If you're looking for the new, the novel and the delicious, look no further than these four metro Denver hot spots. You'll find a pop-up barbecue with creative and craveable eats, two bars sharing love for a single barrel of tequila, and a cheesy tableside offering from a new lounge you won't want to escape from.
Cochino Taco and Star Bar
Collaborations are the rage, with Denver craft breweries more interested in teamwork than competition, but two metro bars have teamed up on tequila, too. The owners of Cochino Taco (3495 South Downing Street, Englewood) and Star Bar (2137 Larimer Street) recently traveled to the birthplace of tequila and selected an uncommon spirit to split between the two spots. Cochino's Johnny Ballen has been serving Casa Noble tequila since opening his Englewood taqueria just over a year ago, while Star Bar's Justin Lloyd says the small collection of agave spirits at his bar reflects the independent distilleries and unique flavors he's drawn to himself. The two visited Casa Noble in Tequila, Mexico, to sample barrels of joven tequila, a lesser-known and frequently misunderstood style. The word joven is often used to describe young tequilas that have been adulterated with coloring or flavors to give them the appearance of age, but Casa Noble creates joven by resting the spirit in French white oak barrels for six weeks, imparting just a kiss of vanilla and spiciness. Each barrel is bottled at cask strength (102 proof, uncut with water), so Ballen and Lloyd tasted multiple barrels before selecting theirs. Cochino and Star Bar are the first two establishments in Colorado to serve Casa Noble Joven, and the barrel they selected was bottled just for them.
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Smok BBQ at the Source
3350 Brighton Boulevard
Chef Bill Espiricueta's barbecue project, Smok, will open inside the Source Hotel early next year; until then you can get a taste of menu items that could make the final cut for opening day. Come by the Source from 5 to 8 p.m. every Thursday, Friday and Saturday this fall to try some of the chef's creations at the RiNo Yacht Club's bar. Each week, there will be either a Nashville hot chicken or smoked brisket sandwich along with more far-flung creations, such as smoked brisket bibimbap with tangy Korean veggies or Frito Pie made with smoked chili. There will always be tots as a side dish (and if you ask for the off-menu special, you can get them "totcho" style). Espiricueta has been a leader in the Acorn kitchen since it opened in the Source (and at sibling restaurant Oak at Fourteenth before that), so he knows his hardwoods. Smok will give the chef the chance to go it alone with both traditional Southern meats and creative renditions of international favorites. If you're more of a traditionalist, the Source also serves Smok barbecue for brunch every Sunday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Solutions Lounge & Restaurant
2220 California Street
Solutions is a brand-new venue where guests can think their way out of a number of escape rooms — courtesy of Escapology — and then settle in for themed drinks and bar food (or you can do food and drinks first) in a steampunk-decorated space. The clock innards and mechanized zeppelin etchings are nice touches as you enjoy salumi plates, mac and cheese, duck quesadillas or a dripping French dip. But beyond all that is the tableside raclette cart that wheels a giant wedge of Swiss raclette cheese around the room, offering molten goodness to those in need. For $12, you get a choice of meat or veggies along with Hinman's Bakery baguettes and tri-color potatoes. The only dilemma to solve is whether to wait until after your escape-room session, in which case you won't be able to think about anything but cheese when you should be looking for clues, or eat first — and risk a raclette-induced coma in front of your puzzle-solving pals.