Exclusive: Troy Guard opening TAG|Raw Bar in Lowry, reconceptualizing Larimer Square space

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Troy Guard is easily one of Denver's most prolific restaurateurs, a chef-owner who, in the past year alone, has opened three restaurants: Los Chingones, Sugarmill and Guard and Grace, a trio that joins TAG, TAG|Raw Bar and Tag Burger Bar, the latter of which will multiply later this year, when Guard opens a second TAG Burger Bar in the former Subway Tavern space in Sunnyside. And while he already has a tremendous amount on his plate, including numerous charity and chef gigs (on May 15, he'll celebrate TAG's fifth anniversary with the help of twelve of Denver's best chefs, the proceeds of which will benefit a local bulldog rescue group), there's more to come: In late September, he'll open a second TAG|Raw Bar in Lowry, and on July 1, he'll temporarily close the original TAG|Raw Bar in Larimer Square and reopen it on July 15 as a new, still unnamed concept.

See also: First look: Guard and Grace opens tonight

"We're going to change the Larimer Square location to make it a quick-casual concept," reveals Guard, who says that the board will be "geared toward lighter, healthier food with a clean conscience that's a little less expensive than everything else on Larimer Square." He notes, too, that while TAG|Raw Bar has done very well in its subterranean space in the Larimer Square Walkway, he realized that there were definite favorites on the menu, most notably the noodle bowls, rice bowls and salad bowls, and the idea behind propelling the change, he tells me, is to "give people what they want" -- and what they want, he says, is food that's easily available to go and quickly prepared if you're eating in.

To that end, he'll eliminate most of the sushi from the current menu, although he'll keep a few rolls that will lean toward simplicity: tuna, salmon and kampachi, for example. Guard, who now has three different ramen bowls on the board, will dwindle that number down to one, keeping just his pork ramen, and he'll offer seven or eight different styles of signature noodle bowls, most of which will focus on cold noodles. In addition, he's playing with the idea of giving guests the option of building their own bowls from a collection of raw vegetables, proteins, grains and noodles, including gluten-free noodles.

He'll reconfigure the seating in the space, devoting most of the changes to the second dining area (the counter overlooking the open kitchen will remain in place), where he'll add a condiment bar. "The second side will be a lot more casual, a lot brighter, cleaner and mainstream," says Guard, who also plans to dispense with the cocktail menu, although he'll continue to pour wine and beer, and he'll dedicate a large portion of the beverage program to fresh-squeezed juices and iced teas.

When he reopens the spot, hours will be from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and while he hasn't solidified a name for the redesigned raw bar, he says that "TAG" won't be a part of it.

He'll keep the original name, however, when he opens TAG|Raw Bar in Lowry's Hangar 2 "dining district," a mixed-use project that's spearheaded by Larimer Associates and Hartman-Ely Investments.

Guard's 1,800-square-foot, fifty-seat plot, which also boasts a 40-seat patio, will join four additional restaurants: Cafe Mercato, a freestanding Italian restaurant from Giancarlo Macchiarella, exec chef-owner of Locanda del Borgo; the already existing Lowry Beer Garden; a Larimer Associates concept that's still unnamed; and another restaurant tenant that's still in the works.

"I think a TAG|Raw Bar will do really well in Lowry, especially since there's nothing else like it in that neighborhood," says Guard, a declaration that's echoed by Larimer Associates chief operating officer Joe Vostrejs. "I can't think of anything around here that's remotely close in concept; that kind of concept just doesn't exist out there, and I think it fits in really well with the collection of dining options that we have in Lowry, all of which are local concepts," explains Vostrejs. "By the time everything opens, we'll have five distinct places to eat that are all very different and ideally chef-driven," he adds, speculating, too, that five different restaurants in a concentrated area will draw crowds from outside the confines of Lowry.

And while Vostrejs isn't ready to disclose the name of the Larimer Associates restaurant, he does divulge that it's "inspired by the beach bars in and around San Diego." He says, too, that the menu will trumpet "healthy Baja-style seafood, peel-and-eat shrimp, oysters, fresh juices, margaritas and a killer burger."

The menu that Guard is creating for TAG|Raw Bar is much different, although that board will be significantly broader than the menu at the Larimer Square original. "We're going to take the raw bar menu and elevate it by adding a lot more appetizers and a lot more hot dishes -- things like dumplings, fried rice, chicken, beef, lamb, fish and pork entrees and a family-stye teriyaki-roasted chicken with rice, salad, sauces and sides," says Guard, who will have the benefit of a hood, which is absent in the Larimer Square space.

Still, even with a hood, he'll continue to use raw ingredients, although Guard is quick to point out that when he opened the first TAG Raw|Bar, the "raw" in the name "referred to the rawness of the space and raw ingredients, not necessarily raw food in the literal sense." Here, he adds, fifty percent of what he serves will highlight raw ingredients, while the other half will be cooked, but all of his food, he says, will be substantial, seasonal and rooted in unexpected whimsy, a signature stamp in all of Guard's restaurants.

And like his food, he'll inflect the space with verve and a spirited playfulness. "It'll be contemporary, colorful, bright and fun -- and orange will definitely be a part of of the color scheme," explains Guard, adding that he'll have an open kitchen with a chef's counter, a separate bar dedicated to a handful of wines, a few notable beers and a simple cocktail program overseen by Nikki Guard, his wife, and Gerard Collier, his chief bartender. The space will also be outfitted with a to-go counter for families in the neighborhood who want to grab dinner and take it home.

"I'm super-excited about doing this project, and it's awesome that we've had so many opportunities to open new restaurants and have our staff grow with us," says Guard, who will break ground on TAG|Raw Bar in late June or early July. And Vostrejs is pushing hard for all of the Hanger 2 restaurants to open simultaneously. "It all depends on the construction sequence, but we're hoping to get all of the restaurants open in September -- and, at the latest, early October," he says.

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