When a company puts as much time and energy into preserving a historic building as has been invested in Hose House No. 1, you really want it to work. You want to believe that the power of history will inspire the chefs and invigorate the diners. So when you step inside Woodie Fisher Kitchen & Bar — located in the circa 1881 structure that housed Denver’s first volunteer fire department, just four blocks from where the original Union Station was built at the same time — I implore you to pause, take a breath and truly absorb the space in which you are about to dine...at a bargain.
Because if there’s one thing those exposed brick walls, expansive skylight and live centerpiece convey, it’s not "bargain."
From the outside, the venerable brick building is a marvel, with two enormous garage doors, above which are equally imposing windows. Arched brickwork livens the facade, making it appear more art deco than Wild West. The same is true inside, which feels like an atrium in a modern art museum even though the walls are almost 140 years old. As fate would have it, after Denver denied requests to demolish the building, two architectural firms working on plans for an attached hotel put their heads together to come up with the magnificent renovation, one that includes an entire internal steel structure fortifying the old facade (check out this YouTube video), and the resulting restaurant was named for an early Denver firefighter who lost his life on the job.
Okay, enough about history: What about the relatively newfangled concept of happy hour? Well, if you can get to Woodie Fisher by 5:30 p.m., you’re in luck. And if you can’t, you only have to wait three short hours before a second happy hour starts at 8:30 p.m. And why not wait? Where's the fire?
When we arrive, on a severely cold Tuesday just after 5 p.m., the vast space is empty but for two tables. Could be the weather, could be that it’s a slow season for the Hilton Garden Inn next door, but we have our pick of tables. Woodie Fisher offers an array of seating arrangements: large curved banquettes, a long bar, several high-tops, including one that could be either a community table or used for larger parties, and lounge-like seating around low coffee tables.
We opt for seats by one of the windows facing 20th Street — though natural light is not a problem given that the entire ceiling is an enormous skylight — and are soon greeted by a man who appears to be our own personal server. The menu has five items on special, and there are three of us, so the choice is obvious: Everything. We also go with two of the $2-off cocktails: the rum-based Fire and Ice, and the mezcal and Ancho Reyes chile liqueur dominant ($13), alongside a 90 Shilling (which the server thought was a porter) for $3.50. While fairly expensive for happy-hour drinks, the cocktails were supremely executed (love the spicy-salted rim) and worth the price if you're looking for a sophisticated cocktail in a stunning setting.
Our server offered to course out our happy-hour dishes, which felt like a real treat. The rustic yet vibrant fire-roasted carrots with voudouvan spice arrived first; they were both tender and toothsome, though we were a bit confused by the accompanying creamy red lentil dal. Next came the happy-hour burger and chicken chicharrones. For $13, the “Big Chief” burger didn’t seem like a steal, but the thin patty was well-cooked with thick bacon, surprising sweet relish, and a squishy mass-produced bun. The chicken chicharrones were less fluffy and airy than the pork rinds I’m accustomed to (at a Midwestern demolition derby, for example), but still represented gussied-up bar food done right. And I never say no to a healthy serving of homemade ranch dressing for dipping.
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We were excited for the next arrival, housemade burrata; while the cheese was a bit less oozy and seductive than I’ve come to expect, the lavender-infused sourdough was uniquely aromatic, and I dream of attempting to make it myself. We were soon distracted by the wagyu tartar — a ring-molded cylinder topped with an abundance of diced chives and “egg yolk jam” that was as mesmerizingly spherical as it was thick — which came with an addictive side of “crispy potato chips.”
Finally, what we'd anticipated would be the pièce de résistance: cobia tataki, fanned out atop an inky black sauce. Though we didn’t know exactly what to think of the strangely textured cobia tataki, the sea beans and aged black garlic added brightness and a depth that persuaded me that this flavor combination should be more than a fad. Teeny-tiny slick mushrooms and mild and crunchy fried tapioca made for a texturally satisfying experience, too.
We left satisfied with Woodie Fisher's food, pleased with the service, and blown away by the atmosphere. Brave the traffic and hit up this historical-yet-contemporary piece of Colorado history; I'm glad I did.
Woodie Fisher is located at 1999 Chestnut Place and offers happy hour daily from 2:30 to 5:30 p.m. and again from 8:30 to close. For more information, call 720-643-1909 or go to woodiefisher.com.