Before Nicole and Scott Mattson ever signed a lease or began building out the space for Nocturne, their new jazz supper club set to open on Monday, their plan was to create a music venue for jazz musicians with a bar and just enough food to fulfill liquor-license requirements. But after consulting with chef Dustin Beckner, their vision became considerably grander. Instead of a simple menu of small plates to complement a bar program focused on champagne and after-dinner drinks, they decided to hire Beckner full time and create a classic supper club where guests could partake in tasting menus or stick with "sound bites" while enjoying jazz in the intimate dining room bounded by sweeping curves that soften the brick warehouse space just off Larimer Street in the Ballpark neighborhood.
Beckner, whose previous experience includes the two-Michelin-starred Alex in Las Vegas and Root Down in Denver, worked with the Mattsons to come up with a menu inspired by jazz music. For example, Beckner explains that he came up with a dish of African grain "risotto" packed with millet, sorghum, teff and polenta while listening to "Money Jungle," a collaboration between Charle Mingus, Duke Ellington and Max Roach. "At certain points, Mingus's bass reminded me of the sound of risotto being stirred," he says.
Other dishes get their names from jazz lingo: the plate of "farmhouse riffs" features roasted olives marinated in gin, fried garbanzo beans, and house-made pickles, while other "sound bites" include puffy pillows of gnoccho fritto topped with charcuterie and Teahive cheese, a squid and octopus dish swimming with beans and lardons, and a sweetly glazed wedge of lamb belly with sofrito and minted sweet pea pods.
Six-course "rendition" tasting menus for $49 will be part of the program, too, and will offer an entire meal based on the aesthetic of a single classic jazz album. Liquid accompaniments will also be offered with the tasting menus for an additional charge. Scott Mattson, a jazz drummer himself, speaks as fluently of wine as he does of music. A certified sommelier who recently worked as Mondo Vino's wine buyer, he's fortifying the bar program with twelve wines by the glass and many more by the bottle that he says lean toward complex and subtle rather than bombastic and fruity. Champagne also features prominently on the menu, with bottles ranging from $60 to $325. And dessert wines get stage time as well, with more than two dozen varieties priced by the glass or bottle. A 6 to 8 p.m. happy hour will offer food and drink discounts at a time of day the Mattsons feel is more conducive to modern downtown workers' schedules.
Nocturne's ambiance is equal parts 1930s elegance, with a splashy Art Deco bar that echos the Five Points jazz heyday and sweeping banquettes that create a circular dining space, and RiNo industrial chic, with exposed brick walls, concrete floors and high ceilings. The acoustics are well controlled, though, through the use of heavy fabric curtains and high-end sound equipment. Mattson explains that guests should be able to have a conversation over dinner, even at tables fronting the stage during performances.
That stage will feature live performances nightly from musicians in residence and national touring acts. Instead of paying a cover up front, artist fees (of $5 to $10 per person) will be added to guests' tabs at the end of the night; a portion of the revenues will also go toward music education and advocacy in the Denver area. This is part of what the Mattsons are calling "Fair Trade Jazz," which helps ensure adequate and consistent compensation for musicians and includes payment, professional sound and set-up assistance, promotional services and even meals during performance breaks. Nicole Mattson is a veteran in the hospitality industry, having spent time with Sage Hospitality and Vail Resorts, and explains: “Hospitality doesn’t end with our guests; the artists who practice their craft at Nocturne deserve the same level of attention."
Nocturne will be open Monday through Saturday from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m., with full food service until 11:30 p.m. Tasting menus (which will begin later this month) and artist schedules are available on the Nocturne website.