First Look

Occidental Bar Now Shaking Things Up Next to Older Sibling Williams & Graham

Occidental Bar, which opened over the weekend in LoHi, is in many ways the polar opposite of its older sibling Williams & Graham right next door. Owners Sean Kenyon and Todd Colehour have gained international recognition for their exclusive speakeasy, recently earning best cocktail bar in America at this year's Spirited Awards in New Orleans. The Occidental, though, rather than hushed and reverent, is instead casual and boisterous — the bratty kid in the leather jacket twisting away from the grip of his stately big brother.

Williams & Graham is hidden behind the shelves of an antique bookstore; the Occidental features wide open garage doors. The older bar pours high end drinks mixed with earnest concentration; the new joint pops Little Kings for two bucks. At W & G, the pervading atmosphere is that of the conservatory of a posh mansion, with dark woods, vintage oil paintings and leather booths. The Occidental celebrates Iggy Pop, Debbie Harry and the Misfits.

Ten tap handles and a well-rounded list of beers in bottles and cans give suds a more prominent position here than next door, but the common thread is Kenyon's attention to detail when it comes to cocktails. Sure, the list is short at the new place, especially when compared to the tome of recipes next door, and many of the the house drinks are named after songs by '80s punk bands ("TV Party" by Black Flag and "Sonic Reducer" by the Soft Boys), but the ingredients are chosen and blended with care and the classic cocktail list aims for the essence of your grandfather's favorites rather than reinvented concoctions.

The decor definitely skews DIY, with a wall tiled in mix-tapes, light fixtures straight from the Home Depot warehouse lighting collection and splashes of patterned wallpaper that offset the rough, exposed brick. Instead of a professionally made sign above the front entrance, there's a marquee with movable lettering, currently featuring a quote from legendary Chicago comedian and drinker Joe E. Lewis. Out back, there's a simple wooden deck with a few tables above a parking spot for a food truck. The menu of craveable comfort food is provided by State Fare, which will stand in for a permanent kitchen. You won't find foie gras or rarebit at the Occidental, but a corn dog made with a mortadella hot dog from Cart-Driver or a small bale of Campari-lemonade cotton candy keep things downscale yet crafty.

TVs (anathema at Williams & Graham) play martial arts flicks and might show the big games too. Up front, a row of pinball machines and video games add additional diversions. the familiar grinning skull on the opposite wall reveals, on closer inspection, that it's not the logo of California punk icons the Misfits, but rather nationwide bartending organization, the Mixfits, which was founded to band together like-minded service industry folk more interested in providing hospitality than sporting the latest fashion. Founding member Kenyon says the Mixfits provide cocktail service to charity events around the country and he points out that bartenders have already begun signing the wall around the painting of the skull.

The Occidental is open from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. Monday through Friday with plans to open at 11 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.

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Mark Antonation is the former Westword Food & Drink Editor. In 2018, he was named Outstanding Media Professional by the Colorado Restaurant Association; he's now with the Colorado Restaurant Foundation.
Contact: Mark Antonation