Robert Thompson is on a roll. The proprietor of Argyll, a splendid gastropub in Cherry Creek, and the brainchild behind Punch Bowl, which will open in November in the Baker 'hood, has just inked a deal, complete with a 25-year lease, to take over Baur's Ristorante, Jimmy Lambatos's elegant -- even opulent -- American/Mediterranean restaurant that's been a theater district gathering place and piano lounge for the past several years.
But on Thursday, June 30, Baur's will shutter to make way for Le Grand Bistro & Oyster Bar, a new concept from Thompson that will take on the life of a Parisian brasserie.
"I'm always looking for new opportunities, and it's a grand space -- one of the most gorgeous restaurants in the city -- and an amazing concept," says Thompson, who, along with Leigh Jones, now the owner of Jonesy's EatBar, Stingray, The Horseshoe Lounge and Bar Car, at one time owned Brasserie Rouge (now the Icehouse Tavern), which, while long gone, remains my all-time favorite restaurant in Denver. "At Brasserie Rouge, we did everything right, except pick the right location," admits Thompson.
But the address where he's planting the bistro is definitely opportune. "Every city should have a grand brasserie, and I don't think that there's a lot of 16th Street Mall or convention center restaurants that are created for locals, which is who we're aiming for," explains Thompson. "We're about extending our reputation to this area and giving locals a place that's affordable, accessible and approachable." Tourism, he notes, "is not our bread and butter: Locals are."
The mammoth, 9,000-square-foot space will remain intact, although Thompson has grand plans to alter the aesthetics. "The restaurant really lends itself to a grand bistro, but we're changing the materials and finishes -- the walls and floors and the ceiling, to which we're adding pressed tin," he says. The Baur's sign, a fixture in this city for more than 100 years, will also come down. "I realize that there's a history there, but it's not my job to preserve it," insists Thompson. "My job is to create new history."
The board, however, will be classic brasserie, and Sergio Romero, the exec chef at Argyll, will be the sultan behind the raw bar, resplendent with fresh oysters and shellfish and dishes like escargot, moules marinières, bouillabaisse, poisson and frites, Spanish sardines, steak frites, skate and beurre blanc, fruits de mer, charcuterie, including head cheese and torchon de foie gras, and (oui, oui, oui!) foie gras creme brulee. "The menu will reach from Provence to Alsace, and everything will be scratch -- and it always will be," promises Thompson.
"Beer will definitely be a big focus for us," he adds. "We'll have lots of crisp lagers for oysters -- although we'll also have a value-oriented, bistro wine list, including liter carafes." In addition, Thompson and his crew will serve throughout the day -- breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week, and brunch on Saturday and Sunday. "In Paris, that's what a classic grand bistro does -- serve every possible meal, and we're extending that tradition," he explains. "The kitchen will be open late-night, as well, at least until midnight, and after 10 p.m., Romero will do specials, like a $5 steak tartare.
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This concept, Thompson notes, "is about culinary integrity and concept authenticity. I'm a Francophile and have always been obsessed with the grand bistros of Paris. This will be one of them."
"My pants are kinda on fire over this," he confesses. "I've been dreaming of doing this concept again for years, and I'm kinda obsessed about it."
That makes two of us.