Drinking the night away at Vesta Dipping Grill

Happy Place: Vesta Dipping Grill, 1822 Blake Street, 303-296-1970.

The Hours: Monday through Friday from 5 to 6:30 p.m.

The Deals: $3-7 Colorado beers and spirits; $2-6 small plates.

Were we happy? Flip the page to find out.

The Digs: On his website, Vesta Dipping Grill owner Josh Wolkon admits, "All I ever wanted to do was own a restaurant." Check. An institution to the Denver dining scene, Vesta was born in 1997 and was immediately a culinary sensation. Wolkon opened Vesta at the ripe old age of 24 and quickly promoted sous chef and future Denver kitchen king Matt Selby to the head of the line. The rest is history.

A fixture of the ever-transforming LoDo dining scene, Vesta offers a dark yet invigorating solace from the Blake Street bustle. The deep, narrow room is flanked with high brick walls and ancient wooden floors that complement the curvaceous concrete bar that runs along the north end of the restaurant. The lighting is subtle, but the sconces create an enchanting atmosphere that jives with both casual nights out and classy celebratory occasions.

The Verdict: There is something slightly awkward about the bar at Vesta. My drinking companion and I couldn't quite figure it out, but we couldn't get comfortable. The edge of the bar is molded into a series of wave-like curves, and unless you're sitting at the crest of a curve, your friends wind up sitting either slightly ahead of you, or slightly behind. It's the worst feature of an otherwise beautiful bar, and it took us awhile to feel "right". Aside from this, the bar at Vesta is stunning and rustic, and the gargantuan, mideval sangria spout at the west end is one of a kind.

The happy hour nosh at Vesta is eclectic; a refreshing change from stereotypical appetizers that we've grown to accept with complacency. The ceviche is tangy and light without sacrificing complex flavors, and is perfect to share over beers. One of our all time favorite happy hour eats anywhere in the city is Vesta's baked potato tots. Somehow head toque Brandon Foster figured out how to combine every single amazing flavor of a baked potato - buttery starch, a hint of cheese and bacon, and a scallion crema that also fulfills the sour cream component - into one tiny little scrumptious tater tot. We love them, and it's those little buggers that keep up coming back to happy hour at Vesta more than anything else.

There is mad Colorado love in the happy hour libations at Vesta - patrons chose between hand-crafted Colorado beers or cocktails made from Colorado booze. With a sufficient array of options, and we found that Avery's White Rascal paired perfectly with our forty-seven orders of baked potato tots. The bartenders are witty and accommodating, and before long we were resisting the urge to stay for dinner.

Overall Grade: A-

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