In the service, you learn to follow orders. The people behind Officers Club took that rule to heart when they decided to open another restaurant in the corner of Lowry’s Hangar 2, in the exact spot where Justin Brunson had called it quits, never reopening after a fire destroyed Masterpiece Kitchen a year earlier. By then, restaurateur Troy Guard had deserted the area, too, packing up after not one, but two concepts failed to win customers.
In a neighborhood hungry for dining options, why had those restaurants surrendered?
Joe Vostrejs, a prolific local developer behind Hangar 2 and a partner in North County and Masterpiece Kitchen, among other restaurants, wanted answers, so he did something rare: He held focus groups, bringing in more than a hundred residents to ask what they wanted. Their answer? “A more serious dining experience, high-quality cocktails, good familiar wine,” says Sterling Robinson, who was tapped to bring their wishes to life at Officers Club. And he was just the right person to execute them, since Robinson already had a track record of pleasing locals as chef/proprietor of North County, the taco-and-tequila joint next door, where lines regularly stretched down the sidewalk.
Since June, people waiting for a table at North County have frequently shared that sidewalk with people waiting for seats at Officers Club.
This is truly a model neighborhood restaurant, one custom-made for this neighborhood, with a food-drink-ambience formula that might not play so well in Highland or Berkeley or Baker, but certainly plays well in Lowry. For starters, there’s the name, a nod to Lowry Air Force Base, which occupied this area before the feds turned it over to Denver and Aurora in the ’90s. Even if 99 percent of us have never been to a real officers’ club, the name conjures up a certain experience that distinguishes it from restaurants nearby, with associations of special nights on the town. The space has been warmed up from its previous cool, modern incarnation, with shutters on the windows, whitewashed paneling on the walls, and a grand piano. Guests seem so comfortable here, lounging on the well-landscaped patio, settling in at the bar to the vigorous shake-shaking of cocktails, sprawling with their soccer-uniformed kids at one of the big booths. While the menu isn’t all that different from that of Masterpiece Kitchen, with a familiar mix of all-American favorites, portions are so big that customers walk away pleased with the value. And above all, Officers Club tugs on real and imagined heartstrings, down to its specialty cocktails, a lineup of ten Old Fashioneds.
The food tugs, too. Cheddar biscuits take you to a down-home kitchen; as big as scoops of ice cream, they arrive hot, their pillowy insides laced with cheese. The nostalgic vibe is furthered by homey names: Nana’s Farmhouse Salad, with bacon, egg and artichokes, and Momma’s Chicken Noodle Soup, with noodles bobbing in a deeply flavored broth inspired by Robinson’s mom. The pitcher of brandy cream poured tableside is all his, though, and as an addition to the soup speaks to the kitchen’s efforts to be sophisticated. So do skin-on bass with green beans, and grilled, halved and overly buttered artichokes, with a candlelit tower of drawn lemon butter.
A two-pattied cheeseburger, draped with bacon and loaded with salt, brings out folksy jokes. “The burger’s so big, you’ll have to back your car over it to get it in your mouth,” quipped our server. And he was right: We tried squishing it before resorting to knife and fork. Buttermilk-brined chicken tenders run the size of Texas. Dunked in a trio of sauces — chicken gravy, honey mustard and barbecue ranch — their popularity proves that adults are just kids in bigger bodies. So what if the item runs contrary to that serious dining experience people said they wanted? How often do we say that we want to read more, run more, call our mom more? But do we? Actions speak louder than words, and what people really wanted in Lowry, it seems, was an atmosphere and bar program suited to a Saturday night on the town with friends, with food a few steps up from what they’d cook at home.
That, plus avocado toast: thick wedges of rustic bread topped with something close to a Greek salad. And spaghetti, made in-house, coiled with red sauce and spicy meatballs that used to be spicier. Meat on a half-rack of ribs falls off in flakes, doused in barbecue sauce as sweet as any bottle that you have in your fridge. Robinson prefers a different kind of ’cue, as well as spicier meatballs, but he’s good at his job. “The neighborhood told us what they enjoyed,” he says. “This restaurant isn’t for me.”
Even restaurants with a good sense of self can be run off the rails by dessert, playing it safe while the rest of the menu pushes boundaries, or abandoning the dominant cuisine for off-topic fare. Here, though, sweets follow the path of previous courses. Cheesecake, albeit over-baked, was right in idea if not execution, with the same blend of sophisticated nostalgia that weaves throughout the menu. Key lime pie was a standout, pleasantly tart with a crumbly graham-cracker crust.
Where Officers Club misses the mark is noise level. While Robinson says, over and over, that people want an “intimate” experience, the volume here is loud, louder than at most bars — not just when there’s live entertainment on the outdoor stage, but during the week, when a contemporary soundtrack blares. One friend had to wait outside while we got the check, worn out from all the shouting. That’s not conducive to an intimate meal.
But Robinson’s on top of this, too. “We’re still figuring out exactly who we are,” he acknowledges. “We’re not an anniversary spot, [but we] don’t want you to fall asleep. We want to be there for people who want energy.”
He’ll solve the problem and give the people what they want. Officers Club knows who’s giving the orders.
Officers Club is located at 84 Rampart Way; it's open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to midnight Friday, 10 a.m. to midnight Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday. Find out more at 303-284-0714, or go to officersclublowry.com.
Select menu items
Cheddar biscuits $7
Grilled artichokes $14
Momma’s chicken noodle soup $8
Big boy bacon burger $15
Chicken tenders $16
Key lime pie $9
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.