The space at 1434 Blake Street has gone through many incarnations since its days as CitySpirit. But its latest transformation could be its most interesting yet: It's now a Ukrainian restaurant, Kraine Station.
"This came about from the inspiration of my mother," explains Papi Sorrelis. "I've been looking for an opportunity to showcase my heritage. There aren't Ukrainian restaurants in Denver." So when Jimmy Calanni, owner of The Blake - a sports bar that was the most recent occupant of 1434 Blake - was looking for something new to pump life into the place, Sorrelis jumped at the chance "to take it and run with it and give it a new face."
That new face involved getting rid of anything in the space resembling sports-bar décor, and instead giving it a look more fitting for a family restaurant. At the same time, Sorrelis started working on a menu, focusing on "recipes that are traditional and handmade, and they come from my family," he says. "They even came in and taught the chefs how to make the food." He's calling that food "Ukrainian soul food," and the list of offerings, served a la carte and family-style (and offered at two-for-one prices during happy hour), includes varenyky pierogis, kielbasa and Ukrainian meatballs.
The food pairs to a bar stocked with beer, everything from micro-brews to mass-produced suds, filled out with selections from Estonia, Poland, Russia and Ukraine...and vodka, of course. "You can't do a Slavic bar without doing a serious emphasis on vodka," Sorrelis notes. And so Kraine Station will have a vodka from every region of the world, "including the only Irish vodka in downtown Denver," he says. The staff will also do infusions, soliciting ideas from patrons.
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And the bar should have plenty of patrons. To name his place, Sorrelis hosted a contest that would award a $1,000 bar tab to the person who came up with the perfect moniker. Two people suggested Kraine Station; they'll split the tab. Those who proposed runners-up will get $50 gift tabs, with their suggestions integrated into the names of drinks and dishes.
Though the focus at Kraine Station is firmly on the food, Sorrelis plans to offer live entertainment, "mostly comedic cover bands and tributes and stuff that people are going to have fun with," he says. It all fits in with his motto: "Cheers, drinks, food, friends," an emphasis that should please Ukrainians and Americans alike.
The restaurant opens at 6 p.m. Saturday, February 4; after that, it will be open from 11 a.m. until close daily. A version of this story first appeared in Cafe Bites, our weekly newsletter on Denver's food and drink scene that's e-mailed every Wednesday. Sign up for Cafe Bites here.