If you were ever doubtful that a Welton Street renaissance would arrive in Five Points, Dunbar Kitchen and Tap House will relieve those worries. The new restaurant with classic cocktails, shelves of local liquor, a brick-and-wood décor and Southern-tinged menu is a surprise in the mainly quiet Welton Street strip -- and it's been noticed. Four days after the bar opened, the seats were already packed with neighbors who have been waiting for a place like this to come along.
Dunbar is the brainchild of Mike Ayre and Charles Wessels, who have worked in and owned restaurants for decades, mainly in Grand Lake and Winter Park. This is the duo's first Denver venture; they were looking to open the restaurant in established business corridors when Ayers, a real estate agent, came across the Five Points property for sale.
Within a few months, the building was purchased and construction on the new restaurant began. Wessels said they wanted to retain as much as possible of the 115-year-old house and 50-year-old store front, so they took the name of the Dunbar Barber Shop, which had operated in that space for decades. The bar and liquor shelving are made from wood they found in the building, and the former barber's storefront sign was saved and built into the restaurant's interior wall. Wessels met with the former barber shop owner last week to get old photos of the business to frame and hang in the restaurant.
"We love being in a place that has history," said Wessels. "It would have been the best use of our resources to tear it down, but it's Five Points. There is too much history to do that."
The 97-seat restaurant includes a front dining room, bar seating, and a back dining area. Once the weather warms up, a 45-seat patio will also open.
Despite the inclusion of "tap house" in the name of the eatery, the selection behind the bar goes beyond just beer. Manager Becky Alter says the focus is on classic cocktails, like the Jerry Thomas, a gin cocktail named after the author of the first American bartender's guide (first published in 1862).
Nearly all the beer and liquor offered behind the bar is local, including the twelve taps that will rotate every four to eight weeks. One tap will feature an out-of-state beer; currently it's from Oregon's Deschutes Brewing.
The food, as well as some of the cocktails, were inspired by Wessels' Southern roots. He's originally from Savannah, Georgia, and wanted to keep the food simple and approachable. "Being from the South, there's a Southern flair to the menu, but I wouldn't say we're going for a Southern menu," Wessels says.
That flair includes a pimento cheese appetizer, hush puppies and a shrimp po' boy sandwich. The menu includes appetizers and sandwiches, but there will be a daily entrée special whipped up by executive chef Kara King, previously of True Food Kitchen in Cherry Creek.
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Keep reading for more photos of the Dunbar Kitchen and Tap House.