Nearly three years have passed since word first came down that Williams & Graham and Occidental owner Sean Kenyon was teaming up with Matchbox proprietors Justin Anthony and Lisa Vedovelli to open American Bonded in a defunct catering space at 2706 Larimer Street in RiNo. "It's been a long, difficult construction process, to say the least," says Kenyon. "Every construction delay and disaster we could have, we had."
But that phase is finally coming to a close, and the team is now confident that American Bonded will be able to open after the holidays — so confident that they just started hiring staff.
Kenyon says that while American Bonded will be an American whiskey-centric neighborhood bar, it's a mistake to think of it only as a whiskey bar. The partners will bring in all manner of spirits, giving preference to American-made without tying themselves to that criteria. "Obviously some of the best spirits come from where they’re made," says Kenyon, adding that he won't forgo, say, top-notch rums from the Caribbean in favor of lesser versions made domestically. The bar will also boast eighteen taps, which will indeed be U.S.-focused; domestic producers will also be given preference on the wine list.
As for the whiskey, Kenyon says the partners are plotting a well-rounded selection, and they're focusing on affordable and accessible brands. "We’re gonna be concentrated on whiskey, we’re going to have our own select barrels, we'll have rare and unusual stuff, and we’re not going to have a 3,000-page book," he notes. "We want to bring people things they can drink every day rather than one time for $500. I don’t think any glass of any spirit in the world is worth $500. That’ll probably ruffle some feathers, but I don’t care how old or how unique it is, there’s no spirit in the world, to me, that I would pay $500 for two ounces of."
And he especially thinks whiskey should be accessible to all Americans. "Bourbon and American whiskey were created by peasant farmers that moved down there to escape taxation. This notion that it would be an elite thing is weird to me. It’s our native spirit — fruit brandies and whiskey, they belong to us, and I think they should be accessible to everyone. There's so much cool stuff out there that’s outside of the box but still affordable. That lends itself to an affordable cocktail program."
The partners plan to implement an affordable cocktail program, striking a balance, Kenyon says, between "the $6 Jameson and the $12 cocktail," a niche that's currently going unfilled in RiNo, even as the neighborhood fills with bars and restaurants. That's especially fitting for Anthony and Vedovelli, whose Matchbox was one of the pioneering neighborhood bars in this area, and continues to woo fans with its casual vibe, low prices and bocce court. The trio teamed up after Anthony, who is also a serial tech entrepreneur, became a barfly at Williams & Graham and forged a relationship with Kenyon. Kenyon did cocktail and bartender training for Matchbox early on in that bar's tenure, and then he and Anthony eventually began talking about working on a bar together. Vedovelli became part of the deal around the time that Anthony and Kenyon looked at taking over the Squire space; when they found this address in RiNo, right behind Cold Crush, they leaped at the opportunity.
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American Bonded will deal in classic and classically influenced cocktails — "juleps and old-fashioneds," says Kenyon. Add to that toddies in the winter, plus a few riffs from the bar staff that will be considerably simpler than what Kenyon's team does at Williams & Graham. "You're not going to look at our cocktail menu and say, 'What the fuck is that ingredient?'" he promises. Those will be supplemented by creatively paired boilermakers — a shot and a beer — and, of course, pours of any spirit on the list.
The partners are bringing in the owners of the J Street food truck to handle the food. J Street will operate out of the brick-and-mortar kitchen on the premises, but will maintain its status as a separate business (and will continue to run the food truck). This decision reflects the team's views on hiring for the bar. "We had some fairly well-known Denver chefs that wanted to be in the kitchen," says Kenyon. "But we don’t want to import rock stars; we want to bring in people who are up-and-coming. This food deserves some notice. We’re excited to see what [owner Jason Bray] can do out of a brick-and-mortar kitchen, too."
J Street will serve food in line with the focus of the place, tapping into Americana for inspiration. And serving another unfulfilled niche in the area, the kitchen will be open until 1 a.m.
Kenyon says the team is confident that American Bonded will open just after the first of the year; he thinks they'd probably be able to open sooner, but he's unwilling to hire bartenders away from current establishments during the busy holiday season, and he doesn't want to open just in time to throw new staff into one of the busiest bar times of the year. "When we know we’re like two weeks, a week and a half out, then we’ll give a date," he says. "But I'm super-confident we’ll be open right after the holidays."