Here in Denver, we can either lament change or embrace improvement. The Oxford Hotel, at 1600 17th Street, has stood its ground since 1891, pushing past decades of neglect when it was little more than a flophouse to become a handsome example of the city's living history. Restaurants have come and gone here; the last was McCormick's Fish House, which opened thirty years ago, right when LoDo became an official historic district, and suffered a rapid decline after the McCormick & Schmick's chain was sold to Landry's; it finally sputtered out at the start of the year, when its lease expired and Sage Hospitality, which owns the Oxford, was able to take over the space. Now the Sage Restaurant Group has breathed new life into the place, and will open Urban Farmer this Sunday, August 13.
Sage currently operates three other Urban Farmer modern steakhouses, in Cleveland, Philadelphia and Portland. Executive chef Chris Starkus just moved to Denver from Portland to helm the new outpost, and general manager Troy Christian has also made Denver his permanent home after opening two other Urban Farmers.
Starkus notes that Urban Farmer definitely fits the steakhouse definition — with a dozen cuts and sizes at the center of the menu — but says the restaurant's overall mission is true to its name. Out front on the patio facing Wazee Street, herbs, edible flowers, microgreens and sprouted grains grow in rectangular planters. On the rooftop, several beehives buzz with activity; the chef is nearly done with a seven-year program to earn his master-beekeeper certification from Oregon State University. And in the kitchen, primal cuts of beef age a minimum of 21 days in a climate-controlled room, while whole-animal butchering provides the menu with cuts of lamb, beef and pork.
Since Urban Farmer is a hotel restaurant, there's plenty of room for baking and other more experimental methods of food production. A glass terrarium in the basement holds mushroom colonies provided by Hazel Dell, a mushroom farm based in Fort Collins. Pressed-sawdust logs sprout several types of mushrooms that will be presented to guests tableside before being harvested and cooked to order.
Even the English muffins that will be served at breakfast and brunch — and that also serve as buns for the house Farm burger on the lunch menu — are baked in-house.
In the dining room, a combination raw bar and charcuterie station curves gracefully into the expanded dining area, where the decor captures the spirit of the New West while maintaining some of the building's original features. Two private dining rooms were left virtually untouched, other than the removal of three layers of flooring to expose penny tile that dates back to the hotel's opening. An ornate stained-glass ceiling provides natural light in one space that has been converted into a wine room with a table big enough to seat more than a dozen guests.
Urban Farmer opens for dinner at 5 p.m. on Sunday and then will be open for breakfast, lunch and dinner beginning Monday, August 14. Keep reading for more photos.
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Menu highlights include a New York strip tasting flight, with six ounces each of grass-fed, corn-finished and dry-aged beef for $66; tableside steak tartare; a hefty chunk of beef sweetbreads served with a delicate little corn custard; and a seafood tower packed with lobster, oysters, king crab and other fruits of the sea.
The place isn't cheap, so save your pennies — or come during lunch or weekend brunch to experience the latest look for the glorious old hotel. Sage also took over management of the Cruise Room, so don't forget to stop in and bask in the pink glow of the art-deco bar that's been a part of Denver's drinking scene since the end of Prohibition.