Cafe Society

Table 6 is a nearly perfect restaurant

I once thought that Table 6 was close to a perfect restaurant.

I came to this conclusion early — before the drama, before the place got tagged by John Mariani as one of the 21 best new restaurants in the country in Esquire; before every other critic out there started lining up and offering blow jobs like last-call skanks at a rodeo bar (I wrote mine in November 2004); before the pullout of the quote/unquote Boys From Adega, so soon after they'd been hailed as the white-horse saviors of the Denver dining scene; before the one-after-another changes in owners, staff and crew that, under normal circumstances, would have spelled death for a restaurant.

Table 6 was under the command of Aaron Whitcomb, fresh from Adega, when Mariani praised it for its small, cozy space and "charm to burn." Other big-timers saw it as an oasis of surprisingly lowbrow refinement in a city they'd been all too happy to assume was filled with nothing but unrefined lowbrow crap. But me? I loved it for the drag queens, the secret pie list, the PBRs on the beer list before they were cool, for the ideal collision of eclectic design (brick and copper and old doors and weathered wood) and the crushing good vibe even before Mariani's name-check. I loved it because on some nights, Table 6's back door seemed to open onto the alleys behind every restaurant in the city, with chefs and line cooks and servers collecting at the communal tables in front or hovering around the bar/line on their nights off, telling stories of back-dock camaraderie like expurgated chapters from Kitchen Confidential. I was a fan of Table 6 because I couldn't help it. The place was so alive that just to bask a moment in its glow was as bracing and fulfilling as a good fight, a good fuck or two fingers of whiskey and a good laugh among friends, depending on your tastes.

But then Whitcomb took off for Chicago, leaving his sous chef, Scott Parker, in command. The Huff family, the long-absentee owners (and ex of Adega and Mirepoix), finally decided they'd had enough of the restaurant business and gave Table 6 up to Parker, bean-counter Dan Ferguson and Aaron Forman, who'd done time as Adega's wine-bar manager before following Whitcomb to Table 6, where he served as general manager, floorman and sommelier at what he once described as the Huffs' "little toss-off restaurant," where he'd acted like the owner long before he actually became one. Under the new ownership, the menu changed (of course). Staff changed (though not everyone). And for a long time, things at 609 Corona Street went kinda quiet. It should've been the calm before the death throes: There just aren't many places — in Denver or anywhere else — that can survive such fundamental upheavals and return to anything more than a shadow of their former glory.

But instead of slowly dying, Table 6 was quietly gathering strength. And today, a restaurant that was once nearly perfect has inched even closer to that impossible event horizon of flawlessness.

I have done my time at Table 6. Under the old owners and old chef and with the new kids in place. I've been there for drinks when, already drunk, I've worn out my fun elsewhere and stopped in for a hit of warmth and comfort. I've seen Forman on the floor — pressing the flesh, wearing his weird plaid jackets and bushy, porn-star mustache — and heard his stories, heard him talk about the business. I've hunkered down at the long tables among chefs and businessmen, neighbors and friends of the house, chafing my elbows on the rough wood and digging into plates of tater tots stuck with Marcona almonds, served with tomato marmalade in lieu of ketchup; of chestnut spaetzle and ham steak, redolent of maple sugar and glazed in coarse mustard. I've celebrated the closures of restaurants I hated and mourned ones I loved here. And every time I turn the corner off of Sixth Avenue and see the light spilling out onto the sidewalk, I feel an almost gravitational pull — that sure knowledge that no matter what has happened that day, I can shake it off just on the other side of the waiting door.

I have learned the secrets of eating at Table 6. Arrive early. Never make reservations. Order more than you think you can possibly eat, and don't believe what you read on the menu. The fish and chips come as goujonettes — long, thin pieces of barramundi sliced from the filet, fried and served with sauce gribiche and shreds of Cajun tasso. And since Parker has a thing for broths, a thing for things served in brodo, you should always order a bowl of something.

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Jason Sheehan
Contact: Jason Sheehan