Not so long ago, if you lived in the city, you didn’t have to be strategic about getting a great view of either the Denver skyline or the Rocky Mountains. But as our city expands and cranes dot the horizon, helping high-rises erupt from the earth in almost every core neighborhood, such vistas have become increasingly scarce. But The Woods, at its eighth-floor perch atop the Source Hotel, has that special vantage from which a restaurant-goer can take in both the cityscape and the Rockies in one panoramic vista.
With the days waning, if you hit up the wrap-around patio at the Woods a bit before 6 p.m., you can cash in on happy-hour specials while spending the next hour indulging in a sunset that's often breathtaking. First, of course, you have to find the place. Ride your bike and enjoy Brighton Boulevard’s pleasant sidewalk-level bike lanes and front row parking at the hotel. The harder part comes once you're inside the building; the first time I visited the restaurant-bar-brewery, it was clear that other customers had complained about a lack of signage, and the hotel had compensated with directions and the floor number on a signpost right in front of the elevator. The second time, that sign was gone, and one friend nearly missed the all-important 6 p.m. cutoff while searching for the bar.
As at many happy hours, cocktail offerings here are limited, but unlike many, the Woods’ bartenders are attentive and consistent in execution of the short roster of mixed drinks, all priced at $10. The tequila-based Muralita is a refreshing margarita alternative with a citrus punch that’s lightly balanced with a splash of New Belgium’s Mural Agua Fresca Cerveza. The cocktail of the week, a Boulevardier, is having its moment all over town — but who’s to complain about a drink so deftly juggling sweet, boozy and bitter? Apart from a stimulating gin gimlet-esque drink called the Woods Advice, my companions stuck to New Belgium’s $5 beer specials, which were all par for New Belgium's broad range of styles.
In an effort to get the true happy-hour experience of “Will this enable me to skip dinner?,” we really went for it on the snacks. These range from $4 candied almonds and bacon popcorn to an $11 cheeseburger. We stuck with the middle $7 to $8 options, including the Source "tots," sweet soy cauliflower, artichoke dip and “soft” pretzels. The quotation marks are mine and are quite deliberate. The tater “tots” resembled long Legos and had a texture more like polenta than potato, which is not to say that they weren’t well fried, with a thin, crisp coating wrapped around a soft, starchy rectangle. The sweet soy cauliflower also rose to the occasion; its intensely dark sauce had a molasses-like taste and viscous texture so that the sprinkling of sesame seeds stuck and added to the toothsome texture of the cauliflower.
I’m a big follower of the principle that you can do no wrong with artichoke dip as long as it manifests all the required qualities: hot, creamy, salty and thick. And, honestly, I don’t think that’s so hard to achieve; Olive Garden has had a lock on it for years. The Woods managed to include all the proper ingredients yet achieved only a lumpy artichoke soup. It lacked creaminess, was neither a dip nor a spread, and tasted as though the fat had separated from the protein, leaving a weird, watery texture rather than a pleasant unctuousness. This was especially disappointing, as the attending focaccia — thin, toasted and crunchy — would have been an ideal vehicle (the sorry, badly hacked carrots, not so much).
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But the artichoke confusion was more passable than the “soft” pretzels and stout mustard butter. It should be a cardinal sin to promise a happy-hour soft pretzel and deliver a cluster of hard, shriveled lumps in place of spry, springy buns (these weren't intended to be classic pretzel knots). First we tried breaking one apart, and we couldn’t do that. Then we tried sawing it in half, and that was a no-go. And when I finally did pull a piece of the dense and desiccated crouton off, I regretted putting it in my mouth. Even the stout mustard butter was perplexing, like the futon of condiments — trying to be both butter and mustard, yet accomplishing neither. And let's be serious, what we really wanted was creamy beer cheese sauce. It felt as if the Woods had tried to take a classic happy-hour dish (or two, counting the artichoke dip) and make it fancy, but unfortunately screwed up the execution.
Giving up, we turned our gaze to the skies, sipping our drinks as we contemplated Denver’s mandarin sunset. The Woods achieves neutral party status when it comes to happy hour, with the upside of the stellar vistas, some low-priced beers and well-made cocktails driven down by the weak food. But knowing that, you can save yourself some money; come for the view, stay for the view, and leave room for Safta a mere six floors down.
The Woods is located on the the eighth floor of the Source Hotel and Market Hall, at 3330 Brighton Boulevard. Happy hour is served from 4 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. Call or visit the bar's website for details.