When the Blake Street Tavern left its original location for bigger digs down the street (in the cavernous and clubby space that once housed Polly Esther's), a vacuum was left that sucked in a couple of other eateries that tried to make a go of that space. Brauns moved from its home in front of the Pepsi Center but couldn't find success closer to Coors Field, while RiNo's came and went with barely a notice. Now the Spruce Tap House, which opened on Friday, is giving it a go, with a team that has demonstrated the ability to succeed in difficult locations.
Brian Sommatino and chef Jeremy McMinn built a strong reputation -- and big crowds -- at the Highland Tavern, the spot they opened eight years ago in a section of Lower Highland that was far from trendy at the time; it started as a neighborhood watering hole and later added a kitchen and full menu. Sommatino's Satellite Bar has also managed to stick around on a stretch of Colfax Avenue that's more grungy than gentrified.
Ballpark and RiNo are booming now, which may help bring customers to the door of the Spruce initially. But the smell of wood smoke and slow-cooked meats might just keep them coming back. Chef de cuisine Nick Goloskewitsch says the menu is "non-denominational barbecue," meaning that he's not trying to lure fans of any one regional style. Instead, he and McMinn are building a creative and unique list of meats with influences from the wide world of wood-fired cooking.
Wings, spare ribs and rib tips highlight the menu, but Goloskewitsch and McMinn have also come up with something new with their "cowboy bacon," a Boston butt that wet-cures for nine days like bacon and then is smoked for eight hours or so over apricot wood. "It's like a cross between bacon and smoked pork shoulder," says Goloskewitsch.
Twenty beers on tap, many from Colorado but also a few rare artisan ales from around the U.S. and Belgium, make up the bulk of the beer list. The smokehouse theme continues from the kitchen to the bar and dining room with rough-hewn woods, dark colors and mounted animal heads. While it's definitely not the TV-heavy sports bar that the Blake Street Tavern was, there are still enough flat-screens to satisfy fans.
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The Spruce is now open at 3 p.m. on weekdays with kitchen hours going until 10 p.m on weekdays and 11 p.m on weekends. The bar plans to stay open until 2 a.m. nightly.