Chef Sheamus Feeley and his business partner, Angela Neri, will unveil their new bar, Pony Up, to the public on Sunday, July 22, in the former home of the 9th Door, at 1808 Blake Street. Several themes run through the menu and decor, all of which promise to keep guests entertained, amused and well fed.
Most prominently, pony references abound — in the name, in the antique hobby horse in the entryway and on the cocktail menu, which sports a drink called Stay Golden, a sly allusion to the character Ponyboy in S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders.
Then there's a French motif, inspired by Feeley's devotion to the French dip sandwich. He notes that his first French dip love came from Phillipe's in Los Angeles, and he's named one of his versions — there are five total — the Alameda Street Classic, after the street where Phillipe's has been dishing up the beefy sandwich since 1951. The chef offers the Saigon (styled after a banh mi and served with pho broth), the Mellow (with smoked mushrooms in place of beef), the Frenchie (glued together with Gruyère and sided with French onion soup), and, most stunningly, the Torta Ahogada, which comes out of the kitchen completely robed in a crimson guajillo chile sauce. Feeley explains the torta's presence through another link to his past: He lived in Mexico for a time, where he ate tortas ahogadas, which he says are the Mexican equivalent of a French dip, at every opportunity. The sauce-drenched sandwich here is stuffed with slow-cooked pork shoulder, avocado and mayo.
The French theme continues in the crystal chandeliers, vintage hearth and mural-sized painting of Neri's French bulldog, Louie. Neri and Feeley worked with painter Patrick McGregor to come up with the artwork, which depicts a noble canine dressed in royal garb.
Feeley's father was also in the restaurant business, and the chef has borrowed a couple of tricks from his dad's playbook. Huntington Beach-style "strips and cheese" are a form of nachos in which corn tortilla strips are pulled hot from the fryer and immediately pelted with grated sharp cheddar. Feeley's version is also topped with house salsa and guacamole. He notes that his dad also used to serve tableside Caesar salads, complete with chilled plates and forks. While Pony Up's Caesar is constructed in the kitchen, it does include anchovies in the dressing, "eight-minute croutons" and confit garlic. Feeley says the crouton is a critical element in a good salad: "We call ours 'crun-chewy' because they're cooked just long enough to be crunchy on the outside while staying soft in the middle," he explains.
"We're driving value here as much as we can," he adds. "And selfishly, we put all the foods we like to eat ourselves." So appetizers all come in at $10 or under, including an impressive portion of karaage (Japanese-style fried chicken). And the sandwiches ring in at $12 to $13.
For booze, bar manager Suzanne Navarro, recently of Chicago's Three Dots and a Dash, has amassed an impressive collection of rums to bolster her cocktail menu. There's also a good smattering of Colorado spirits, including Spring 44 gin and vodka in the well. Navarro's time spent in Florida and the Caribbean have influenced her preferences, so you'll find tropical classics like the Trinidad sour, the caipirinha and a coco-frio-based mix called the Sky Water.
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Champagne is also an important part of Pony Up's bar service. "We want to showcase grower champagnes," Feeley says. Because the bar hopes to attract a late-night service-industry crowd, it's offering 50 percent off all champagne bottles after midnight from Monday through Thursday, as well as all day Sunday.
Overall, Pony Up is lighter and airier than its predecessor. "Sheamus and I did the interior ourselves," Neri notes. That included refinishing and staining the long, wood-topped bar, hanging a neon sign that reads "Thank you for a real good time" (a reference to the Grateful Dead), and collecting vintage accoutrements and barware. "We wanted a place we'd be happy to hang out at, and we want industry people to know that we're here for them."
Pony Up opens to the public on Sunday, July 22, and will be open daily from 11:30 a.m. to 2 a.m., with the kitchen open until 1 a.m.