John Hickenlooper's next project: overseeing the hot-dog concession at Invesco Field at Mile High.
Just kidding! As if Hickenlooper doesn't have enough on his plate -- what with the Wynkoop Brewing Company (1634 18th Street), and the Goosetown Tavern (3242 East Colfax Avenue), and the Wazee Supper Club (1600 15th Street), and the Cherry Cricket (2641 East Second Avenue), and the new Appaloosa Grill (535 16th Street), and his assorted real estate projects, and his efforts to keep the Mile High name for the new Bronco stadium -- he's now surfaced as a possible candidate to take over the Denver Press Club (1330 Glenarm Place).
"I can't believe this is getting around," says Hickenlooper. "I had a conversation with one guy, and now everyone's asking me about it." That one guy was Tom Mehs, treasurer for the oldest continuously operating press club in the country. "Tom was telling me one day that the Press Club keeps losing money and that they're looking for ways to make it more appealing," Hickenlooper continues. "So I told him that maybe a veteran restaurateur might be able to help, and I made a comment about loving that building. But I haven't even had a chance to think about it or talk to anyone about it, including my own people. I do love that building, though."
He's not alone: The Press Club has a very active board that's always looking for ways to bolster the building's business. "We're looking at all options," says Don Knox, the club's president, adding that if the board really decides to get involved with a restaurateur, "we'll throw it out for a lot of people to consider."
Meanwhile, Hickenlooper opened the Appaloosa last week in a space on the 16th Street Mall that had been occupied by Café Galileo. The cool-looking eatery offers cuisine from the "New West," a term Hickenlooper hopes he's coined. The chef, Rhonda Banks, had been sous chef at the Fourth Story (2955 East First Avenue), and it sounds like she has a solid vision for the eatery. "She does a killer Moroccan stew," Hickenlooper enthuses.
And Hickenlooper has yet another new venture in the works: The Red Room, expected to open in early summer in a space on East Colfax between Grant and Logan near Capitol Hill Books. But he's gotten some flak on this one from Thom Wise, former restaurant and theater critic for the Rocky Mountain News, whose lifelong fascination with all things red is well documented. "I know I showed John my business plan a few years ago when I wanted to do a Red Room here," Wise says.
Hickenlooper denies that claim. "I got the idea from the places by the same name in New York and San Francisco," he explains. "They have red decor, red food -- even the staff often has red hair. It'll be wild."
Why doesn't Hickenlooper feel like his cup is starting to runneth over? Teri Hanifen, for starters. Another former Fourth Story employee, Hanifen is now the director of operations for all of Hickenlooper's interests. "I think hiring Teri is the smartest thing I've ever done," he says. "She came right in and just started running things. Not very many people would be up to the challenges I present."
Ch-ch-ch-changes: It looks like the Fourth Story is about to lose yet another employee. Chris Cina, who's been running the kitchen there since David Steinmann left last year, is skipping town for a gig at the Palace Hotel in St. Moritz. As in Switzerland. "Two of my uncles are chefs in Switzerland," explains Cina, whose father is also Swiss. "One of my uncle's best friends works at the Palace, and they've been wanting to do a more American thing in the kitchen. My uncle told him to check out the Fourth Story's Web site, and they sent me a contract right after." Cina says he plans to work in Switzerland for a year, then come back to Denver to open his own place. But he's staying put at the Fourth Story through May, helping interview candidates to be his replacement.
Although Mark Gordon doesn't seem to have such lofty prospects as St. Moritz, the chef of Ambrosia Bistro (5410 East Colfax Avenue) recently bowed out of his working interest in the sometimes-busy-sometimes-not place. According to Ambrosia general manager Mark Simko, Gordon is "pursuing some other avenues; he's got a couple of irons in the fire." Owner John Barocas says Gordon had only a limited role in the kitchen over the past few months, supervising more than cooking, and the three people who've been doing the actual cooking -- Larry Jones, Ian Lynch and Trina Heriot -- will stay in place. "They've been really amazing back there, so I'm not even going to change a thing," Barocas says.
And Sean Yontz, the longtime associate of Kevin Taylor who left Zenith (815 17th Street) six weeks ago, has resurfaced. Shortly after his departure, Yontz told me: "I don't even know if I want to keep working in restaurants. I figure just being with my family and sleeping a little will help me clear my head and figure out what's next." What's next, it turns out, is Tamayo, set to debut next month in the former home of Cadillac Ranch, 1400 Larimer Street. When Tamayo announced it was coming to town, it promised to "redefine dining in Denver" by offering modernized Mexican food using French cooking techniques. With Yontz in the kitchen, it has a chance of doing just that.
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A big change is in the works for Tiramisu, a funky Italian-ish eatery that's been cooking up a storm since December in the oddest place imaginable: in the back of a bar called Somewhere Else (3425 South Oleander Court), in a terrible building behind the Diamond Shamrock on East Hampden Avenue. While doing some Best of Denver research, I stopped by Tiramisu and was intrigued by the lasagna, which seemed to be topped with a bechamel-like soufflé and contained heavenly homemade pasta and a deep, rich red sauce. The eatery's decor was horrifying, though, all turquoise and purple, with a small sit-down dining area set off from the bar by a weird picket fence. Somewhere else, indeed.
But now Tiramisu owner Patricia Rossi is moving her operation, along with her chef and cousin Simona Bonelli, to 2191 Arapahoe Street, where La Coupole once made la cuisine francaise. Rossi intends to keep Tiramisu's Italian theme going there, and former Vino Vino chef Roberto Ravera will be both a partner and a chef at the new spot. In addition to an expanded menu, the trio plans to offer Italian-style bar food. Salut!
Todai (3000 East First Avenue, in the Cherry Creek Shopping Center) had a great location but horrible food, so it's no surprise that the place is history. All-you-can-eat sushi sounded too good to be true -- and it was. But Cherry Creek has another sushi substitute: The popular Hapa Sushi Grill & Sake Bar (1117 Pearl Street, Boulder) has opened a Denver branch at 2780 East Second Avenue, replacing the mediocre Modena.
Something to wine about: Okay, everybody who's over the whole scene at the Taste of Vail and Aspen's Food & Wine Festival, come with me to the latest food-and-wine orgy: the Estes Park Festival of Wines, to be held April 27-29, in the infamous Stanley Hotel (333 West Wonder View Avenue), which was the inspiration for the movie The Shining. About thirty wineries are participating, with food provided by area restaurants (okay, this is going to be small and intimate); the cost of each seminar or tasting varies from $25 to $65 per, with the Grand Tasting a mere $100. The good news is you have a better chance of getting in here than at those other events. Call 1-800-976-1377 for reservations or more info.