reasonable prices, even — but your happy-hour adventure will probably be ignited with one of three house wines on tap for $6. There's Barbera d'Asti, friend of checkered-tablecloth joints everywhere, and a quite potable and adaptable syrah-grenache blend that looks smashing in the evening twilight. You can also get $3 off of well drinks, specialty cocktails and draft beers, but there are no discounts on Gozo's formidable stash of bottled craft brews.
In borrowing liberally from the dinner, lunch and pizza menus, Gozo creates a well-rounded happy hour spread. And with the exception of $4 halved sandwiches, very little is censored or held back for these reduced prices. Exhibit A is a plate of fried calamari ($7), with a small colony of panko-coated squid sharing its fate with petals of red onion and ramekins of red sauce and lemon aioli. By smell alone, it could have come from any bowling-alley fryer — and that's no insult. This is a first-class guilty pleasure, excused as fine dining with a squeeze of grilled lemon, a light touch of seasoning, and plenty of chewy tentacles poking out. I can testify that this is a plate to share, because it nearly destroyed me.
Ordered in pairs, Gozo's montaditos ($4 each) can make for a simple dinner if you're not into the whole community-and-gaiety part of happy hour. With fillings like pork shoulder with Fontina or Genoa salami with harissa aioli, they're solid main entries. For reasons I can't defend, I stuck myself with an unassuming Caprese sandwich that still impressed with fresh mozzarella and crusty fired bread infused with balsamic. By the way, don't order any BLTs around town for a while, because Gozo used the only ripe tomatoes in Denver on this dish. And if somehow you're not seduced by the wood-fired oven and the beautiful pizzas coming out of it, a few bucks knocked off each pie might do the trick.
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Gozo takes happy hour seriously, which is why it's busy and healthy early on a weekday night, with each patron on a different journey. The happy-hour menu ranks as one of the best in the city, thanks to the kitchen's faith that you can find your way through fried delights, pizzas, charcuterie and sandwiches. But there's also no shame in getting lost.
Perfect for: Those who like to get close. Burrata ($6), Brussels sprouts ($6) and that calamari plate are all perfect for sharing around a small group or couple. Just don't spoon-feed each other — c'mon, no one wants to see that.
Don't Miss: Will Gozo's pizzas draw you away from potato and bacon slices at the Pie Hole next door? That depends on whether your dream pizza pairing is Diet Coke or a Negroni. Gozo is a worthy entrant into the field of modern wood-fired pizza, along with joints like Cart-Driver and Lucky Pie. A salami pizza ($11 at happy hour, normally $15) buries the meat under fat chunks of fresh mozz, red peppers and red onions. The ideal chewiness of the crust and the brightness of the red sauce was evident fresh from the oven and reheated a day after its birth.