Where: 2500 Lawrence St, Denver, CO 80205
When: Open 4 to 9:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 4 to 10 p.m. Friday and Sunday; happy hour is 4 to 6:30 p.m. daily
For more info: Visit uchidenver.com
Getting in and getting booze: During our confinement this last year, Uchi offered one of the premier methods for finding luxury at home at an affordable price. And while its to-go happy hour stands, the in-house happy hour has also risen again.
I wondered how its on-premises offerings would rival the delightful takeout happy hour experience. For starters, outside of COVID restrictions, the crowds at Uchi have hardly subsided since its Denver debut nearly three years ago, and prime summer dinner hours are booked weeks in advance. But if you play your cards right, you can enjoy the in-house Uchi experience for a fraction of the cost during its generously long happy hour.
To maximize our chances, my dining partner and I arrived just before 5 p.m. on a Monday and were successfully ushered to two bar seats tucked in a corner.
Unlike takeout happy hour — which restricts the deal to the four red and white wine bottle offerings — dine-in allows discounted booze by the glass as well as two freshly mixed $9 cocktail options. I zeroed in on the sake-spiked take on the ever-popular Aperol spritz called an "ume punch," a version that is my new preference.
Three by-the-glass sake options (a glass of hot or cold for an approachable $4 and a junmai, or pure rice sake, for $9) also grace the menu along with a pair of whites (Chenin and Sauvignon Blanc) and reds (Pinot and Malbec) from $7.50 to $9.50 per glass or $29 to $37 a bottle. If you’re willing to lay down cash for happy hour bubbles, you can also get a fine 350ml bottle of Ruinart for $82 (not a terrible deal). Bottles of Asahi (20 oz. for $11) and Sapporo (12 oz. for $4) also make the cut.
Since Uchi was out of the hoyo 'summer breeze' junmai ($9), my sake-loving partner enjoyed a masu wooden box presentation of the Yuki no Bosha ("Cabin in the Snow") for the same price. Although the fruit-forward junmai ginjo was delicious enough to merit a second glass, the bartenders did little to help her with the various techniques one might use to enjoy the overflowing glass-in-a-box presentation, which is used to show the generosity of the pour.
We started with a simple yet elegant bincho ($7), thin slices of tuna draped over a small mound of tacky sushi rice and finished with flaked sea salt. Next, the gai lan, chinese broccoli with pineapple Szechuan ponzu, comes perfectly al dente and even delivers on its promise of the buzzy, numbing citric highlight from Szechuan peppercorns. The “yokai berry” (a salmon roll with fried kale, Asian pear, yuzu dashi and blueberry) transforms a basic salmon roll into a fruity, silky fish experience.
On the heartier side, the tempura-battered fish toast ($6), a rich and creamy scallop-filled brioche, is the closest food to fit the hefty fried fare of typical happy hours — yet oodles more interesting. We ended with the over-the-top decadent wagyu tartare ($8) with fatty marbling and yolk finish. My partner and I agree that these last two would, indeed, not do well as takeout items.
Overall: While the bartenders seemed little interested in our happy hour experience, having access to this kind of cuisine on a casual Monday afternoon — especially when the seats here are full around the clock — makes Uchi an unrivaled happy hour value. And even though you can't match the number of food options, plus dessert, and glass-based pours that Uchi offers in-house, I remain smitten by the freshness and affordability of the seven-item takeout option, too.
Whether you snag a bar seat or end up with a bag piled with takeout, the dual Uchi happy hours make for a charmed evening and leave enough money on the table to satisfy any high-end-cocktail hankerings at the nearby Death and Co.