Last month, chef Sheamus Feeley took over the former 9th Door tapas bar space at 1808 Blake Street, but he wasn't quite ready to unveil his plan — or the name of his new concept. But now we know what's coming: Pony Up, a cocktail bar with a French dip theme. The sandwich might be one of life's best inventions, and it's something Feeley takes very seriously. That's why you can expect no fewer than four variations on the French dip making up the bulk of the comfort-food menu when Pony Up opens its doors in early July.
"We wanted to create a food program that supplemented the bar program in a fun and approachable way," Feeley explains while serving up his food at a pop-up event at Old Major. "I wanted a version of elevated bar food, but not something so esoteric to the customer."
On the drinks side, bar manager Suzanne Navarro, formally of Chicago hot spot Three Dots and a Dash, will use her expertise to create cocktails such as the Black Beauty (cocoa-nib-infused Distillery 291 bourbon and fresh mint), the Spring Fling (Spring 44 gin, pistachio-cardamom orgeat, pineapple and absinthe), and the Negroni Sbagliato (Contratto vermouth, sweet vermouth, sparkling wine and grapefruit bitters). Over all, the bar program will focus on local spirits, including Distillery 291, the Family Jones, Leopold Bros. and Laws Whiskey House, to name a few.
The chef will complement the cocktail roster with bar bites in the form of chicken karaage (Japanese fried chicken), wings with creamy Point Reyes blue-cheese dressing and crispy potatoes, which Feeley makes by roasting whole russets and then "hand breaking" them before they go in the fryer, resulting in a crispy-meets-creamy texture. There will also be the list of dip sandwiches, including his take on the French dip, called the Ord Street Classic; an agedashi tofu dip with Kewpie mayo; the Frenchie, which has shaved prime rib, Gruyère cheese, thyme, crispy shallots and a French onion soup dip; and the Mellow Mushroom, a vegetarian version stuffed with pecan-smoked portabellos, Swiss cheese and a rich porcini broth.
While the menu has a few Asian influences, Feeley is primarily concerned with the idea of heartwarming, feel-good food, no matter where elements of the dish come from. "It's comfort food, and once again that means it evokes nostalgia," he says.
The Arkansas native knows his comfort food and sandwiches; he had a long career with the Hillstone Restaurant Group, where he had a hand in creating the company's "Famous French Dip." Feeley also opened the White House Tavern in Aspen, was on the opening team for the Wolfgang Puck Grand Cafe in Denver, and worked at the Michelin-starred La Coupole in France.
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Once he decided he wanted to settle in Colorado, Pony Up became his personal venture. He has teamed up with front-of-house maven Angela Neri, who has managed for the Daniel Patterson Group, Founding Farmers Restaurant Group, Brinkerhoff Hospitality and the Sierra Restaurant project. Together they run Sheamus Feeley Hospitality Group; Pony Up is their first joint project.
Neri and Feeley hope to help fill a void in late-night dining options downtown. When Pony Up opens in July, it will serve lunch, dinner and beyond from 11:30 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily.