What: Basil Street Cafe Automated Pizza Kitchen (APK)
Where: The Celtic, 1400 Market Street
When: 11 a.m. to 2 a.m Sunday through Thursday and 10:30 a.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday
For more info: Visit basilstreetpizza.com
What we saw: The alert notifying me that Denver is now home to one of the first Basil Street Cafe Automated Pizza Kitchens in the country suggested that people might have noticed it while "walking along Market Street" by its location "right outside The Celtic," which led me to believe it would be...outside. But with no signs of pizza visible at the corner of Market and 14th Street, I went into the Celtic and spotted the large green-and-white machine along a wall to the left of the entryway.
While Basil Street had offered me the chance to come by while its representatives were on site so that they could "guide [me] through the ordering process," I'd opted to go solo, since a primary point of a vending machine is convenience. How hard could it be to get a pizza from a machine?
The answer: not hard at all, once you find it.
"Are you going to buy one?" the patron who entered right behind me asked excitedly. "I am," I replied, as I hit the "Buy Pizza" button on the touch-screen display. "Can we watch?" she asked.
I agreed, but she and her friend soon wandered to the bar, since the whole process was not exactly riveting to watch. All the action happens inside the machine, where you can't see the steps. Instead, another screen (this one not interactive) displays a 9News video about the Basil Street Cafe pizzas, as well as other marketing-related messages, in the spot where you'd typically find a window on a vending machine that allows you to peek inside at the goods.
Instead, you simply select your toppings from four pre-set choices — cheese, pepperoni, supreme or the featured flavors of the month, which are currently buffalo chicken and breakfast. I opted for a classic pepperoni, paid with a credit card ($11.95 plus tax), and waited while a "cooking in progress" screen counted down the three-minute cook time.
Within a minute, the familiar aroma of frozen pizza heating up wafted through the air; just a short time later, an open-faced cardboard serving tray slowly appeared at the slanted slot; I pulled it out to reveal a small, unsliced pie.
A sign on top of the slot noted that pizza cutters were available at the bar. I found an empty stool, and the bartender brought over an individually wrapped pizza cutter made of hard plastic.
The crust felt pretty dry and hard, but actually was more soft and doughy inside than I'd expected; the pepperoni was charred around the edges. All in all, it was very similar to every other frozen pizza I've eaten in my life: pretty okay. It would certainly have been better if I were eating it late at night, post-cocktails. Maybe then I wouldn't have thought so much about the fact that I'd just spent $12+ on a relatively small frozen pizza...
But the pizza was as promised: It was a hot meal acquired sans human interaction (besides getting the pizza cutter from the bartender), and I managed to go through a second slice, then a third.
What surprised us: The fact that no one's rolled something like this out sooner. Americans love pizza and convenience. Vending machines with hot food have been big in other countries for a long time, but taking a pizza from frozen to fully cooked in minutes is another level in automated food. According to Basil Street, the machine has been in development since 2016 and was tested via a pilot program at five locations in Texas and California after being funded for $10 million in 2020. The Denver machine is one of fifty that the company plans to roll out nationwide in 2021.
Prime candidates for locations include colleges and airports, but why would the Celtic, a bar that serves food, be interested? "It's great for after the kitchen closes," the bartender explains, which is typically around 8 or 9 p.m. depending on how busy the night is. With restaurant staff shortages being the norm these days, this takes some pressure off the back-of-house team.
While the Celtic bar does stock some snacks for late-night purchases, the new pizza machine is ideal for keeping bar patrons inside the establishment when the need for a hot meal strikes — as it so often does when you're a few drinks in after dark.
I wouldn't go so far as to call these pizzas "transcendent," as they're described on the Basil Street Cafe website, and they certainly aren't going to replace the kind of pies served at local spots like Blue Pan, newcomers Benzina and Campfire, and so many others. But if this machine gives a welcome boost to the Celtic and saves a few imbibing bar patrons from drinking on an empty stomach, I can get behind it.
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.