Mayor William "Bud" Starker built plenty of restaurants for other people before he decided to build one for himself. Starker, now two years into his first four-year term as the mayor of Wheat Ridge, also owns Starker Construction Company, and restaurants have been among the company's many projects. He built, for example, the second Chipotle from the bones of the former House of Pies at East Eighth Avenue and Colorado Boulevard.
But the mayor wanted a place he could walk to from his Wheat Ridge home, a place he could take friends and family that would remind him of visits to Europe while capturing a little Wheat Ridge history. He found that piece of history at an old general store at 5560 West 29th Avenue, so he purchased the lot, refurbished the building and turned it into West 29th Restaurant and Bar.
That was seven years ago, and West 29th has weathered a surge of growth in the area, with apartment projects and road construction slowing traffic and diverting would-be visitors away from the restaurant's front door, located just a couple of blocks off Sheridan Boulevard. On the east side of the busy thoroughfare, the Sloan's Lake and West Highland neighborhoods have erupted with new buildings, shops, restaurants and breweries, and the name SloHi has been slapped on the area by developers, something longtime residents scoff at.
But the neighborhood around Starker's restaurant has remained quiet and mostly untouched (other than the road construction, which only recently ended); just across the street, Wheat Ridge Poultry & Meats has been serving the area since 1942, alongside a newer smoothie shop and a salon. But that calm is perfect for enjoying dinner on the courtyard-style patio at West 29th, where a fountain burbles and string lights glow.
The old general store, dating back to the early 1900s, has been converted into the restaurant's foyer and bar; the original brick has been exposed and a row of stained-glass windows, created by artist Jim Watts, depict in five panels the Starker family's slow spread from New England westward over the past hundred years. Farther back, in a new wing built in the Craftsman style, an open kitchen looks out onto a dining room framed in old timber salvaged from one of Starker's construction projects at 21st and Larimer streets. A brick fireplace, wood floors and plastered walls give the space a vintage air, even though it's only a few years old, and French doors open onto a second patio.
Starker says he wanted his restaurant to remind guests of a European lodge or a mountain-town retreat in the Rockies, and in that goal he's been successful. The menu, too, borrows from European tradition, without feeling stodgy or old-fashioned. "I like to say it's American food with a French accent," he notes.
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Chef Cory Matthews has been in charge of that menu for more than four years, and he's just rolled out a fall menu on which toasted pumpkin seeds adorn butternut squash soup, Gorgonzola cheese adds depth to a Stroganoff sauce served with beef tips and mushrooms over linguini, and an expert pecan pie tempts diners to stay a little longer. The food here isn't cutting-edge; it's built for families, friends and neighbors, not culinary thrill-seekers. In keeping with that theme, David Grant, who runs the front of the house, is likely to remember your name if you show up for dinner more than once.
Starker and his restaurant are both representative of Wheat Ridge as a whole. He's a local guy who attended the University of Colorado and has been active in the community nearly his whole life, serving on city council before becoming mayor. To those who haven't spent much time in Wheat Ridge, the town can feel a little sprawling and undefined, but it's actually small and tight-knit, with neighborhoods of older homes bound mostly by the curved path of 1-70 to the north and west, and by Lakewood and Denver to the south and east. West 29th is only a few minutes removed from downtown Denver, but those few minutes take you far away from the stress and noise of the big city.
West 29th Restaurant & Bar is located at 5560 West 29th Avenue and is open for dinner beginning at 5 p.m. every night but Monday, and for brunch from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Call 303-233-3377 or visit the restaurant's website for details.