Cafe Society

Sean Kelly stakes a claim at LoHi

June 25 --that was opening day for LoHi SteakBar. But prior to that? Owners Joe Vostrejs, Jeff Hermanson and Rod Wagner had spent months talking and plotting -- and after they hired Sean Kelly, who'd already parted ways with Mark Berzins and the Little Pub Company, they all talked some more. So a lot of planning went into this seemingly simple little neighborhood bar. A lot of planning, a lot of running numbers and discussing concepts and trying to find a crew.

I talked with Kelly shortly after he'd signed on with Vostrejs, and asked why he'd left Little Pub, which owns fourteen local watering holes. In a situation like that, when you're overseeing so many different operations and so many different kitchens, "you never walk away feeling like you've accomplished anything," Kelly told me. "There were no hard feelings or anything. It was just time for me to push on."

So he pushed on to LoHi, the steak place that Vostrejs had signed on to put in the former home of the North Star Brewery, at 3200 Tejon Street.

Initially, they were hoping to open in April, and the menu was still in flux when we talked in January. "It's not gonna be frou-frou," Vostrejs told me, adding that while some of the stuff in Larimer Square is rather high-tone, "the stuff that I do in the neighborhood...these are honest, neighborhood places. It's not about breaking new ground with cuisine."

Nine months later, the day after I ate my last review meal at LoHi, I talked with Kelly again. And while, yes, a lot of the intervening time had been spent turning what had been a fairly standard neighborhood bar (albeit one with its own microbrewery inside -- the tanks once sitting where LoHi's bathrooms are now) into a very non-standard neighborhood bar, even more was spent on figuring out the rather more philosophical delineations between a bar and a restaurant, a pub and a plain old neighborhood joint.

"There was some adjustment, to be sure," Kelly told me last week, speaking to the differences between a place like North Star Brewery and a place like LoHi, but also between the food he's doing now and the fine dining, Mediterranean-inflected food he was once known exclusively for. "There's a learning curve here."

And how has he done on that learning curve so far? What kind of grade does LoHi get? Come back tomorrow for more of my interview with Kelly, as well as my review of LoHi.