Call it the original happy hour. Though its been falling out of practice in modern Spain, the siesta has influenced the country's food culture over the centuries. Spanish restaurants often offer a prix fixe menu during the 2:00 to 5:00 p.m. lunch break, when office workers flee en masse to enjoy a nice meal or a quick nap. But while the siesta is in decline in Spain, almost every restaurant in Denver is expected to offer a happy hour. Can the Spanish flavors of the 9th Door stand out amongst all the noise?
The newly installed 9th Door in the Beauvallon building (the original 9th Door opened in LoDo nearly ten years ago) is more appropriate to the European bent of the building than the space's previous occupant, Attivo Pizza & Subs. Including the Moorish light fixtures and the FC Barcelona scarf above the bar, it's a pretty straightforward tapas spot. The menu of hot and cold small plates draws mainly from the meat and potatoes and paprika region of Castilla la Mancha, where party goers in Madrid wake from their siestas to plates of patatas bravas and slices of chorizo.
Served from 4:00 to 6:30 p.m., the 9th Door's happy hour is the closest you'll get to that experience on Broadway, a narrowed selection of tapas and cocktails are turned around in minutes and discounted to within the reach of hungry students and artists.
If Spain is synonymous with anything beyond paella and crippling bankruptcy, it's got to be sangria. In white or red, the 9th Door's sangria ($4) strikes the appropriate balance between soda pop and cheap wine, while a superb Spanish 75 cocktail ($5) counteracted the sweetness with gin, tart lemon and a splash of cava. For a real Spanish experience, grab yourself a bland lager: Barcelona's Estrella Damm is available at $3 a pour.
Part of the appeal of most good tapas joints is their casual, ramshackle feel. But the 9th Door just didn't seem to be trying that hard at happy hour. The tostas, a part of any good tapas course, came on bland baguettes and with indifferent toppings, like the Basque tostas ($2.65) with nearly-raw tomato and a smear of goat cheese, or the Manchego tostas ($2.45), topped with an oily slice of cut-rate 'Chego.
And compared to the downright sultry mussel plate at The Populist, the 9th Door's saffron cream mussels ($3.78) might as well be wearing a bathrobe and bunny slippers. Still, it's tough to quibble with the prices. The restaurant seems to understand the Spanish conception of tapas as cheap plates meant to go down with plenty of wine. But when there are so many great happy hours in this town, it's not enough to be merely cheap.
Perfect for: A second or third date. Wow your significant other with your four or five words of high school Spanish!
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Can't miss: A glass of house wine ($4), almost mandatory with any meal in Spain -- the 9th Door's house red is pretty respectable.