Over the years, Fort Collins has amassed a cauldron of awards: top downtown in the country; a best vacation destination for beer lovers; one of the ten best cities to retire; a top-ten college town; and the best city in which to live -- and work -- if you're a young professional. The only thing missing? Accolades for its dining climate, but considering the influx of new restaurants opening in Fort Collins -- and its burgeoning international cuisine scene -- my guess is that it won't be long before the collegiate hamlet to the north of us begins to appear on top ten dining destinations, too. And restaurants like MainLine, a new concept from Breckenridge-Wynkoop Holdings, will undoubtedly propel the fervor.
See also: - Scott Parker leaving Table 6 to spearhead new Breckenridge-Wynkoop concept - Breckenridge-Wynkoop have a concept for South Pearl -- but the name's still a secret - Breckenridge-Wynkoop have a Fort Collins spot on tap for spring
Dave Query, who founded Big Red F, the restaurant group that owns, among other joints, Jax Fish House, honed in on Fort Collins in 2011, opening a Jax in the center of all the action. "We like to have restaurants in towns that are very community-based, and Fort Collins fits into that philosophy perfectly, what with its college atmosphere, terrific farming communities and CSAs," noted Jamey Fader when I interviewed him back in June of that year. The Kitchen [Next Door], reports Eater, will open in Fort Collins sometime in the future.
And MainLine, a stunning, behemoth, two-story space at 125 South College Avenue, near Jax, will open Wednesday night, giving foodists, oenophiles and beer hounds a new chef-driven restaurant, a philosophy that Wynkoop-Breckenridge Holdings is integrating into all of its concepts, including the group's forthcoming restaurant in Platt Park, which will be helmed by Scott Parker, the former exec chef of Table 6.
MainLine enlists the talents of company executive chef Chris Cina; MainLine exec chef Eric Chiappetta, the former kitchen soldier of Pizza Republica and ex-owner-chef of the now-shuttered Chia's Breakfast & Lunch Counter, in Golden; TJ Hobbs, the former chef de cuisine of Ghost Plate & Tap; Jeremy Gable of Goosetown Tavern; and cocktail wizard Ken Kodys, the company's beverage manager. "All of our restaurants," says Breckenridge-Wynkop concept director Lisa Berzins Ruskaup, "are moving in a cocktail-and-chef-driven direction, and this restaurant is a high-bred ale house with elevated cuisine and cocktails."
Beer, of course, is still an essential component, and there are 32 brews on tap and by the bottle, most of which aren't Wynkoop-Beckenridge beers. "We're serving the best beers from the best breweries in Colorado -- both familiar ones and esoteric ones," says Cina. "It's all about our local partners," echoes Ruskaup. "We have the ability here to represent some of the state's best nano-breweries, which is really cool." Cocktails, wines and sparkling wines, she adds, are also poured from taps.
And they all pair well with the collaborative menu from Cina and Chiappetta. "I'm a huge believer that the dining community in Fort Collins is way ahead of the restaurant scene," suggests Cina, "and while I wrote the menu, Eric, who's a big food guy with an affinity for southern food and southern ingredients, was a huge inspiration, and I think we've created a great Americana menu that's infused with a lot of Eric's ideas that the town will love," adds Cina.
The board, which includes small plates and bar snacks like a "piggy" platter, crawfish cakes and truffled deviled eggs, is augmented by several salads, sandwiches and large plates: bacon-wrapped meatloaf, shrimp and grits, chicken and dumplings and buttermilk-fried chicken and waffles, for example. There's a section, too, called "Meatless Meals," a nod to the town's herbivores. "There are a lot of vegans and vegetarians in Fort Collins, and we wanted to recognize that," notes Ruskaup, who also designed the space.
And what a space it is. Two levels, separated by a sweeping staircase, occupy 11,000 square feet, and a sprawling rooftop patio overlooks the streetscape below. And owners Lee Driscoll, the CEO of Wynkoop, and Ed Cerkovnik, the president of Breckenridge, didn't cut any corners. Everything from the light fixtures to the hand-painted mural in the upstairs bar, which is called the Treehouse, is eye candy, perhaps none more so than the upstairs bar itself, a shrine, says Ruskaup, to "all the naughty things that you ever played with in your treehouse."
Surfaced with ten layers of clear epoxy resin, the bar is a jaw-dropping conversation piece that's a study in old-school hobbies: a 1950s Ouija board, Smurfs, candy cigarettes and vintage Marlboro packs, Playboy centerfolds and covers, collector football cards, matchbox cars, old bottles of Jack Daniels -- it's all there, burrowing beneath the bar top. "I've been gathering stuff for months from friends, construction workers and employees," says Ruskaup, adding that she was inspired by the treehouse she had when she was young.
The upstairs, which also boasts the Temperance Lounge, an area strewn with cushy sofas and chairs, pays tribute to the town's liquor history, too. A mural showcases a woman named Alice Edwards, the first alderwoman in Fort Collins, who used her power to outlaw liquor in the town until 1969, when riots then ensued and a building on the Colorado State University campus burned to the ground. A much younger woman -- this one a fictitious college student -- also shares space on the mural, reminding patrons that the riots resulted in a lift on the ban, and, says Ruskaup, the freedom to drink. And there's a quote, as well, from the Fort Collins Temperance Law of 1897, that reads: "The melancholy days have come, the saddest yet, we fear, for every man in town must now give up his beer. "It's a good thing that ban was lifted," chuckles Ruskaup.
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MainLine will open to the public on Wednesday night and serve lunch and dinner seven days a week, from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. I stopped in over the weekend, when the restaurant was still under construction, and captured these photos.