Cretans at the Clayton Hotel
233 Clayton Street
Tuesday through Saturday from 4 to 11 p.m.
For more info:
What we saw:
The food and drink concepts at the Clayton Hotel recently got a revamp, and Cretans, a wine bar with sexy Mediterranean nightlife vibes, adds something new to the neighborhood — namely, a low-lit, hip place to have a drink and enjoy enough tasty shared plates to constitute a full dinner.
The sleek bar is the best place to watch the martinis being made.
The tables along the banquette are small but well spaced, better for a duo than a large party. Bigger groups should plan to take up the high-top community table. While not quite as cozy, this spot has plenty of bonus room for plates of food. Two half-moon bars also offer seating options, one on each end of the room. With so many different spaces to inhabit in the mid-sized bar, it feels like you're getting a different experience depending on where your party parks for the evening.
The restaurant group behind Cretans is New York City-based Quality Branded, which brought Quality Italian to the Halcyon Hotel in Cherry Creek in 2017 and has now expanded its reach to the Clayton with not just Cretans, but also cocktail lounge Chez Roc
restaurant. All are Mediterranean-themed, but each has its own twist.
The speakeasy-style Chez Roc took over the former Five Nines space, keeping the design dark and mysterious, but with pops of animal print and live piano music instead of the former operation's burlesque-like entertainment. Kini's, which used to house Of a Kind, brings a jungle of Mediterranean delights to the once sterile space. Cretans, which took over the hotel's grab-and-go market spot, definitely adds more to the overall experience.
What surprised us:
Don't skip a martini.
With low lights and an atmosphere reminiscent of a 1970s lounge, Cretans feels more like a stand-alone bar than a hotel operation — and that's a good thing. Where many hotel spots cater to a worldwide palate, Cretans has its own flavor profile and isn't dumbing down tastes in order to please the masses. Yes, there is some more basic fare, and you can even order a vodka soda here if you wish, but you won't find it on the menu.
Instead, order the pour-over martini. While the drink isn't a Mediterranean tipple by any means, it's definitely something you want to sample, and if you're at the bar, you can see the whole show. The base is a dirty vodka martini infused with spicy pepperoncini, made into a caper Gibson. Or opt for the olive-heavy version made with Castelvetrano brine and feta-stuffed olives.
More on the Mediterranean side is the wine list, a long roster of French, Spanish and Italian reds, a shorter offering of whites and sparkling, and the current wine trend, pet nat. There is also a small selection of amphorae-aged wines, an ancient technique where wine is kept in clay pots instead of the usual barrel method.
Any of the wine or cocktails will pair well with just about any of the small plates coming out of the kitchen. A few of the dishes have the heft of a main course, like the roasted duck with black garlic ($24), spiced meatballs with date molasses ($17), and a five-dip tower with crudites and/or flatbread ($34), which may include beet muhammara, ember-roasted eggplant or whipped goat cheese with saffron and apricots.
On the lighter side, the fresh burrata ($19) sings with sweet dried figs, and the hamachi crudo ($19) has a tart bite thanks to bits of hibiscus. Though the menu offers a lot of tantalizing plates, including charcuterie, don't skip the sliders, especially the decadent Osetra caviar and avocado ($24 for two).
Just remember, if you're seated at one of the smaller, low tables, don't order too much too fast. Better yet, get it all and ask your server to stagger the meal so it fits. Then dig right in.