Bar Helix founder Kendra Anderson claims that her RiNo lounge is Denver's only Negroni bar — and the only one west of the Mississippi. The first is undoubtedly true, since where else can you find a standard roster of a dozen variations on the classic Italian cocktail, plus additional permutations that rotate in and out depending on the seasons and the mood of Anderson and fellow gin-slinger Victoria Errio, who comes up with many of the recipes?
As for the larger claim, we'll let the numbers speak for themselves. "We've sold over 5,000 Negroni cocktails since we opened," Anderson points out (and that was only a year and a half ago).
If you've hopped on the Negroni bandwagon, you already know that the cocktail in its original form comprises equal parts gin, vermouth and Campari (or similar Italian bitters). At Bar Helix, that's only a stepping stone. Anderson and Errio shuffle the base spirit, using, for example, Soto junmai daiginjo sake in place of gin in the Geisha Girl, and La Caraveda pisco in Burn Those Grapes, an homage to the Peruvian grape-based spirit. They also use any number of sweet and dry vermouths (and other fortified wines) and bitter liqueurs to shift the Negroni's complex balance of bitter, dry, sweet and fruity elements.
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Brunch, served every Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., sees its own take on the Negroni, called A Nice Bitter Screw. It's just a classic Negroni (Bar Helix uses Bar Hill gin, Carpano Antica Formula vermouth and Montanaro 6 PM Aperitivo) cut with 50 percent orange juice. The name comes from the many suggestive variations of the screwdriver (the Harvey Wallbanger, the sloe screw, etc.) that gained popularity in the 1970s. Anderson explains that many of the cocktails on the spring menu (beyond the Negronis) contain references to 1979, the year Errio was born. There's The Boss, named for the Diana Ross album (not Bruce Springsteen!); the Charo, named after the spicy Spanish actress who was at her peak in the late ’70s; and the Knock on Wood, named for the song that hit number one on the charts in 1979.
All of this suggests that Anderson and Errio put a great deal of thought into the themes, ingredients and inspirations that weave through the menu at Bar Helix. You can follow them down the rabbit hole or simply enjoy the drinks for what they are. At brunch, drink your Nice Bitter Screw with eggs Benedict made with house-smoked pork belly, harissa Hollandaise and Funyun crumbles. Then go sweet with a housemade pop tart stuffed with beet-fig jam and glazed with goat cheese St-Germain icing. It's made to mirror the flavors of the Just Beet It, a ruby-hued drink containing a little St-Germain of its own.
Negroni Week, a national celebration and fundraiser for multiple nonprofit organizations, is coming soon, and Bar Helix will be ready to celebrate from June 24 to June 30, with a whole slate of bittersweet cocktails.
Bar Helix is located at 3440 Larimer Street and is open Wednesday through Sunday. See the bar's website or call 720-449-8587 for current hours and menus.