Updated 7:15 a.m. on Tuesday, August 15: Bourbon Grill posted a note on its Instagram feed stating, "We apologize for the inconvenience but we are going to be opening at 3 p.m. tomorrow [August 15]." This is a change from the original plan to open at 10 a.m.
The big day on Colfax is nearly here: Bourbon Grill will open in its new spot at 571 East Colfax Avenue at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, August 15. The tiny walk-up eatery closed up its former home at 1618 East Colfax last month, and owners Lien Vo and Tom Lieber have been working hard to convert the former Pizza Fusion space into a more spacious version of their grilled-chicken joint — complete with indoor seating for up to 45 customers.
They may need all that seating — plus overflow room on the sidewalk outside — to accommodate the anticipated rush of hungry customers who have missed Bourbon Grill in the weeks that it's been closed. "We have no idea what to expect," Lieber says.
But Vo, the chef and recipe developer for the restaurant, quickly adds, "We can just open the door if the line gets long — like Torchy's!"
Unlike Torchy's, Bourbon Grill is a Denver original with an eclectic menu that Vo has honed over the years, based on her time spent in Louisiana, Texas and other parts of the country. "I used to live in New Orleans; in Lafourche and Grand Isle, I learned from French fishermen," she says.
But her life in food began long before that. Vo was born in Vietnam, where her mom and aunt both owned French restaurants; she would help out catering dinners for U.S. military groups. "Then I went to college and worked in restaurants," she says, and she's been at it ever since.
After moving to Denver, she opened Bourbon Grill in 2002 with a flame-broiled bourbon chicken recipe she developed herself, a killer mac and cheese, and a variety of other dishes and sides with both Southern and Vietnamese influences.
The original Bourbon Grill was so small that fresh chicken had to be brought in daily because there wasn't room for a freezer, and even the refrigerator was tiny by restaurant standards. But that's part of what made the chicken so special, so even with a much larger kitchen, the couple will continue the tradition.
While the new restaurant will be much fancier than the original, with quartzite countertops and digital menu screens on the wall, there will also be nods to the past. Artist Gamma Acosta added a mural to an interior wall depicting Bourbon Grill customers queuing up under the shop's famous red awning, and the brick wall that separates the kitchen from the dining room was designed to resemble the old location's sidewalk-facing facade.
The two say nothing will change when it comes to recipes and cooking techniques, but Vo may add a few new dishes, including blackened chicken and a Cajun pork chop. "If the customers like it, we'll keep it," she says.
While those customers have been asking the owners to open Bourbon Grill even earlier, Vo and Lieber will maintain the original hours of 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. They'll have some initial help from Vo's family members, who will be coming in from California to pitch in for the opening. "Free labor," she jokes, but at least they'll get paid in meals of char-grilled bourbon chicken — something we'd gladly take in exchange for a little hard work.