The White Whale Room opened last Thursday, offering coffee, food and cocktails in a bright, arty space less than 100 feet from the Alameda Station light-rail platform at 415 South Cherokee Street. The restaurant and coffee shop is part of the redeveolpment of the area behind the Kmart at Alameda Avenue and South Broadway, and occupies part of the first floor of the newly opened Denizen apartment complex.
The White Whale Room’s compact menu includes sandwiches, salads, espresso drinks and a handful of classic cocktails. The 1,000-square-foot space features a bar and a forty-seat dining area. Two large garage doors open to a small adjacent patio with two picnic tables, welcoming commuters walking to and from the train platform.
Owners Rachael Gass, Dakin Cranwell and Brad Arguello opened the White Whale Room after chasing the idea for several years. “Rachael and I had always sort of kicked around the idea of, at some point, dreaming up a food-and-beverage concept together,” Cranwell says. The two met in their native Tennessee in their early teens; after finishing high school there, Cranwell moved to Colorado in 2007, and Gass arrived in 2014. Both spent time working in Denver restaurants, bars and coffee shops, where they honed the ideas behind — and the skills necessary for — the White Whale concept.
Back in 2011, Cranwell helped run the Uber Sausage food truck for owner Brad Arguello. Despite his moving on to Williams & Graham and the RiNo Yacht Club, the two kept in touch. When Gass moved to Colorado in 2014, she joined Cranwell behind the bar at the Yacht Club. When Arguello secured a ground-level retail space in the Denizen building, he contacted Cranwell, offering him the opportunity to open up a food-and-beverage concept there. “Rachael was the first person I called,” Cranwell says. “We got to create the entire program — food, beverage and coffee. It was up to us to build a team.”
Still working at the RiNo Yacht Club (where the two became good friends with owners Mary Allison Wright and McLain Hedges), both soon-to-be entrepreneurs collaborated with Boxcar Coffee Roasters, a coffee shop just a few steps away from the Source's central bar, to learn how to make espresso drinks, how to serve coffee and how Boxcar sources and roasts beans. “We learned a lot,” Gass says. “We are super-honored to be serving their coffee. With such high-quality beans, you can make a really high-quality product.”
The White Whale will serve drip coffee ($2/$3), espresso ($3), lattes ($3.75/$4.25), cappuccinos ($3.75), Americanos ($3.25), cortados ($3.25) and cold brew coffee ($4). Tea ($2.50) and kombucha ($5) are also part of the program.
Gass and Cranwell came up with the name White Whale as a play on the phrase “light rail.” But it went deeper than that. “Once we chose the name, I kind of dug into the themes and undertones of Moby-Dick,” Cranwell says, referring to the book’s plot of chasing the white whale. “I feel that it’s arguably the greatest American classic ever written.” The book enchanted him, and he began to see a connection between the book’s themes and what life was like for him in Denver. “The characters in that book were chasing a dream,” he continues, “and as for Denver, right now, we don’t really know where we’re going, but we’re chasing something. This place was built on that.”
“We’ve been working with a lot of people who have been chasing their own white whale,” Gass says. “They’re all young people trying to get things done in the world, and it’s really cool to work with them.” Cranwell’s college roommate, for example, did much of the woodwork in the space. One of their baristas, an herbalist, put together the tea program. A friend of theirs sells them handmade chocolate.
Before coming to Denver, Cranwell attended culinary school and says ”I definitely draw on straightforward, elegantly simple flavors and not trying to do anything too fancy — just good, reliable food.”
His mortadella sandwich ($7.50) is made with fried mortadella, cheddar, pickles and housemade mustard on ciabatta bread. The Elana Ruz sandwich ($7.50) contains roasted turkey, onion-berry chutney and cream cheese, also served on ciabatta bread. Three salads round out the food menu, including a house salad, a Cobb salad and a grains salad ($8), with a mix of quinoa, roasted sweet potato, pickled onions and pepitas in a cumin-yogurt dressing.
“We’re a coffee-by-day, cocktails-by-night kind of establishment,” Cranwell says, “with good food and a cool atmosphere to just hang out.”
The cocktail menu is as uncomplicated and straightforward as the food menu; there are four wines, four beers and six cocktails. There’s also a beer-and-a-shot special ($5) which includes a Coors Banquet and a shot of whiskey. Cocktails are classics. “We’ve been reading through old cocktail books and recording recipes that we want to try later down the line,” Gass says, “and that’s been really fun for us, to just unearth these old, forgotten classics. Drinks include a Negroni ($10), Vieux Carre ($11), Vesper ($9) and a Mai Tai ($11), as well as trilogy called Nip & Sip ($9) — a platter of three beverages: one shot each of Fernet Branca, black-cherry cola and cold-brew coffee.
Cranwell says that the food menu will be expanding soon to include breakfast items and a snack menu to pair with the cocktail menu.
The White Whale is uniquely positioned to offer lots of things to lots of people. The diverse selection of food and drinks is available to commuters using Alameda Station but also to the 600 or so residents who live in the building above the cafe. “We have a crazy mix of people,” Cranwell says. “We’re really excited to have that mix. We’re going keep going with the creative vibes with this design, and the community as a whole to make this a funky place for all sorts of people.”
“We like to view ourselves as an amenity for both the commuters and the residents,” Gass adds. “We try to capture the dichotomy of our guests through the dichotomy of our space and what we offer in terms of coffee and bar service. We want to blur the lines between the two industries, because they really do run in parallel.”
The White Whale Room opens at 7 a.m. Monday through Friday, and at 10 a.m. on Saturdays (and is closed on Sundays). Closing times are flexible at the moment, but will become finalized in the coming week.