First Look

Sushi Ronin Commits to Late Night With New RiNo Izakaya

Panko-crusted softshell crab.
Panko-crusted softshell crab. Mark Antonation
Denver has never been much of a late-night city outside of a few club zones, but with the influx of service-industry employees moving to town to fill restaurant jobs, more and more Denver residents are looking for food and drink options past 10 p.m. Corey Baker, chef/partner of Sushi Ronin (2930 Umatilla Street), is looking to fill a void in the late-night dining scene with a new Japanese-style pub that won't even start serving food until 10 p.m.

The new concept is called Izakaya Ronin, which will have a sushi bar and dining room similar to those at Baker's LoHi restaurant with hours more in line with the Denver norm (5 to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday). But downstairs, the izakaya itself will serve a separate menu of skewers, fried foods, soups and small plates, in keeping with Japanese tradition. The subterranean bar, located in what was once a boiler room, will be open from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. Wednesday through Saturday, and will also boast a deep list of Japanese whisky brands, including a 2016 Yamazaki Sherry Cask single-malt whisky that rings in at $350 a shot.

click to enlarge The main sushi bar and dining room at Izakaya Ronin. - MARK ANTONATION
The main sushi bar and dining room at Izakaya Ronin.
Mark Antonation
Baker notes that the main dinner menu will probably be slightly smaller than the one at Sushi Ronin, so as not to put too much stress on his seafood suppliers (much of the lesser-known sashimi cuts make their way to Ronin's counter via regular deliveries from Tokyo's Tsukiji Fish Market). But new items like Mishima Reserve wagyu culotte grilled rare and served in thin slices will also appear. 

Izakaya Ronin takes over the space previously occupied by Tengu Ramen at 3053 Brighton Boulevard (with an entrance on the north side of the building, behind Mister Tuna and Will Call), though the main dining room and bar have been reconfigured, and walls have been removed for a more open flow. Art by Mark Bueno and Baker himself adorn the walls, and a translucent, rippled glass divider screens off the kitchen, allowing shadowy movement to show through to diners.

click to enlarge Mishima Reserve wagyu culotte with shio koji. - MARK ANTONATION
Mishima Reserve wagyu culotte with shio koji.
Mark Antonation
The downstairs has received a little attention too, with a main bar area alongside a small section of booths where guests can enjoy Baker's new tonkotsu ramen (something he decided to add after winning a recent ramen competition), donburi bowls, beef and chicken skewers grilled over bincho-tan charcoal, Japanese fried chicken, and an assortment of pan-fried dumplings. Barrel-aged cocktails supplement the drinks list, and there's also an impressive sake roster.

click to enlarge The downstairs izakaya bar in Industry's former boiler room. - MARK ANTONATION
The downstairs izakaya bar in Industry's former boiler room.
Mark Antonation
The glut of construction that still plagues Brighton Boulevard makes the Industry building feel like it's in somewhat of a no-man's-land, but new apartments along the stretch mean that the population density in this part of the RiNo district will keep increasing, and many of the neighborhood's new residents will be looking for something to eat late into the night. Izakaya-style dining is definitely a growing trend in Denver, with Izakaya Den and Mizu Izakaya leading the way, while other sushi restaurants are adding bar food intended to go along with a night of drinking. The Ronin team looks to make a hideaway of a space into one of RiNo's hot destinations.

Izakaya Ronin opens at 5 p.m. on Saturday, December 2. For more photos, see our complete Izakaya Ronin slideshow.
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Mark Antonation is the former Westword Food & Drink Editor. In 2018, he was named Outstanding Media Professional by the Colorado Restaurant Association; he's now with the Colorado Restaurant Foundation.
Contact: Mark Antonation