"We always had this idea to do things different and do it on our own," Lasiy says of the origins of Rebel, which opened in a former dive bar on the industrial edge of the RiNo neighborhood three years ago to the month.
Black Shirt Brewing as the kitchen side of a brewpub, but BSB needed all of its square footage nearly right off the bat, so Rebel went in search of new digs. The brick bunker of a building that once held Fat Bros. Bar & Grill (and a string of other bars before that) proved perfect for Rebel's mission. The music could be cranked up, the wildly creative dishes coming out of the shoebox kitchen could be served casually, without fuss or fanfare (where foie gras sidled up to tripe on Grandma's Corelle ware), and evocative cocktails shared bar space with grab-bag cans of Hamm's and Snork Juice, the house elixir served from a flask.
Some folks got it; others seemed scared, even offended. For every roasted pig skull that went out to be picked clean by groups of appreciative and like-minded head-onists, Lasiy recalls "the amount of sheer terror in people's eyes when you tell them you're serving chicken hearts.
"Our goal was that you were going to remember us — love us or hate us, you're going to remember," he adds.
"In this industry, people come up with elevator statements or bullet points," Lasiy explains. "But it hinders people or sets up a fake scenario. There are a lot of smokescreens in the industry, and the general public doesn't ask enough questions."
Lasiy has been in the business for twenty years and is ready to take some time away, noting that he's missed out on a lot of life and has friends and family in other cities he'd like to see. "It's all been great and tough at the same time," he adds. "I never thought we'd last three years...and I never thought for a moment we'd make any lists or be on anyone's radar."
Lasiy and Porytko grew up together as children of Ukrainian families in Pennsylvania, speaking Ukrainian as easily as English and even joining a Ukrainian youth association together to learn more about their culture and traditions. That culture helped shape Rebel's menu, even if only a few dishes have been distinctly Ukrainian. Lasiy explains that his grandparents were farmers and that his family taught him the value of using the whole animal for cooking and not wasting food, whether meats or produce. "Rustic food can be beautiful, and simplicity is beautiful," he adds.
One of Lasiy's most memorable — and humorous — takeaways from the past three years was receiving a letter from state Representative Paul Rosenthal, who represents Rebel's district: "It is my honor to commend you on your selection for Best Place for Some Head in Westword's 'Best of Denver' edition. Your selection means that the community bestows its highest appreciation for your hard work, perseverance and creativity."
Looking back at what he and Lasiy accomplished in three years, Porytko says, "What I'm proud of most is all the regulars who keep coming through. It starts with the food and ends with creating something meaningful for them."
Nicole and Scott Mattson, the owners of Nocturne at 1330 27th Street, will be taking over the lease. "This is a new project, not a second Nocturne in any way," Nicole Mattson explains. "It's irreverent. It's the yin to Nocturne's yang and it's going to be a party. We're thrilled to be launching this in the RiNo neighborhood that we love and already call home. Bo and Dan are class acts; we love what they stand for as chefs, and we hope this new concept will honor a bit of their badass Rebel soul."
Rebel taught us that dining can be an experience as subversive, thrilling and flat-out fun as dropping a needle on Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols must have been in 1977, as being slapped awake by the lyrics of Public Enemy in the late ’80s. If some Denver diners never quite got what what was going on in the tiny dive-bar-turned-culinary-beacon, if some people came in and walked out because the service was a little too casual or the menu was too difficult to parse, that only means that they missed out on a singular moment in the city's restaurant history, where two chefs did it their way, standing out amid an onslaught of comfort food and safe concepts...if only for a moment.