Cafe Society

The Corner Office

On Friday at five-thirty, six, seven at night, The Corner Office is less a restaurant than a three-ring circus filled with liquored-up yuppies doing all their best tricks, elephantine captains of industry getting hot under the collar, fierce and beautiful female executives stalking the bar like lionesses in heels, and business travelers walking that high-wire line between happy-drunk unwinding and serious three-cosmo weirdness. Under the big top at happy hour, the staff walks the floor warily, having grown eyes not just in the backs of their heads, but on the sides and top as well. In the trench, the bartenders never stop moving, rolling from position to position like sharpshooters knocking down targets — super-call Scotch, icy vodka, terrible day-glo things in martini glasses — then moving down to the service end to set up two beers, three glasses of cheap wine, a small Pellegrino and two dirty martinis for the eight-top on 41 that's just a line of blow and one shred of common decency away from an inter-office gang bang.

It's a bizarre, sundry and freaky-fluky crowd, one brought in by a coincidence of geography, of decor, of taste. The Corner Office opened on the ground floor of the new Curtis hotel just five months ago, in sight of the soaring architecture of the Denver Performing Arts Complex, at ground zero of the boutique hotel explosion. Draw a wheel with the corner of 14th and Curtis streets at the hub and spokes radiating outward to LoDo, SoBo, Uptown and every little nouvelle-loftville clogging up the skyline, then further out to Inverness and the Denver Tech Center and DIA, and you're sketching the paths followed by those falling inward toward the Corner Office on any Friday night, when it's already filling up with people from the nearby offices. Early, it also does a brisk theater trade. Late, it does drunk trade and artsy trade and nightcap trade, dealing in Szechuan fries, midnight waffles and Dutch courage. One night it's full of conventioneers, the next it's drag queens dressed like Marie Antoinette.

During Friday at prime time, the Corner Office is no place for a quiet meal. A snack, sure. Five or six martinis and then a standup quickie in the bathroom, absolutely. The place has great bathrooms: large and well-appointed, complete with decks of Post-it notes and pens for amusing yourself without actually scratching dirty limericks or pictures of stick figures humping on the mirrors and walls. I asked a waiter what he thought the protocol was for choosing the appropriate bathroom for sex: Who gets to choose? He said he'd never really thought about it because he was gay, so there wasn't an option. My wife insisted that the women's room would be cleaner. I did not get to find out.

Saturday nights at the Corner Office are like Friday nights at the Corner Office, but less dependably weird. The crowd often skews somewhat older, somewhat more local, somewhat more black-turtleneck-and-nicotine-gum. On Saturday, if you're adept at riding the ebb tide, it's possible to get served quickly at the bar, or linger over dinner in the dining room with its Alice in Wonderland-oversized white leather banquettes and booths upholstered in deliberately ugly wool plaids like couches stolen from a hundred grandmothers' sitting rooms. The decor is extraordinarily kitschy-hip: half ultra-modern diner, half rumpus room with a forced decor that hinges almost exclusively on the twin motifs of sex and neckties. It's a big space, its depth belied by its strange shape. Every clock in the place stands perpetually at five o'clock; slatted wood and plank paneling and '60s ergonomic plastic chairs abound. The servers have their own system of livery that I don't understand — some of them kitted out in basic black, others in polos and button-downs, still others in Corner Office-branded Lycra bicycle-racer shirts, all of them jinking and rolling across the crowded floor, all of them carrying trays high as if to show off the food before delivering it to its assigned table.

Which works, because most of the food is worth showing off. Like everything else at the Corner Office, it's heavy on style if not always substance, designed in such a way that it catches the eye first, dragging the rest of the sensorium along behind. Huge mounds of bright-pink cotton candy spilling out of a white bowl, individual scalloped casserole dishes of lobster mac-and-cheese, flat plates of cheeseburger sliders arrayed around a squiggled nest of shoestring frites. This is powerful art-and-commerce stuff, working that tender juncture in the brain between want for comfort and want for beauty. The Corner Office has found its balance between the two by simply ignoring the idea of balance entirely and shamelessly overdoing everything.

The menu in this strange, time-warp space is a borderless, timeless thing, a brazen attempt at pandering to every hunger that might have pissed me off — because I hate that all-things-to-all-people urge that seems to creep up and seize restaurateurs who can't quite guess who their clientele might be — if not for the fact that almost everything on the menu appears to be pandering specifically to me. That's either luck or genius, and frankly, I don't care which, because now if ever I feel like collard greens and a Vietnamese banh mi sandwich on the same night, I know where to go; if ever I need a Black Forest waffle covered with cherries and chocolate syrup at eleven o'clock on a Saturday night, I have just the spot.

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Jason Sheehan
Contact: Jason Sheehan