Nearing their three-month mark since opening, Modis in the City and Luci’s Shambles & Provisions at 1533 Platte Street are both transforming into innovative, mature fixtures in Highland Park, driven by their staff’s same ongoing evolution.
The pair of restaurants are in the former home of a duo that were staples on Platte Street for a decade before closing in late 2019: Colt & Gray and Saint Ellie. Now the ground-level is upscale Modis, while the edgier speakeasy Luci’s is on the basement level. The restaurants are the latest offering from the owner of Modis Breckenridge, Teryn Guadagnoli. “I've wanted to expand for a really long time. ... It was like the ultimate goal to have a restaurant in downtown Denver,” she says.
In 2020, as the Breckenridge location lay dormant amid coronavirus closures (and an unsatisfactory takeout period), Guadagnoli and her team began having “COVID spitballing sessions.” They started formulating the concepts that now find themselves firmly situated just across the scenic Highland Bridge.
This dynamic — the exchange of ideas among staff — is one of the lone constants at the new locations, where menu items, ambience and other aspects of the restaurants take on a collaborative, ever-changing form.
In one of these collaborations, Werwaiss and Rentz created a house favorite, the lamb lollies. “It was a really simple dish we felt needed more, but it was one of those dishes that was like, ‘No, this is exactly how I want to eat it,’” Werwaiss says. The chef, who is originally from Maine, also fawns over the mussels with smoked bacon, fennel and jalapeño in a spicy tomato broth. “They definitely bring me back to home,” he notes, “which I haven’t had since moving out West. ... They’re a very traditional way of doing mussels that is rare out here.”
“I joke that when I bought the restaurant in Breck, I bought the mussels, the jalapeño mango margarita recipe and the name. Otherwise, everything that Modis was has completely changed,” Guadagnoli adds. Most staff see the new Denver location as an opportunity to push their culinary and cocktail envelopes to a higher level.
“We were so used to catering to the mountain-town vibe of people coming and going a lot that we kind of wanted to have our take on cooking for more locals in a Denver scene, and maybe be a little more judgmental,” Rentz says.
The cocktail program also shows the touches of a caring joint effort, even between the kitchen and bartenders. Rentz frequently cooks with alcohol straight from distilleries, recently making a raspberry vinaigrette from Breckenridge Distillery gin.
“The bartenders will bring me back drinks and be like, ‘How do I bring that flavor out?’ I get really good suggestions on food I'm messing with from everybody, too,” Rentz says.
Along with cocktails like the Luci in Disguise, with juniper gin, jasmine tea, simple syrup and St. Germain, are several creative mocktails for non-drinkers (Guadagnoli stopped drinking six years ago).
For Guadagnoli, this cross-pollination of ideas is all part of the plan. Luci’s, short for Lucifer, is somewhat of an homage to her co-workers at Modis Breckenridge. “We joke a lot in restaurant culture about saving each other a seat in hell,” she says as she points to the kitchen, where loud electronic music and laughter echo before the first guests arrive. “That's what our lives are behind the scenes that nobody sees. ... [Luci’s] was a way to honor the people who have made me laugh and comforted me while I cried and [went] through my trauma and got sober and that whole, ‘I’ll see ya in hell’ type of thing.”
As for what’s next, the pair of restaurants is sure to progress in look, feel and menu over the coming years. Guadagnoli is completing the construction of a stage for music acts to play at Luci’s and is already eying knocking down some walls in favor of a more open, flowing concept if COVID-19 lets up.
Outside of Platte Street, Guadagnoli and her team are set to open Suga Moon’s, a barbecue and cocktail concept coming soon to Frisco’s Main Street.
In both Modis in the City and Luci’s Shambles & Provisions, a few things are constant, including a setting that breeds collaboration, innovation and a healthy dialogue among staff and friends. “[This way of thinking] lets these incredible people I work with come up with ideas and change things," Guadagnoli concludes. “It just makes me really happy to get to see people express who they really are through a creative avenue like food or cocktails.”