Despite the onslaught of new restaurants throughout Denver, especially in trendy neighborhoods like RiNo, LoHi, Berkeley and LoDo, the phenomenon has somehow eluded the Art District on Santa Fe. While art lovers and bar-hoppers flood the zone from West Alameda Avenue to West 13th Avenue (technically spanning the Lincoln Park and Baker neighborhoods) on the first Friday of every month, and on other weekends as well (to a lesser extent), very few restaurateurs have braved the still-transitional stretch, which has seen only one new eatery, Smokin' Yard's BBQ, open in 2018.
But John Slaughter, owner of Tribe Tattoo at 674 Santa Fe Drive, thinks that's all about to change — and he plans on being at the forefront of a new surge in the neighborhood. In fact, he purchased a dilapidated building next door to his studio three years ago with a plan of putting in a new restaurant, and now construction is well under way at what will soon be Pistol Whip, which will serve New American cuisine in a completely refurbished space that will seat up to 190 guests inside and on an expansive patio facing the intersection of Santa Fe and Seventh Avenue.
"I've watched the whole neighborhood over the years — and it's about to become a monster," the tattoo artist, who has run Tribe for the past eighteen years, explains. "I've always wanted to help Santa Fe grow."
Before becoming a professional tattoo artist, Slaughter helped open several Denver bars and restaurants, so Pistol Whip will be a return to his roots. But he's not going it alone; he's brought on chef Nicholas Lebas to design the menu and run the kitchen. Lebas is currently the executive chef at Panzano in the Hotel Monaco downtown, but will leave in mid-December after just over a year in that role.
The chef is a native of southern France who lived and worked in Mexico and Florida before coming to Denver. He says his culinary education in France combined with his travels make an excellent background for opening a new restaurant. "It will be a mixture of cultures," Lebas says. "The menu will be a reflection of my past voyages and experience — my expression, my creativity, what I like to cook and what people want to experience."
So about that name: Pistol Whip. It probably wouldn't work at Union Station or in the quiet Berkeley neighborhood, but feels somehow appropriate for Santa Fe Drive, where other tattoo shops, art galleries and divey bars are more the norm than strollers and tourists. "We are artists, and to me 'Pistol Whip' seemed cutting-edge," Slaughter notes. "It's not going to be in any way gun- or tattoo-affiliated, though."
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"It's like you got 'whipped' by the experience," Lebas adds.
While the food will lean toward the high end of the culinary spectrum, with dry-aged steaks and local meats and produce as part of the plan, along with natural wines and champagnes and craft beer at the bar, Slaughter still wants the restaurant to feel like part of the neighborhood. Decor will be edgy, but there will be TVs at the bar so that guests can enjoy football and brunch on the weekends, and large garage doors will open onto the patio, with a vaulted ceiling and big second-floor windows letting in light from the west-facing facade. Pistol Whip will also have a cabaret license to allow for the possibility of live music, and in the summer, Lebas will roast whole pigs on the patio for First Friday Art Walks.
"We're going to keep utilizing Santa Fe as our stomping ground," Slaughter continues, adding that he'd like to open more than one establishment on the street. He points out that construction will soon begin on a 100-unit apartment and retail complex across the street, so he feels like the kind of growth that has built up in other Denver neighborhoods is just around the corner here.
Slaughter and Lebas are targeting mid-March 2019 for the opening of Pistol Whip at 698 Santa Fe Drive. In the meantime, you can track construction progress on the restaurant's Instagram feed.