Calhoun: Wake-Up Call

Does winning Best New Restaurant have a Sports Illustrated jinx?

Despite the lousy economy, last year saw an unprecedented number of impressive new restaurants opening in Denver - everything from Olivea to Squeaky Bean to TAG to Colt & Gray. But the team of eaters working on the Best of Denver 2010 were unanimous on which spot had earned the Best New Restaurant award: Argyll, Robert Thompson's gastropub (yes, gastropub) at 2700 East Third Avenue.

And no one was more surprised by the award than Thompson, who'd won Best New Restaurant back in 2004 for Brasserie Rouge (the bistro in the Icehouse he owned with then-wife Leigh Jones, who now has Jonesy's EatBar). In fact, Thompson had already given his chef, Sergio Romero, this week off.

"That's how cocky we were about winning," Thompson says. "We didn't forget the Best of Denver issue was coming out, it's just that you can't plan to win, especially when you're going up against great chefs and owners like this year's crop. Troy Guard has a national name and they are doing great things at TAG, including a clever mixology program. John Broening used to be one of my chefs, so I know how talented he is -- Olivea is an outstanding restaurant. Squeaky Bean is a quirky little hot spot that's making the best Caesar I've tasted. So yes, Serge is going on vacation after the twelve months of hard work he's put in. The good news is I let him hire a sous chef about six weeks ago, so we'll be okay. He's just more pissed that he's going to miss some of the fun."

But Romero got to experience some of the fun last Friday, when Argyll faced a series of challenges, including unanticipated crowds when three employees were unexpectedly out. Then the ice cream freezer went out mid-morning, and "we just released a new dessert menu Thursday night," Thompson reports. "I had to drop everything and go source one before the weekend was upon us. While I was running around doing that, I discovered that our phone system was down. I learned this when several regular customers called my cell phone to complain. It was down all afternoon; prime time reservation hours."

I stopped in during one of those prime hours, and started chatting with Thompson about the day's events. He was just wondering whether the Best New Restaurant award comes with the equivalent of the infamous Sports Illustrated jinx when his assistant manager walked around a corner and knocked a picture off the wall, shattering glass.

"That was movie script timing and the best example of how the day was going," Thompson says. "It got better after that, though. Big night, big fun."

It's possible that Thompson could be our first two-time winner of the Best New Restaurant award. We'll be digging into the Westword archives this week (the Best of Denver predates our website by a decade) and will report back.

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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun