You can sometimes tell when a new restaurant is having its moment. For Bar Fausto, freshly popped open in early August on upper Larimer Street, that time is right about now. Fall looks good on its white brick and colorful wallpaper, and it looks even better when the space is bursting with RiNo-ites looking for the block's hot new thing. In case the name didn't clue you in, this is a cocktail destination first — with food stuck on the back of the menu. But that doesn't mean Fausto doesn't pack a happy hour with some inspired solids and liquids, announcing itself as a big player on this street.
Like Magic Johnson and Patrick Ewing in 1992, Koan Goedman and Jonathan Power are part of a River North Dream Team — Goedman is part of Huckleberry Roasters, and Power is executive chef at the Populist across the street. Fausto shares a lot of DNA with the Populist, right down to an attractive, minimalist font. Unlike its relative, Fausto's logo sports art deco-style serifs, and the menu itself is more detailed. Wordiness is the opposite of the Populist's philosophy, but Bar Fausto's menu is taken up by twelve signature cocktails, all swirling with different liquors, juices, garnishes and twists, each one artfully described in a paragraph. The description "slightly smoky Scotch softened by sweet cardamom and velvety egg white" drew me to the #11 ($12), which achieves the rare distinction of being a confident as well as quaffable scotch cocktail. Orange juice, Italian amaro and cardamon syrup built on Pig's Nose whisky creates a fluffy (thanks to the egg white), bright-orange elixir. Even if the bar's decor is dichromatic, the bartenders aren't hesitant to make drinks in a rainbow of pretty colors. "I could drink this all day," my companion muttered between sips.
A little less bright was the CioCiaro Cup ($6), a happy-hour special served from 4 to 6 p.m. daily. It's a tasty little aperitif with Amaro Ciociaro and some housemade lemon-lime soda, but I lusted after the more complex and pricier drinks. Really, though, anyone will be satisfied with the happy-hour tipples on offer, like a housemade gin and tonic ($6) or a choose-your-own-adventure Collins ($6) with bourbon, gin, or vodka, and "dad beers" like Genesee and Schlitz ($2).
The two happy-hour plates on offer complement these beverages nicely, especially an order of bruschetta ($6). The night I visited, the chef chose to top crusty bread with smoked trout, fennel shavings and Calabrian chile aioli. There was a delicious equilibrium between the mild fish and fennel and the throat-clearingly spicy aioli. It's a plate that signifies that the small kitchen here can do more than the classical Italian that's Bar Fausto's stated focus. A trio of antipasto plates are $2 off at happy hour, which means $2 olives, $3 smoked nuts or a $2.50 plate of fresh radishes with butter. Bar Fausto is in the last days of its summer menu, but these earthy veggies are suited to this season — a bit spicy and dusted with smoked salt.
Beyond the confines of happy hour, we dug into the signature charcuterie offerings by way of the combination plate ($25), a board with four cured meats, four cheeses and accoutrements chosen by the chef. From speck to saucisson sec, from creamy Tallegio to musky cheddar, each portion was succulent and distinct, curated to something approaching ideal. My companion remarked that everything seemed well-balanced — not just the charcuterie plate, but everything from the drinks to the hospitality. That's a refreshing quality when so many places in this neighborhood are trying to juggle more and more elements. Bar Fausto's pedigree and location ensure its acceptance by the cultured crowd, but this fine happy hour doesn't hurt a bit.
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Perfect For: Bar Fausto would be my recommended watering hole for nearby folks in the service industry if it closed later than midnight. Still, anyone who pours cocktails could learn a thing or two from what's shaking at the bar. And if that doesn't convince them, the absolutely sublime Fernet Branca soft serve ($3) certainly will.
Don't Miss: If you are imbibing on the Lord's day, you can spend your Sundays with Fausto. Same drinks and eats, but 10 percent of the revenues go to a different nonprofit each time — like SAME Cafe or Gilpin Montessori.