Up until last week, I probably hadn’t been to Duo in ten years, perhaps fifteen. But I remember when the restaurant arrived on that quaint corner of Zuni Street and West 32nd Avenue, because it was a big deal for my neighborhood, where small, locally owned restaurants serving intentional food in an intimate atmosphere weren’t the regular. It felt like a neighborhood possession I wanted to guard. Even though I moved away from Highland long ago, I can’t believe it took me so long to come back to Duo, especially given its approachable happy hour from 5 to 6:30 p.m.
We arrived at Duo ten minutes early. The service team was wrapping up its pre-shift, but someone unlocked the door for us and we were welcomed in, seated at the bar (happy hour is exclusive to the bar area) and given menus. There I settled in amid the exposed brick walls, cheeky hanging light fixtures made from giant mixing bowls, and reclaimed window frames dividing the bar space from the dining room. Unlike overcrowded happy hours around town, Duo's rustic room and soft background music encourage you to set your workday aside and embrace an evening of friendship and simplicity. It also helped that the majority of the clientele made us thirty-somethings feel young yet respectable.
The menu received early approval from my crew for applying the happy-hour discount across the entire beverage list, including eleven local beers at $4 (a $2 to $4 discount), six signature cocktails at $7 (a $3 discount), and $7 glasses of wine, which makes some of them half-priced. My companions enjoyed an IPA and a pale ale from Bootstrap Brewing out of Niwot, while I went for the very fennel-forward Townie cocktail (if you don't like fennel, beware). When one of our group requested a mocktail ($4), the bartender produced a vibrant drink in a martini glass so deliciously gingery and juicy, I wish I had ordered it myself (though perhaps with a splash of rum).
At first glance, Duo’s happy-hour food menu is appealing, if underwhelming. Nothing feels uniquely Duo, but I had faith in a restaurant known for its execution. The kitchen was out of chicken wings (the meatiest thing on the menu), but we moved forward and ordered the remaining five items. I gave the bartender even more points after he offered to stagger our dishes, giving us time to savor the complementary olives, cheese plate ($9) and spiced nuts ($2) first. The German blue and Vermont creamery goat cheese paired superbly with the cheese plate’s toasted cranberry bread. Meanwhile, my friends couldn't stop talking about the “sparkly” olives and tangy pickled grapes. Alongside these, a Chinese five-spice puréed squash was an interesting seasonal touch, including the fried-sage garnish.
The restaurant began to fill up around 6 p.m., occupying our bartender fully until our departure. Aside from the cluster of plates that remained before us for the next thirty minutes, we were happy to be left on our own, especially when a tiny hot skillet of sizzling carrots and yams ($5) arrived. My mostly vegetarian companions were gaga over this dish, dredging every last piece in the dollops of warm herbed yogurt and almonds that accompanied it. In contrast, they showed little interest in the “petite greens” ($5). Simple salads like this aren't exactly showstoppers, but I find the simplicity in well-dressed greens to be a winter gift, much like Morin’s delicate bowl of leaves that I found last week.
When the mussels ($9) arrived, I was a bit taken aback by the small portion, but, upon reflection, realized the size was appropriate for happy hour. The shellfish were served in an oversized bowl, which further diminished the contents but allowed us to dunk the crunchy cherry-pepper toast from the beginning up until the moment I lifted the bowl and drank the remaining broth.
Although I didn’t need it, I felt compelled to take advantage of the bartender's skill set by ordering one last cocktail, since the first had been so well composed. By the time we wrapped up, we weren't stuffed but just sated enough to hold out until a light dinner later at home. With so many newer restaurants in the neighborhood, Duo doesn't stand out the way it once did, but I'm glad it’s still around — and it surely won't be another decade before I return.
Duo is located at 2413 West 32nd Avenue and offers happy hour from 5 to 6:30 p.m. nightly. Call 303-477-4141 or visit the restaurant's website for details.
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