It's an odd space, but the restaurant itself is admirably single-minded. Executive Chef Marco Monnanni, who's behind the Bacco restaurants in Littleton and Fort Collins and a number of past and present pasta joints in Boulder, has a fixation on straightforward, white-tablecloth Italian -- with a happy hour menu that made my eyes bulge. See also: Happy Hour at Bohemian Biergarten: Fun by the Liter and the Boot
I mean, take a gander at this menu. "Pesce! Fritti! Verdura!" I muttered to myself, taking in Bacco's bounty. Some restaurants make you feel like you're eating off the kid's menu at happy hour, but this is a fleshed-out, adult menu of small plates. There's even an entire seafood section with mini versions of Italian classics like shrimp scampi ($5).
Happy hour is all night long on Mondays starting at 3:30 p.m. (and running from 3:30 to 6:00 p.m. other nights) so my dining companions and I silently vowed to go all out. We pinballed across the menu, ordering bowls of meatballs in marinara ($3), plates of Brussels sprouts crusted with sharp cheese ($3.50), peach-sized balls of arancini ($4). With the exception of the simple Brussels sprouts, these dishes were above average but simple.
In search of more sustenance, I tried a Sardinian flatbread with prosciutto, Haystack Mountain goat cheese and honey ($7) instead of a more conventional pizza. Rookie mistake. The gentle rapport between sweet, sour and salumi made an impression, but it's a shame it was stacked on top of a listless cracker. Rule #24 of the happy hour playbook: if you see cheap pizza, order it.
Bacco's cured meats are all-around delightful, including that prosciutto and a plate of speck ($4) that had just the right amount of smokiness and spice. Another pleasant surprise -- a batch of fried zucchini ($4) -- was decorated in a fluffy, light batter and paired with a lemony garlic aioli that lent a kick to the proceedings. $4 glasses of house wine smoothed over any other faults that lay under Bacco's slick surface.
There is a glut of middle-to-highbrow Italian restaurants in Boulder, but few have a happy hour quite as expansive as Bacco. I felt like Simba surveying his kingdom when I looked out on all the plates before me. It's good to be king.
Perfect for: A Monday evening after a hard day at the office. Any problem can be solved by an all-night bacchanal of wine and meat.
Don't miss: The antipasti section of the menu, where marinated Hazel Dell mushrooms ($3.50) and oven-roasted cauliflower ($3.50) epitomize the best of Bacco's fresh approach.