Happy Place: Rack & Rye Gastropub, 1320 15th Street, 720-620-4920
The Hours: Monday through Saturday, from 3 to 6 p.m.
The Deals: $4 house wine and cocktails; $2-11 draft beers and pitchers; $5 Washington caramel apple shooters; $2-4 small plates
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The Digs: "We are here with the crickets and banjos," read the text from our friends who were waiting for us at Rack & Rye.
They weren't kidding.
While most places offer enough atmosphere and tuneage to nullify the awkwardness of being the lone people at the bar, the vibe at Rack & Rye did nothing of the sort. Although a serene happy hour a half a block away from the insanity of Larimer Square sounds appealing, hanging out at this LoDo gastropub kind of made us feel as though we were unwillingly trapped in a Wes Craven film.
The long room is a disparaging, gloomy contrast to the sunshine outside, and the space emits the energy of lost passion. The foam sound panels on the ceiling are starting to fall, the muffled beats of loud music next door exacerbates the uncomfortable emptiness, and the spotlights behind the bar reflect racks of wine glasses that haven't been polished since Wes Craven released his last film. It's like sitting in a restaurant space that's just been purchased and awaiting a restorative face lift from new owners, or an establishment that's about to close its doors for good. Given the surly attitude from the staff, we wondered if the door would slam shut behind us.
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The Verdict: The bartender emerged from a door in the aluminum wall (which could easily double as the panic room in our horror flick) and we immediately ordered the spam fries ($3) out of curiosity. Turns out that the gelatinous mystery meat fries up pretty well, and although they arrived sans the Thai chili dipping sauces the menu promised, the chili oil aioli was sufficient for dunking. Next up: the bacon jam ($4), because you can never go wrong with pork -- or can you? The jam was disappointing and devoid of flavor, plus we had to remove the leafless herb sprigs as we smeared it onto our bread. The jalapeno jelly did little to moisten the dry cheddar cornbread sticks ($2), but at least they provided a nice base for the beers we were slamming in an effort to get the hell out of there.
The one notable thing about Rack & Rye? It serves Oskar Blues' Mama's Little Yella Pils by the pitcher ($11).
A restaurant or bar can throw a great happy hour that doesn't have to be a gregarious social gathering where the booze flow like water and everyone lets their hair down in an after work fiesta. It can be a time to relax and take a breath in an inviting environment after a long day. But Rack & Rye isn't that place.
Overall Grade: D