Now that official COVID-19 dining restrictions are a thing of the past in Colorado, bar and restaurant openings are making a big comeback. Also making a comeback is our First Look series, which offers an inside assessment of the latest additions to Denver's culinary scene. First up: Ghost Donkey, which opened May 27.
What: Ghost Donkey
Where: 1750 Wewatta Street
When: Open 3:30 p.m. to midnight Sunday through Wednesday, 3:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. Thursday through Sunday
For more info: Visit ghostdonkey.me
What we saw: After more than a year of drinking mostly at home, walking into Ghost Donkey — inside the Coloradan building, directly behind Union Station — is almost too stimulating. The ceiling is covered in bright, twinkling purple lights, and the whole place is bathed in red hues and an array of multi-colored star-like projections; a large white donkey statue oversees the action from atop one of the booths. If this all sounds like a lot for a Denver bar, you're right.
Ghost Donkey's first location opened in New York City in 2016 (that location was named Cocktail Bar of the Year 2020 by Imbibe magazine); it was soon followed by outposts in the Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas and another in Auckland, New Zealand. The Denver location mirrors the original design by hospitality interior design firm AvroKO, making it a true NYC transplant in the heart of downtown.
The bar menu boasts 65 mezcals and over 25 tequilas, which Ghost Donkey claims is "the largest and most exclusive offering of the top selection of the coveted agave spirit in Denver." We're demanding a recount, however: Adelitas Cocina y Cantina and next-door sibling concept La Doña Mezcaleria have a combined collection of over 140 mezcals, according to bartender Christina Reising, and General Manager Marisa Vera says Littleton's Palenque Cocina y Agaveria has over 200.
The food menu includes chips and guacamole as well as ceviche, alongside six nacho options developed for the brand by Michelin-starred chef Brad Farmerie that come with a caddy of housemade hot sauces.
What surprised us: The legitimately well-curated mezcal list (even if it's not the largest in Denver). The flashy ambience may lead you to believe this is a place built for looks alone, but beyond the cocktails — served with garnishes, like a rubber donkey that you get to take home — is a mezcal selection that offers an impressive variety of agave spirits, most from family-owned operations in Oaxaca.
Try the pechuga, which translates to "breast" in Spanish; in this case, the name reflects the fact that this variation of mezcal is traditionally distilled three times, with a raw chicken (or turkey) breast hung over the spirit inside the still during the third distillation. No, it's not vegetarian-friendly, but it is complex and smooth, with a uniquely unctuous mouthfeel.
All of Ghost Donkey's agave spirits are available in 1-ounce pours served with seasonal fruit and salt pairings. Skip those, though, to really get the full flavor of the spirit you're sipping — even if it's not coming from the city's largest collection of mezcals.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.