Bryan Dayton first started talking about his own project six months ago, when he forewent an offer from then-beverage director James Lee at Happy's Bitter Bar, 835 Walnut Street, to pursue his own project. He'd teamed up with chef Steve Redzikowski and beverage distributor Annie Polk, and the trio went about securing investment money and digs, exploring Denver before settling on the old 14th Street Bar & Grill space on the Pearl Street Mall when that restaurant went dark. And in it, they opened Oak at Fourteenth.
The renovation road was fraught with obstacles, but after several months of hard work that included a rebuild of the bar and a disaster related to the walk-in refrigerators, the team sailed through its soft opening over the weekend and opened the doors to the public for dinner last night.
We stopped in for a drink and a snack, and were greeted by Dayton, who was energetically chatting with parties cloaked in the glow of candles at tables in front of the floor-to-ceiling windows of the dining room.
Toward the back of the space, an army of white-coated chefs manned a wood-fired oven, their work a graceful, lively show for the diners lining the bar looking into the open kitchen. The new space is refined and elegant, with simple woods and soft colors replacing the California-themed decor of the past.
We nabbed a spot at the bar and started with a Santa Ana sunrise, a citrusy-textured tequila flip that combined reposado, St. Germain and egg white. That cocktail provided a good balancing bite against the bone marrow and caviar, a cross section of a beef bone. The silky marrow was roasted to order, lightly caramelized with tiny, salty black eggs atop the quivering treat, providing a subtle crunch. We ate it spread on toast with plenty of greens, a crisp bite against the velvety, indulgent texture. Next came the wood-fired baby octopus and calamari, a rich, savory, tomato-based stew, thick with springy seafood. We finished with crispy rock shrimp, plump and succulent, lightly battered and fried to a golden crisp. They sat in a pool of sweet, spicy basil sauce, and we wished we'd had them first so we could have finished that plate and ordered another, since that was our favorite dish of the night.
We whiled away more hours than we'd intended at the bar, soaking in the cozy spot that's conducive to long conversations. Dayton told us months ago that he wanted to create a neighborhood hangout, and if last night is any indication, he's succeeded.
Oak at Fourteenth will start serving lunch next week. Two weeks from now, they'll offer late night service.