At 10 a.m. on Sunday, when Encore, Paul Reilly's "country club" restaurant on East Colfax, opened its doors for the final time, ninety people were already standing in line to get a seat...and that was just the start of the ambush. "We got our asses kicked. I've never taken a beating like I did today. Talk about the ugliest service ever," quips Reilly, who estimates that he and his kitchen crew, which included the return of Wade Kirwan, who formerly cooked on the line with Reilly and is now the exec chef of Adrift, did nearly 300 covers before 1:30 p.m.
With a full house, tunes from the '80s pulsating from the speakers and a kitchen firing on all four cylinders, it was a fitting farewell for Reilly and his sister and co-owner, Aileen, the two of whom made the decision to close Encore, which they opened in 2007, when lease negotiations reached an impasse late last week. "In February, we had a verbal and written agreement to lower our rent, and last Thursday, the landlord's lender decided that he would no longer agree to the terms of the lease, so we decided to walk away," says Reilly, adding that it was "an incredibly difficult decision."
But while Encore has exited the stage, it's by no means Reilly's final curtain call. "Sure, I feel sad -- Colfax has been so good to us and embraced us with open arms -- but I also feel like it's meant to be, and for me, this restaurant was a springboard for me to pave the way to do a signature restaurant somewhere else in Denver," he tells me, revealing that he'd like to open his next space in Baker, an enclave, he says, that's "the next neighborhood of restaurant domination."
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And when he does unleash that restaurant, which he'll do after "disappearing for a while, getting some rest and re-centering," it'll be a place, he stresses, "that's not someone else's version of what they want, but our version of what we want."
For what it's worth, we want the jalapeno poppers! Those -- and pretty much everything else on the brunch menu -- disappeared quickly on Sunday; by 1:30, the kitchen had 86'd all but a few dishes. I was there for the last hurrah, along with several other industry heavyweights, including Biker Jim and Eric Dutton, the bar manager/sommelier at Vesta Dipping Grill, and took some snaps to preserve the memories.
Given the number of bloody Marys that were being imbibed, it's shocking that no one was giving encore performances on the bar -- although that easily could have happened after I left. We loved just about everything on Encore's brunch menu -- even giving it our Best of Denver 2012 Best Brunch award -- including Reilly's terrific breakfast flatbreads. The Encore staff erected a board thanking guests for their five years of loyalty. Gravlax eggs Benedict. The pork belly hash, which we hope Reilly will resurrect when he opens his new restaurant. You know you've got a celebratory crowd when the bar is running low on bloody Mary mix. Oh, how we'll miss those hand-cut shoestrings drizzled with hot mustard. The bar was six-deep from the moment the doors opened, but the bar staff didn't miss a beat. We ordered the blueberry pancakes...and then we ordered more. Adrift executive chef Wade Kirwan, whose wicked sense of humor kept the kitchen crew cracking up throughout service. Encore's beast of a burger. We'll miss that, too.