A room inspired by the story of two lovebirds: Beatrice, the life-loving daughter of a French wine-making family who relocated to California in the early 1800s to create a small vineyard. And Woodsley, the handsome and crafty son of a lumberjack family turned coopers to support the fledgling wine industry...
"You've got to be kidding me."
I had the press information for Beatrice & Woodsley in my hand, the pages spread. I was sitting at a bar (doesn't matter which one) with a fairly regular companion, another restaurant guy, drinking and talking about this new place on Broadway. Truth be told, I wasn't exactly receptive to the notion of a concept restaurant based on the imaginary love story of a vintner's daughter and a burly lumberjack. It had the ring of porno — bad porno — or worse, a Harlequin romance. Frankly, it made me want to gag. You know what kind of restaurant comes with a backstory? Casa Bonita. You know what kind doesn't? Every other one in the city.
Oh, wait. Except two: Two-Fisted Mario's and Mario's Double Daughter's Salotto — both opened and operated by restaurant designer Kevin Delk and his partner, John Skogstad, the guys behind Beatrice & Woodsley. Mario's has a Do the Right Thing-era Brooklyn neighborhood pizza-joint theme, but not very good pies; the next-door Double Daughter's is named after the conjoined daughters of a freak-show carnival owner.
"Fuck it, brother. Why do you need a story if the food is good?"
...Upon first sight, Beatrice and Woodsley fell in love and quickly married. Stirred by his new bride, Woodsley built a cabin remote amid the woods of the Colorado mountains...
Actually, Delk built a restaurant in Denver, Colorado, and his inspiration for it came less from the aspens of the high country than from his own life. When Beatrice & Woodsley opened in mid-May (quietly, to friends and family first, then by reservation only, then to the public), he described it as a representation of what he expected to find in Denver when he moved here from Atlanta in 1997. Cute, right? So before I ever set foot inside the place, I had my own expectations. I'd heard all manner of bizarre things: no sign, trees in the main room, chainsaws behind the bar, crowds that were either shoulder-to-shoulder rugby-scrum tight or non-existent, depending on the hour, the day, the season. The strangest sinks in the city. A chef, Pete List, who'd come out of nowhere. And the food? The menu changed sporadically but worked completely within the fantasy that Delk had envisioned. What would a French winemaker's daughter and a clever lumberjack eat in Colorado in the 1800s? What would they cook for each other in order to express their love?
I've known some strange restaurants in my time and have worked under some fairly bizarre constraints myself. But this? Completely over the top. Like the Fort crossed with Alice in Wonderland. Serious through-the-looking-glass shit.
...Built with skilled and loving hands, Woodsley constructed a strong abode complete with the day's amenities and a large wine cellar between the roots of the aspens...
Finally, two Saturdays ago, I walked in.
Every table was full, and there was a wait at the bar. The dining room was so crowded that I could barely see the trees (aspens, no lie) for the forest of people. The ceiling was hung with slatted timber meant to evoke a roof. Camp lanterns depended from wires in lieu of proper lights. The music was from The Wizard of Oz: "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." It was, I can now admit, temptingly gorgeous. It had a gravity that I felt even from behind the hostess stand. Still, I didn't want to wait.
So instead, I went down the street and around the corner, where I lived out a little of my own imaginary history at an Irish bar with a theme that stopped dead at the bar. No leprechauns serving drinks. No peat fires in the back. No Republican martyrs on the floor.
I returned to Beatrice & Woodsley for Sunday brunch. Laura and I had been fighting most of the morning, and I was no mood for lovebirds in the forest. I walked in strapped and packing like Neo in the first Matrix movie. I was just covered in dislike.
And then, that sensation again — that pull, like falling, of a space that, in design, stays absolutely true to the whacked-out vision of its creator, of a menu that goes even a step further into uncompromising eccentricity. Turtle soup with cream sherry and a whole egg. A roasted pear clafouti with sheep's-milk ricotta and whipped cream served in a cast-iron skillet. When was the last time you even saw a clafouti on a menu? Corned buffalo hash with brunoise potatoes, flakes of roasted pepper, fried eggs and housemade rye bread as dense and heavy as a brick. There were frog's legs on the menu — for breakfast — served with coddled eggs (which I hadn't seen outside of Dan Barber's Blue Hill in forever), the legs breaded and fried and swimming in a fresh vegetable butter sauce with a sting of citrus. It was completely crazy. Completely apt. And completely delicious.