Denver has lost touch with its grungy roots. The city's pre-boom years may not have seen as many amazing eating experiences as we have now, but what we had was character, damn it! At least, that's what the old timers tell me. City, O' City, the unofficial vegan capital of Denver, is an icon in Capitol Hill for many reasons: chiefly for serving dignified, satisfying food for any dietary need (except paleo, of course), but also for its loose, Bohemian feel that screams "hip." Happy Hour at City, O' City is a little more bougie than the restaurant overall, but it's a great way to remind yourself of the place's unique charms.
I had visited City only once before, for a beer and a slice of vegan, gluten-free pumpkin cheesecake. Though desserts are handled outside by Watercourse Bakery, I feared my happy hour meal would be just like that cheesecake: bland, tiny, and expensive. But as a self-described omnivore, I made it through my culinary experience with only a handful of glitches.
City, O' CIty does happy hour twice a day, every day, from 2 to 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. to close -- each with its own happy hour menu. The earlier menu offers four of the kitchen's most popular dishes from many years of menu changes, along with $2 Genesee Cream Ales and drink specials. Seitan wings, poutine, "sausage" and kimchi tortas and soft pretzels are five bucks each. Skipping the poutine (vegan gravy may be one step too far for me) I had the other three brought to my table -- and received quite a shock. I expected snack-size portions, but instead got three large baskets; the sizeable spread made me look hopelessly outmatched. Just by eyeballing it I could tell that the soft pretzel was the weak link: it needed more cooking time, more salt, more butter substitute, more everything to make an impression.
But that was a small hurdle on the road to cruelty-free deliciousness. The "sausage" torta, one of Westword's 100 Favorite Dishes, is a great bite that doesn't try too hard to resemble something its not. The interplay between the fruit and vegetable patty, the kimchi and the mayo presents a complex challenge for the tongue that's worth taking on.
The seitan wings are possibly the most well-known dish on the menu, but I was still surprised at how well this crazy concept works. Fibrous chunks of fried wheat paste stuck in the fryer and doused in Buffalo sauce sounds terrible on paper, but I might prefer these babies over real chicken wings now -- crispy, spicy goodness without the annoying bones and viscera. This is what makes City, O' City an icon: $5 gets you a pound of semi-healthy treats to share with a group, and a great story for your carnivore friends back home.
When you consider it from a scientific point of view, you're only saving a couple bucks on some of these items, and $2 off house cocktails is nothing to crow about. But that's not really the point. It seems like everyone who eats at City, O' City knows each other, and indeed just being in the space give you a sense of community. Happy hour is great, but it's just icing on the gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan cake.
Perfect for: If there's anywhere in Denver that's truly funky, this is it. All your counterculture friends have already been here, but take an out-of-towner on a tour of 13th Street to impress them with our city's less tamed side.
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Don't Miss: City, O' City's late-night happy hour is a little different than the afternoon one. A number of late-night snacks like fries, onion rings and mixed greens are $2, as are wells and Genesee.