Bones was the first of the hip noodle bars -- and the last one still stirring

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In late 2008, there was a race to see which restaurateur would open the first hip noodle bar in the area. Dave Query's Big Red F group was planning to open Happy at 835 Walnut Street in Boulder, and the folks behind the Jet Hotel were going to put XO in an addition built on the back of the hotel. But the first spot to actually appear on the scene was Bones, which Frank Bonanno opened at the very end of 2008 in a former coffee shop at 701 Grant Street, right between Luca D'Italia and Mizuna.

Once XO opened, it didn't last long (there's now a Swing Thai in that spot). And Happy is gone; it's been swallowed up by its successful alter-ego, Bitter Bar, which will reopen on October 15. But Bones is still going strong.

"It's actually doing really well," says Bonanno. "It's been up every year since we opened." He credits much of that to the execution: "I think the service is really, really good for that small, intimate space; it blows people away. The food can be good, but if the service isn't good, you're not coming back." But it's the food that's really won fans. "We had a vision and we stuck to it," Bonanno says. "We didn't try to tinker. Yelpers in the beginning were killing us because we weren't pho on Federal, but we were an American noodle bar doing classic French cooking."

And doing it consistently. "I would say that of the eighteen things on the menu, nine are still there from day one," Bonanno notes.

But then, he has other kitchens where he can stretch -- not just at Mizuna and Luca, but at Osteria Marco, Lou's Food Bar and Green Russell. And soon, he'll have another Larimer Square spot: Russell's Smokehouse. The state-of-the-art smokers are in -- since they're in the basement, they're electric -- and the menu is firming up, with "cool, fun salads," eight sandwiches, and such entrees as smoked Colorado lamb neck and bacon-wrapped trout. "It's almost like an ode to old Colorado cooking," Bonanno says. "We're not trying to do Kansas City barbecue or North Carolina barbecue."

Watch for Russell's to open before the end of the month.

A version of this story appeared in yesterday's Cafe Bites, our weekly e-mail newsletter that covers the dining scene. Want to subscribe? Click here.

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