On Thursday, April 5, American Bonded will open its doors on Larimer Street and welcome its RiNo neighbors in for their first drinks. Those patrons will sip affordably priced cocktails that pay homage to American drinking history and unsung classics; they’ll eat Low Country-inspired fare turned out by J Street Kitchen; and they’ll take in the copper-painted julep strainers, jiggers and shakers painstakingly arranged into art installations. Despite the opening, all of those customers will represent closure for owners Sean Kenyon, Justin Anthony and Lisa Vedovelli, who’ve been trying to bring this project to fruition for years.
“I’ve never been so relieved at an opening,” says Kenyon, who also owns Williams & Graham and Occidental in LoHi.
“I’d swear this building was built on an ancient burial ground,” says Anthony, who owns The Matchbox (just down Larimer Street) with Vedovelli. “From the start, it’s been literal blood, sweat and tears — I’ve been to the hospital four times. It really has been an incredibly long journey fraught with freakish obstacles.”
The trio started looking for a space for American Bonded more than six years ago; the real estate journey then had them contemplating whether they should install it into the Squire, which Vedovelli once owned. A little over three years ago, they found the building at 2706 Larimer Street, and Anthony and Vedovelli purchased it, giving the former tenant — a caterer — time to clear out while they secured the liquor license. By the time the paperwork was filed, the construction boom was under way, and contractors and materials had gone up 30 percent. They scaled back the ambition of the project, opting for a one-story building instead of three, and started demo — only to have a foundation wall crumble. Since then, they’ve undergone contractor issues, inspection problems and accidents, including a transformer explosion and, for Anthony, a broken wrist. (“Justin should get credit for steering the ship,” says Vedovelli.)
But last week, they finally cleared the last hurdle — a permit signed after they welded their rooftop bar overnight, per city requirement — and put the finishing touches on the art and design, all done as a collaborative effort by the ownership team plus Kenyon’s wife, Bijou Angeli, and Anthony's wife, Karlin Vaessen.
This week, they’ll finally start slinging drinks.
Those drinks, compiled by Kenyon and general manager Kevin Burke — who oversaw the formidable bars at Colt & Gray and Ste. Ellie for many years before Kenyon approached him about this project — celebrate this country’s drinking history, with nods to staples that are often overlooked. They start with two featured drinks, the Julep and the Old Fashioned, both of which boast menu descriptions penned by prolific spirits writer Dave Wondrich.
The julep, explains Burke, “is a fundamental cocktail. When they’re made well, they’re delicious. When they’re made poorly, they’re undrinkable. There are a number of bartenders out there who are Cocktail Bible disciples, but they forget to read Genesis. They go right to Paul, which is the Old Fashioned. But there were several drinks that came before that in history. As curious people, it’s our job to go back and investigate, and figure out why it worked and how to make it better.”
Kenyon and Burke also opted to highlight La Louisiane, made with rye and a dash of absinthe, and a New York sour floated with red wine. And they’re doing a martini service meant to revive interest in that drink. “At one point, at 3, 4, 5 in the morning, we were sitting around writing this menu talking about the Old Fashioned; people order it like they ordered vodka sodas ten years ago. So a serviceable Old Fashioned is very common. But a martini is still not made very well.” So they put together a drink that they think is particularly balanced, served in a beautiful glass sided by a second pour chilled in a small carafe on ice.
The bartenders are also turning out a list of original creations, something Anthony says was fun to watch come to fruition, given both men’s interest in the history and science of spirits. Kenyon agrees that the collaboration was fun: “Kevin and I alternately challenged each other to either simplify or make a cocktail more complex. I was looking forward to the opportunity to work with him; I admire his palate and his poise behind the bar. He wants to make everyone happy — that’s the mark of an amazing bartender. When we showed up to do bar-lab stuff, we decided to throw all brand loyalties out the window and challenge our way through the menu. It’s exciting, and it’s going to continue to be exciting. He’s got a crazy palate and good knowledge of obscure spirits, and he’s not afraid to use them.”
Once they nailed down the drinks, they went back to figure out how to price them well below most cocktails in this town, in keeping with American Bonded’s primary goal to serve its neighborhood by being accessible to everyone. “We wanted to have one of the most dynamic bar programs in town and provide incredible options under $9,” says Anthony.
“Bars should be about access,” says Burke. “I’m going to buy a bottle of spirits and split it in sixteen or seventeen ways, and you get to buy a piece of that bottle instead of investing in the whole thing. There’s a vacillation away from the standoffish suspender- and belt-wearing bartender. We’re coming back to being kind about how we serve drinks. If we work with obscure ingredients, we’ll present them in a way that’s accessible.”
“In the cocktail world, we’ve priced ourselves on desire,” says Kenyon. “It’s, we can get $15 for a drink, so let’s get $15; the market bears it. But in this neighborhood, it makes sense for the younger people in the neighborhood to price lower. That vision has really never changed.”
The team brought on couple Jason Bray and Amy Crowfoot, who own the J Street food truck, to provide food to match the bar program. “Jason is pretty talented; we had talked to a few well-known chefs, and then we met them and loved them as people before we loved them as chefs,” says Kenyon. “He was a chef that needed brick-and-mortar, and we could give him that.”
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Westword's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Denver's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
That team is turning out a menu of American fare, built on pickles, charcuterie and bread all made from scratch. “This is about things done well but simple,” says Bray. There’s a classic cheeseburger, made with short rib but topped with American cheese and housemade bread and butter pickles; and there's fried chicken, brined in citrus and buttermilk for four days before it gets a gluten-free dredge that chef de cuisine Jordan Rickard says is “audibly crispy.” Snacks range from a charcuterie board with house-cured maple bacon and homemade pimento cheese to adult tater tots with sour cream and cheese.
And food will be served late: American Bonded’s kitchen will stay open until 1 a.m.
The bar itself will operate from 4 p.m. until 2 a.m. daily. And the team plans to debut its rooftop — where a second bar will eventually sport frozen-drink machines — shortly. For more photos, see our complete American Bonded slideshow.