MOUTHING OFF

Where it's at: The restaurant mantra of "location, location, location" is becoming more significant as the rest of the United States--chains and independents alike--converges on Denver to snap up savvy spots in LoDo and Cherry Creek. But as veteran Denver restaurateur Adde Bjorklund knows, it's not just where you put it, but what you put in it.

Bjorklund and partner Brewster Hanson own the fabulous, and fabulously successful, Bistro Adde Brewster, at 250 Steele Street. But when they tried a second venture, La Piazza, just a few blocks away at 2710 East Third Avenue, it barely lasted a year. "We wanted Piazza to be casual and low-key," Bjorklund says. "But that wasn't what that area wanted." He and Hanson agree that if they had taken their concept ten blocks north, south, east or west--anywhere but Cherry Creek North, in fact--they could have made it work. "First of all, we were dealing with expectations," Bjorklund says. "People had the Bistro in their heads, and they wanted Piazza to be the same way. But that's not what we wanted to do. And Cherry Creek wants a certain look, a certain type of higher-end food that we weren't doing."

Bjorklund concedes that he had problems finding a good manager (in the restaurant business, who doesn't?) and says those management problems, combined with the food and the location, ultimately did in La Piazza. "Even when the food was okay, I mean really okay, they didn't go for it because of what they expected from me," he says. "Look at all the chain restaurants that do just okay food, all the restaurants in other areas besides Cherry Creek that do okay food. They're packed." Although Bjorklund is open to giving it another try somewhere else in the Denver area, right now he's concentrating on making a few changes at the Bistro, including true bistro uniforms on the waitstaff (complete with aprons and black vests), larger plates and a revised menu with more emphasis on HealthMark items such as angel-hair pasta with a vegetable stock-based sauce. Don't worry, that great burger stays.

Not too far from Cherry Creek, the dance is over for Peter St. John and his Tango, with its tony decor and eclectic cuisine. Like La Piazza, Tango had location woes, but in reverse: Tango's neighborhood wouldn't support such sophisticated fare. So now, in its place at 560 South Holly, St. John has opened the ultra-hip and casual Tango Saloon.

"Fine dining is dead here," St. John says. "I am looking to do something simpler--pool tables, a dance floor, bar food." Of course, his bar food won't be ordinary bar food. When St. John says he'll serve pork chops, he means fourteen-ounce double-cut with a mustard sauce; when it's grilled salmon, it will come with a killer hollandaise. The old menu is gone (no more lobster enchiladas, no more osso buco); in its place, the Saloon offers burgers, T-bones and barbecued Danish baby-back ribs. Don't despair of never seeing the old Tango menu, though: St. John plans to reprise such popular items as those heavenly enchiladas for nightly specials.

Meanwhile, in its desirable but crowded LoDo locale on Wynkoop Street, the Bluepoint has added Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights--and a new name, the Ice House Cafe and Bar--to its weekday breakfast and lunch lineup. The grand opening is June 1; look for martinis, with more elaborate but still casual fare.

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Kyle Wagner
Contact: Kyle Wagner