I haven’t been down the East 17th Avenue restaurant strip in quite a while. This is partly because of the pandemic, and partly because I’m still devastated that the Denver Bike Cafe and Tandem Bar are gone. But this past week, my brother and I were on the hunt for an all-night happy hour, and Ace East Serve popped up on our radar. In ordinary times, if you were searching for activity-paired drinking a little different from the usual beer-and-pool pub, Ace had you covered with ping-pong and Asian-inspired snacks.
The table tennis was on hold until recently because of COVID-related restrictions, but Ace recently reopened its game room, with new rules to ensure safety. Even if you’re not into the pong (or the ping), the restaurant's roomy patio offers myriad little nooks that are walled off from the sidewalk by hefty blooming planters and includes a shaded section carpeted with AstroTurf.
The place reminds me of a super-hip European hostel, and I imagine the happy hour scene would be quite crowded were it not for capacity restrictions. But things as they are, when we arrived for our 6:15 p.m. reservation, it was clear that it wasn't necessary; my brother and I were just one of two groups taking advantage of the all-night Monday happy hour when we arrived. But that just allowed us to have our pick of the patio seating as the host ushered us to a table and reminded us that happy hour guests are requested to loiter no longer than ninety minutes.
After some heated discussion about the large variety of happy hour offerings, we decided to start with two bao doughnuts ($1 each), because if there’s one thing we agree upon, it’s pastries. The sugared discs arrived freshly fried with a side of pudding-like crème Anglaise, and although I found nothing especially bao-like about the dough, and the Anglaise didn't have much of the promised lime-leaf flavor, the Chinese five spice in the sugar dusting came through — but not so much that if you’re sensitive to anise flavors you’d really mind.
Next we turned to our drinks while further winnowing down our savory options. I’m not usually a slushie sorta girl, but the Miami Vice ($6), a mixture of the house piña colada and raspberry daiquiri, was out of this world, leading my brother to profess, “I don’t care if it comes from a mix out of a machine. This is delicious.”
Ace's housemade sodas also pack enough enough flavor that the gin and bitter lemon combo proved better than most house gin and tonics. A range of $8 cocktails also allows you to mix it up, and of course, sake and Montucky Cold Snacks abound, simultaneously displaying Ace's Asian and hipster proficiency.
Because I knew my brother would absolutely demolish me in ping-pong, I lied and told him I couldn't spend the $10 for an hour of play. Instead we worked on our happy hour bites, beginning with the Crazy Sichuan Shrimp Wontons, which came stuffed to plumpness with a crisp exterior and a toothsome seafood stuffing. While I was hoping for the buzzing numbness of Sichuan peppercorns, the only craziness I found was the punch in the face from what tasted like horseradish in the chili garlic sauce.
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When the stacked bamboo xiaolongbao steamer arrived, the server gave us pointers on how to appropriately eat the soup dumplings, which included taking a small bite out of the little meat purse and allowing the soup to collect in the Chinese soup spoon held beneath. The dumpling wrapper had a playdough-like texture, and the beef filling (in a pho-style broth) was tasty. These are handmade, so they're different from the uniform, pre-made soup dumplings found at some Chinese restaurants in town. But if a soft, steamed dumpling isn't your thing, there are also potstickers with a crispier texture.
Variety and price are definitely selling points here. For under $45, we were too stuffed to go out to dinner; another $10 for ping-pong and we could have worked up enough hunger for another dim sum bite. Though a little random in its pan-Asian offerings, if you’re in the mood to mix it up, Ace offers a change from the average happy hour fare, keeping you keep you warm, safe, well fed and entertained for an inexpensive ninety minutes.
Ace Eat Serve is located 501 East 17th Avenue and offers happy hour from 4 to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday and from 3 to 10 p.m. on Monday. Call 303-800-7705 or visit the restaurant's website for more information.