Where's the line between high class and low-end? Denver is more socially and regionally stratified than ever, but most of us end up mingling in with and among each other like enriched flour cereal squares in a bowl of Chex Mix. On the high end you have a place like Coohills, overlooking Cherry Creek and wedged in with some of the priciest real estate in the city. It's an unapologetically tony eatery, with a stunning interior by Semple Brown Design and a menu that heaves with French vibrations. But on a weekday happy-hour visit, I witnessed something interesting: the typical post-work and dinner date crowd, elbow to elbow with folks steeling themselves for the Avalanche game at the Pepsi Center. Suit-and-tie meets jersey-and-beanie. That's a testament to how Coohills' location and happy-hour offerings can bring LoDo together.
Maybe I shouldn't be surprised that Coohills is a favorite for sports fans. Avalanche flags adorn the coat hangers, and the atmosphere is warm and welcoming, with chef/co-owner Tom Coohill himself treading the boards. If there is a class divide, it's between the bustling bar and the quieter dinner and private dining areas, decked out with beautiful decor and paneling, as well as show-stopping chandeliers. The bar area is where you want to be for happy hour, with plush chairs for lounging, a big square-shaped rail and bar specials from 3 to 6 p.m. Monday to Friday and 4 to 6 p.m. Saturday.
The bar menu is divorced from the dinner offerings, though they do share some of the same eats. Happy hour manifests itself as slight discounts on many of these items, like $3 off cocktails, $2 off wines and $1 off drafts. I was taken with the Faux Poire ($9 at happy hour) and I applaud the effort of the bartender to make the drink in the middle of a rush, especially when I tasted the result in the saucer glass. A green-tinted shake of Nolet Gin, pear brandy, Chartreuse and lemon, thickened with a dense egg white foam, the small glass was immediately arresting, both visually and as I drained drained down. I wish the beer list was similarly inspired, but a glass of Ruffino Prosecco ($6 at happy hour) was a fine treat later down the line.
The happy-hour plates, really full-fledged bar eats, are pretty substantial, which became a problem when the friendly bartender misinterpreted my order of the salade roqette ($12) for a big 'ol serving of raclette ($9). With a fromage flatbread ($9 at happy hour) alongside, it was certainly a cheesy evening. The flatbreads are unique to the bar menu, but they come out with as much care and detail as anything else, with a nicely blistered crust and a rustic dusting underneath that let each slice slide off the serving board nice and easy. Ah, but if only there was a bit more complexity under this veil — notes of herb in the rosemary béchamel and the brine of Grana Padano were hard to find in the mozzarella mix.
The concept of raclette, though, was something totally new to me. Apparently, it's a melty cheese that's served with grilled meats and vegetables, fondue-style, often at the finer ski chalets and orgies of Western Europe. Coohills' offering was less DIY, served as a horizontal pile of cauliflower studded with apple slices and drizzled with raclette that had just begun to harden. The funky smell might have annoyed my neighbors, but diving in was a pleasure, thanks to tender, lightly seasoned cauliflower and trompe l'oeil apple shavings that looked like red and green radishes but played well off the briny cheese.
Few phrases can cool my heels like "happy-hour hummus," which often guarantees a bowl of tepid paste. Go ahead and laurel the kitchen at Coohills for taking a different tack, constructing a hummus plate ($8) that's a landscape of creamy tahini, a giant dense cracker and raw green beans, cauliflower and multi-colored carrots. The hummus itself was wanting for lemon and salt, but it's beauty smoothed over any concerns.
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With the magnificent interior, slinky soundtrack (after a visit to the bathroom, Gotan Project is now in my rotation) and pretty dishes, there was still a little something missing in the Coohills happy-hour experience. What I ate seemed aimed at the masses (especially compared to the luxe dinner menu), even though I wasn't treated differently for going the cheaper route. United in fandom or just in love of fine cuisine, we were all the same under the lights.
Perfect For: Those who believe dinner should be an event. Coohills is a common sight on our Culinary Calendar for wine dinners and Beats on the Creek concerts, and they're outdoing themselves with a New Year's Eve dinner recreating the last meal on the R.M.S. Titanic. This insane ten-course feast includes champagne for $135 per person, and period attire is encouraged. Call 303-623-5700 for reservations.
Don't Miss: Coohills' other passion is pastry, not offered at happy hour but worth a try nonetheless. With a dedicated pastry chef at the counter, desserts like toffee gateau with apple cider consomme and apple ice cream ($10) look too delicious to pass up.