Chef Gregory Gourdet's Departure opened in the wrong place at the wrong time when it debuted in 2016 at the foot of the Halcyon hotel in Cherry Creek. Not only was the pan-Asian eatery a little sleek, modern and intimidating for typical hotel guests, but the opening came at a time when the posh neighborhood's reconstruction was at its peak. Even though the food was some of the best in town, Departure never saw the kinds of crowds it could have drawn in RiNo or LoHi, and it closed in early 2019 after two and a half years.
Since then, the space has continued to serve hotel guests, but wasn't a destination restaurant (or even much of a draw for the neighborhood). In March, though, Rockbridge (the firm that owns the Halcyon) and Makeready (a new hotel and restaurant management group) announced plans to open Local Jones, a new concept with an entirely updated interior and theme (and, despite the name, no affiliation with distillery-restaurant the Family Jones).
COVID-19 got in the way of the planned May opening, delaying everything from the delivery of new furniture to the arrival of chef Josh Sutcliff from Dallas, who just moved here a month ago after time at Mirador and FT33, two critically lauded Texas restaurants. Local Jones, though, doesn't aspire to dizzying feats of gastronomy, but instead aims for a level of comfort and familiarity that seems more appropriate as the restaurant community slowly recovers from the economic shock of the past three months.
"We came from an independent restaurant background," explains Justin Fields, Makeready's senior vice president of restaurants, bars and retail, "and we try to recruit independent restaurant chefs."
Sutcliff isn't a Dallas native; he grew up in North Carolina and attended culinary school in Charlotte before finishing his classroom education in San Francisco. He picked up his passion for simple ingredients and seasonality while working in Bay Area restaurants before moving to Texas, and is now in the process of discovering Denver's local food producers. Among his early finds are River Bear American Meats and Rebel Farms, both of which feature heavily on the menu, which debuts on July 7 after a weekend of soft openings.
Fields says the idea is to under-promise and over-deliver, keeping menu descriptions simple while surprising guests with premium ingredients. So you won't find tomatoes in the depths of winter, but you will find a half of a roasted chicken sourced from D'Artagnan, one of the country's top poultry purveyors. Sutcliff points out that the chickens arrive with heads and feet (which he uses to create stocks and sauces) and that the thighs and legs are bigger than the breasts, as nature built chickens before humans intervened.
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Salads sport snowy layers of Spanish cheese and cured egg yolks, but still come in recognizable formats such as Caesar and Cobb, and several of the appetizers come with both housemade tortilla chips and lettuce leaves so that guests can choose their own level of indulgence. The beer and cocktail lists lean heavily on Colorado producers, and the wine menu comes in a separate book that resembles an elementary school art project more than an imposing tome to help put customers at ease while ordering by the bottle.
The dining room, bar and lounge areas of Local Jones have been reconfigured with a retro living room vibe, with plush couches and chairs in burgundy, emerald and mustard, a smattering of houseplants and lots of wicker and blond wood. Makeready has decided to fully furnish the space rather than remove tables and chairs for coronavirus-related spacing, since all dining will initially be by reservation only, and a host will seat guests — a maximum of fifty — at safe distances.
Local Jones general manager Charlissa Dodge says that hotel business has been slowly picking up, and rooms were nearly 60 percent full last weekend, so life is returning to the Halcyon. Local Jones is located at 245 Columbine Street and will eventually be open for lunch, brunch and dinner. Call 720-772-5022 for reservations.