Exclusive first look: Udi's Pizza, Cafe & Bar

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It's a few months behind schedule, thanks to predictable construction snafus, but on February 18, following a series of soft-opening events, Udi's Pizza, Cafe & Bar will open in the former Encore space at 2550 East Colfax Avenue.

See also: - Udi's Colfax Pizza Bar taking over the former Encore space - Udi's Gluten-Free Foods introduces five new products - Maurizio Negrini, head bread baker of Udi's, featured in film at NYC Food Film Festival

Semple Brown, the Denver firm that's synonymous with modern, fashionable restaurant interiors, redesigned the space, and while there are elements of Encore that remain -- the beautiful bar top, for example -- the quarters are significantly bolder, brighter and lighter. Spalted maple lumber, extracted from dead maple trees that have fallen in the forest, surface portions of the walls and part of the slat ceiling; the floors are oak; rustic camel-hued booths and banquettes share space with ones the color of vivid blue jeans -- and the remaining wall space is paintbrushed with similar blue shades.

"We wanted to lighten it up a bit, and we wanted to make it really comfortable and neighborhood-friendly, because that's what we've always offered -- a great neighborhood restaurant," says Etai Ba-ron, who, along with his sister Robin and namesake father, Udi, own an empire of eponymous restaurants, along with a bakery, juice bar and catering company

The restaurant, located in the former Bonfils theater, also boasts an extra dining area, where Encore's lobby used to be, and guests can now peer into the main dining room through the theater's original ticket windows; the walls in that room are also original. "We wanted to preserve the legacy of Bonfils and play up the original space as much as we could," explains Ba-ron, who also invested in a classic record player that spins vinyl -- Gloria Gaynor was being unleashed yesterday, while I was touring the space.

A new 6,000-pound wood-burning oven, surfaced with pearl tiles framed in blue, is the focal point of the open kitchen, commanded by Robin, whose menu incorporates Middle Eastern, Israeli and American dishes, plus artisan pizzas; several of the dishes are vegan and vegetarian, and the restaurant will also have a juicing area at the bar, which, in addition, to healthy, fresh-squeezed juices, boasts a wine and beer keg system.

In the short term, Udi's will serve lunch and dinner seven days a week, and in the future, notes Ba-ron, he and Robin will begin weekend brunch service, an excuse to linger on the spacious patio, adjacent to all the action on Colfax.

"We're incredibly excited to be in the city, especially on Colfax," says Bar-on. "We love this street -- it signifies what Denver is all about."

Udi's will host a few private parties and friends and family dinners prior to the February 18 opening (a limited number of Valentine's Day reservations, however, will be accepted), but in the meantime, here's a first look at the space.

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