When type designer Howard “Bud” Kettler passed over the name Messenger in favor of Courier for his now iconic typeface, he said “A letter can be just an ordinary messenger, or it can be the courier, which radiates dignity, prestige and stability.” Courier. Market|Bar|Kitchen (whatever happened to the word "restaurant?") downtown attempts to fulfill Kettler's definition. With its wide marble counters and table tops, sleek lighting and mid-century modern-esque leather chairs, the place feels far classier than your average lobby-adjacent hotel bar.
But Courier (the official moniker gets a little ungainly) is more than its kitschy name and the typewriters that decorate the space. It pays homage to Denver’s lettered history, when newspapers were still printed on linotype machines and people like my grandfather hawked the daily news on street corners downtown. The repurposed building at 1750 Welton Street (where a newspaper company once operated) is home to the Grand Hyatt Hotel and its 516 guest rooms. Courier, of course, is not restricted to guests, but its “Social Hour,” from 3 to 6 p.m. daily, has the air of inviting visitors to get to know one another, like a large bed and breakfast or a less institutional conference meet-and-greet.
I often worry about finding parking and seating at a happy hour, especially if I'm arriving on a busy Friday evening. Courier offers valet parking during the evening hours for a flat fee of $12, which wipes out some of your happy hour savings but comes with the downtown territory. But Welton Street’s bike lane runs right past the hotel (grab Glenarm if you're coming from the opposite direction), if you don't mind locking your bike up against a parking meter. And the Grand Hyatt is within easy walking distance for most downtown denizens.
Inside, I found Courier quieter than I had expected for a Friday; then again, what out-of-towner is going to opt for the hotel bar to kick off the weekend? In many ways, this makes it an ideal spot for a local looking to enjoy a snack and a refresher on the way home from work; my companions and I had our pick of seats in the expansive restaurant, with a buffer table on either side. The equally empty bar counter would also have been an inviting option, as would the community-style marble tables, if they'd been set to match Courier's website photos.
The Social Hour menu mimics many a decent Denver happy hour, with four cocktail offerings ($7 each), a featured red and white wine ($6), and three beer options ($5), while the food menu hitched a ride on the gussied-up bar-food wagon. Opting out of the cheese bread (which sounded bland, if satisfying), we settled on the remaining three happy hour items: grilled shrimp cocktail ($7), spiced chicken wings ($8) and short rib poutine ($9).
To go with it, we scoped out the seasonal cocktails, a gin, lavender, and grapefruit concoction named the Daily, and a vodka, ginger beer and lime cocktail (a Moscow Mule, short the copper mug) labeled Summer Forever. Both were refreshing, if not multidimensional, especially the mule-like concoction, which so often slides into cloyingly sweet. We couldn’t help but wonder, though: Did those crescent-shaped ice cubes come straight from the hotel hallway ice machine?
The food arrived at once, which didn’t feel as daunting as last week’s endeavor at Humboldt, since the five daintily placed grilled shrimp were served cold, allowing us to focus on the wings and poutine. And thank the powers that be for that, because Courier took every complaint we had about last week’s poutine and knocked it out of the park with its version of this hefty, mouthwatering, Canadian drunk food. Atop the perfectly crisped pile of tater tots (which I’ve recently been warming up to as a fried potato alternative), a dark gravy with succulent pillows of short rib flowed. It was everything I could do to stop myself to sample a chicken wing before promptly returning to, and polishing off, the divine offering.
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Once I switched to the wings, I found them aromatic, truly crispy and nicely sized, but the accompanying avocado crema felt a little too sturdy for its purpose. Meanwhile the grilled shrimp were something to behold, carefully held in place by avocado, whose sole purpose may have been as a kickstand, and attended by piquillo peppers that exploded delightfully in the mouth, and a dainty topping of microgreens and radish matchsticks. While it took a moment to adjust to the mental disconnect I felt seeing the grill marks and tasting an entirely cold dish, the composition was fresh, summery and, as Kettler might say, dignified.
If Courier is changing its Social Hour regularly, I could see the place as a classy, sedate alternative to many downtown happy hour hot spots, especially when it comes to seating larger groups. If not, it’s probably still worth a monthly visit to mow down some of that poutine. Imbiber beware, however, as it’s more than a short jaunt across the restaurant and past the concierge to the lobby bathroom — best prepare for the journey.
Courier. market | bar | kitchen is located on 1750 Welton Street and offers Social Hour from 3 to 6 p.m. daily. Call 303-603-4171 or visit the restaurant's website for details and reservation. And as the name implies, there's also a small market (mostly for the folks in the hotel rooms) open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.