Sometimes, the journey is worth the reward. You want the destination to be like it is in the brochure. You want a return on your investment. You may find yourself in a remote part of town, thinking, "Where the heck am I?" What good thing could possibly be out here?
And then you spot it.
You're on Colfax, heading East. The Bluebird Theater is behind you, as are a half-dozen Ethiopian restaurants, dilapidated auto-body shops and taco joints. In this dusty landscape lies Solera, one of Denver's culinary cornerstones, right where chef Goose Sorensen opened it more than a decade ago. It hasn't changed much, but Denver has grown up around it. And now it's Solera's chance for change, to make that thirteen-year journey worth the wait.
Making a similar journey is Solera's new bar manager, Myles Fischer. Originally from Boston, Fischer traveled to Denver three years ago after graduating from culinary school. But the distance from the East Coast to Denver was nothing compared to his trip from the kitchen to the dining room, and ultimately to behind the bar.
"I had a passion for spirits," says Fischer. "I had a passion for customer service, and that's what brought me behind the bar."
Solera's new cocktail menu promises fresh summer flavors, including this Sky and Moon.
His first steps were at Gaetano's, the venerable Italian eatery in Sunnyside. He'd migrated from the kitchen to a server position when then-bar manager Kyle West offered him some barback shifts. "I went from a barback to a bartender to a floor manager," he recalls, adding that he "had an opportunity to become a bartender at Solera, and when the bar manager left to pursue other projects, I stepped into the role of bar manager."
On June 3, his new cocktail menu -- his first one -- launched at Solera, and it promises a departure from the more traditional libations that long-time guests may have become accustomed to. "I'm trying to showcase some fun, seasonal cocktails," he says. "I approach it very much like I approach food -- I try to stay seasonal. I try to stay local. I'm trying to set the tone for a light, summery cocktail menu."
Of his first collection of drinks, Fischer says, "It's kind of nerve-wracking, but I'm trying to make it work. I'm trying to work hard on it, and trying to make it my own.
"Almost every one of my cocktails are very sessionable or very light, very unique," he adds. "I try to bring light to some fruits, some nice herbs, floral notes. I kind of play around with the summer cocktail menu being all about summer flavors -- you should taste summer when you're drinking them."
The Pimm's and Palmer, Fischer's combo of an Arnold Palmer and the Pimm's Cup.
The Sky and the Moon is a vodka-based cocktail. "We have a lot of vodka drinkers," he says. "It works out well for summertime. It's easy drinking, and very approachable for people who are just getting into cocktails."
Into a mixing glass, Fischer pours vodka, dry vermouth, grapefruit juice and simple syrup. After shaking it all over ice, he strains it into a tall, thin glass filled with ice. He then uncaps a bottle of creme de violette, an Austrian liqueur made from a maceration of alcohol and violets, and drizzles a bar spoon of the dark purple liquid over the top of the drink. As it drifts elegantly through the body of the drink, he tucks a thin strip of lemon rind into the glass.
It's refreshing, for sure -- and pretty. The grapefruit balances the drink's sweetness, and the vermouth adds a complex character. The aroma of violets is an unexpected and pleasantly surprising element.
"I was looking for something like a floral gin martini that had a little more fun in it," Fischer says of the Blushing Chamomile. "It's floral, it's fun, it's light, and it's summery." And based on what he's mixing in this cocktail, it's more subtly complex than his modest description: gin, Aperol and Falernum mingle with Milla Chamomile, the latter of which is a grappa made from Nebbiolo grapes, infused with fresh chamomile flowers.
Fischer jiggers these spirits, dropping each of them into a mixing glass with ice. He tops it with a few dashes of walnut bitters, and as he stirs the drink, he explains that the bitters add "a really fun earthiness."
He strains the mix into a cocktail glass, and the drink is the color of autumn leaves. "I love Aperol, especially in the summertime, and I really like the color," he says, explaining that it's a "bit sweeter than Campari."
The Aperol lends that rusty color, coupled with the taste of bitter oranges and rhubarb. But the chamomile is still noticeable, as are Falernum's almond, ginger and clove notes.
The Pimm's and Palmer is a blend of two classic summer drinks: the Pimm's Cup and the Arnold Palmer. A Pimm's Cup contains gin, ginger ale and Pimm's -- a liqueur made of gin, fruit juice and spices.
To begin, Fischer drops Earl Grey tea leaves into a bottle of London dry gin. Letting that steep for a day, he strains and re-bottles the gin. After pouring the tea-colored, infused gin into a mixing glass, Fischer adds lemon juice and simple syrup. On the side, he prepares a glass in which to serve the drink -- which requires a bit of a technique: He layers ice and slices of lime, lemon and orange in a tall Pilsner glass and then pours the mix over the layers of ice and fruit. He then tops it all with ginger ale and a half-ounce of ginger shrub, a blend of ginger, cider vinegar and sugar. The shrub balances out the drink's sweetness with a spicy backbone.
The tall, fruit-filled glass is a beauty, and it's easy drinking. As with most of the drinks on Fischer's summer cocktail menu, it would be easy to down a few on Solera's large patio. Keep reading for more from Myles Fischer.
The end of the journey: The couryard at Solera.
When it's all done, Fischer gazes out over the bar, through Solera's front windows and beyond. "I'd like to see this part of Colfax start popping off and get some new people out here," he says. "I've asked a lot of people when their last visit to Solera was, and while they said they'd enjoyed it, many of them hadn't made the trip in a decade. My question is, 'Why not come back and check out the new things we're doing here?'"
Fischer is optimistic about Solera's future. "We have a loyal clientele," he says, "but a lot of people have just moved to Denver. We've had such an influx in the last five years"
By adjusting the price points at the bar to make things a little more affordable, Fischer sees Solera as entering a new phase. "We're having a little bit of a rebirth," he notes. "We're going to redo the bar, replace the marble top with a large cut of wood, add some shelves and new tables. We're trying to rejuvenate." Fischer also plans to diversify the spirits behind the bar, adding more whiskeys, gins and an array of Scotches.
"In a successful wine bar that's been here for almost thirteen years," he concludes. "It's been kind of an interesting challenge getting people to order more than just the vodka martini and to want to experiment and try new cocktails."
And new cocktails are what you'll get at Solera. You'll still be able to enjoy wine or your classic martini, of course, but Fischer is steering Solera toward a future of modern cocktails, much like his own journey that led him from Boston to Denver, and from the kitchen to the bar.
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