First look: Richard Sandoval's La Biblioteca opens Saturday

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Tequila, says Richard Sandoval,"flows through my blood." And the Mexico born, New York-based chef and restaurateur, who owns dozens of restaurants around the world -- and several in Denver, including Zengo, Tamayo and La Sandia -- now trumpets Denver's first tequila library: La Biblioteca, the original location of which is in New York, will open on Saturday in Sandoval's former Al Lado space, directly adjacent to Zengo.

See also: Richard Sandoval's Al Lado will close on October 5 and reopen as La Biblioteca

The seductive lair, with its discreet brothel red lighting that illuminates the otherwise dim-lit -- and intimate -- space, whispers with a come hither sex appeal, encouraging its patrons to slip into the tufted leather sofas, tinted the color of dark ferns, and ease, effortlessly, into comfortable opulence.

Marble tables, mismatched chairs, some of which are antiques; custom-made bronze light fixtures; two walls devoted to personalized, caged tequila cubbies, kept under lock and key; an antique drawer that holds your tequila "library card"; and a hand-laid, red-brick wall showcasing different angles and shapes, the exact pattern of which is left to your imagination -- one employee likens it to fish bones, while Sandoval says it reminds him of fire -- round out the quarters. "It's very similar to La Biblioteca in New York, but we've designed this one to be more of a neighborhood bar and restaurant," says Sandoval. "And I've always loved tequila and wanted to do places that spotlight the tequilas of my country, but in a different way -- a way that encourages people to study tequila, to sip it and not shoot it."

And speaking of tequila, La Biblioteca features more than 350 varieties -- more than any other restaurant in the state -- of the agave spirit, not to mention a fistful of tequila infusions, nearly sixty mezcals and several sotols, a herbaceous and fruity spirit distilled primarily in the Chihuahua region of Mexico that's made from the wild-growing Dasylirion wheeleri, or Desert Spoon and takes twelve to fifteen years to mature. Good luck finding those anywhere else in Denver.

Clint Wangsnes, the chef of Zengo, oversees the menu at La Biblioteca, too (the spaces share the same kitchen), and aside from two dishes that remain from Al Lado's menu -- the lamb albondigas and the bacon-wrapped dates -- he's created an entirely new board that focuses on Latin cuisine flourished with Asian trappings. Steamed buns are tucked with pork belly and rings of Fresno chiles; cubes of steak, slipped onto sharp swords, are paired with a potato-corn-and-pickle salad; and his mini bánh mì sliders, two housemade beef-and-pork hot dogs spiced with coriander, mace and kimchi seasoning, are nestled between a bun hugging pickled daikon and carrots, rings of Serrano chiles and cilantro leaves -- but what really separates this dog from the pack is the smear of chicken pâté on the bun. "There's nothing else like it," says Wangsnes, an assessment with which I agree; they're ridiculously addictive.

A daily happy hour from 4 to 7 p.m., coupled with half-price signature cocktails on Sunday for anyone who brings in a book to donate to the Denver Public Library; $5 margarita Mondays; $2 taco Tuesdays; and meet-the-tequila-maker events, held on the first Thursday of each month, are also part of the lineup. And if if you get a tequila library card -- it's free -- it'll be cataloged, and each time it's used, you'll be eligible for incentives, including complimentary infusion shots and house margaritas, a $20 gift card or a bottle of tequila. The more you use the card, the bigger the reward.

I got my own tequila library card yesterday when I stopped in to chat with Sandoval, tour the space and get a taste of the cocktails and a few of the dishes. Behold the photos on the following pages.

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