Over the last century, the space at 2223 East Colfax Avenue has been a movie theater and a watch-repair shop and not much else. But the watch shop closed earlier this year when the 92-year-old owner retired after four decades in business, and wine aficionado Travis Gee decide it was time for something new. With a level-two certification from the Court of Master Sommeliers and extensive travels in many of the world's great wine-producing regions, Gee realized he wanted to share his knowledge and travels by opening a wine bar with a neighborhood vibe and a wood-burning pizza oven. Construction on his new eatery, Brik on York, began earlier this fall; he plans to have the doors open to the public by March of 2015.
Brik will feature a cafe-style dining room that Gee hopes will encourage lingering over glasses of wine. The open kitchen, headed by chef Shoshana Frost, will feature an Acunto wood-fueled oven that's being shipped from Naples, Italy. In addition to pizza, the kitchen will turn out charcuterie plates, salads and hand-made ravioli, gnocchi and other pastas. Gee also plans to highlight grape-growing regions of the world with food and wine specials based on those regions; beef bourguignon with the wines of Burgundy, or Argentinian roasted meats with the wines of the Mendoza region, for example.
Although Denverites have supported the exploding beer scene in town, "They're hungry for a really good wine bar," Gee says. "I have an opportunity to be somewhat educational." Wine service will begin with $6 glasses, with specials on a chalkboard menu. Waitstaff will walk the floor pouring samples for interested customers and there will be tasting notes projected on the wall for the wines being sampled.
The name Brik comes from the brick that Gee found beneath decades of plaster and paint, adding historic charm to the former movie theater. "When I was in here busting the walls down," he explains, "I thought, 'What a great name.'" It also refers to the brick pizza oven, he adds, and to brix, the unit of measure for residual sugars in wine.
Brick wasn't the only thing he uncovered: The construction crew found the original York sign from the movie theater, which Gee plans to re-wire and display inside the wine bar. He's also found vintage photos of the trolleys that once ran on Colfax and a photo of the matinee house itself, which will become art pieces on the century-old brick walls.
Brik will be Gee's first foray into the restaurant business, but he's put a lot of thought and work into the plan. In addition to his sommelier certification, Gee has an MBA that he earned while working in sales in various fields. His sales jobs allowed him to travel and experience the food and cafe culture of historic wine regions, and frequent-flyer miles accumulated meant he could research wine firsthand while studying for his sommelier tests. Although he's visited Italy, New Zealand, Napa, the Willamette Valley in Oregon, and the Mendoza region of Argentina, he names Burgundy as his favorite wine area.
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"You have to duck through these low doors into old wine cellars," he explains. In Burgundy, he really experienced cuisine and wine together, and saw a street performer playing piano along with old Charlie Chaplin films. That, along with the origins of the Colfax space, inspired him to add a projector and surround-sound system for displaying classic movies on one wall of Brik. He's also applied for a cabaret license so that the wine bar can host music nights.