True sophistication can be in short supply at happy hour. We usually go for early evening snacks and drinks for a taste of what a restaurant has to offer, not for an all-consuming experience. La Cour Bistro & Art Bar, a French restaurant with a distinct lack of pretension, offers class without fussiness. If cheap eats, good wine and accordion music all sound good, then perhaps La Cour will be your little bohemian slice of South Broadway.
Happy hour food and drink are served from 4 to 7 p.m. and all day Sunday at this charming sky-blue building just down from Broadway's Antiques District. On my visit, a benefit was happening upstairs; the sounds of a live jazz performance were being pumped into the first floor through speakers. With French voices wafting from the kitchen and music all around, the atmosphere was set.
La Cour's approach to French cuisine is a simple one -- exceedingly simple. No cassoulet or coq a vin, more like French dip sandwiches and charcuterie plates. After a long wait I received a barely adorned plate of ham and cheese amuse-bouche ($5). Think of them as tiny croque monsieurs. With crusty baguette slices, imported ham and Gruyere, there wasn't much subtext to pick apart and little to quibble over in the homey flavors. An order of potatoes ($3) turned out to be a basket of pommes frites with sour cream and chive dip. On one hand, these fries were inexplicably floppy and oily (were they fried at all?), yet they appeared to be hand-cut and fresh, with enough seasoning to make me appreciate their awkward state.
Though the food may be uncomplicated, creativity shines on La Cour's cocktail menu. I enjoyed the bar's take on the Champs Elysees ($6) with Christian Brothers brandy, yellow chartreuse and sprightly Parisian spirit. I watched the bartender put together the various parts of a Prohibition-style Old-Fashioned ($10) -- muddled cherry and gin as well as whiskey -- with obvious care. A glass of the house red wine from the Southern Rhone ($4) punched above its weight -- a bargain for sure. It washed down a sliver of French apple tart ($5) that was an apt finish to the meal, if not terribly distinctive.
Even if their happy hour food isn't adventurous, you can't say that La Cour is playing it safe. Far from the comforting hipness of Baker or Capital Hill, it's a place that's serious about its art gallery and its francophilic vibe.
Perfect for: If there's any place in South Denver where aspiring poets, artists and beret-wearing Bohemians should gather for a glass of wine, this would be it. It's open 'til midnight most nights and until 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday.
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Don't miss: The French Dip sandwich ($8 at happy hour) was a big hit when I visited. Also, make sure you head upstairs to look at the art and take in some live music.