Tonight (Tuesday, February 27), the Way Back will re-emerge at long last, ending a six-month hiatus that saw it move from its original kitchen-less home on West 38th Avenue to the old Patrick Carroll’s address at 3963 Tennyson Street. And when the doors open, it should be immediately clear that this restaurant has grown up a bit.
For one, partners Chad Michael George, Kade Gianinetti and Jared Schwartz have extended their philosophy of keeping things local and sustainable to the actual space in this iteration of the restaurant. “You don’t get to reopen the same restaurant twice too often,” says Gianinetti. “Having a second chance, we wanted to repurpose a space. Our ethos, what we stand for — we wanted to utilize something that had some history and be able to put our own touch on it."
The new Way Back, then, did not so much exorcise its Irish bar predecessor (which also briefly went by the name Paddy the Yank before closing last summer) as it did harness its energy and clean it up a bit. Floors, booths and the bar itself remain — the latter painted what Gianinetti calls “high-gloss piano black” — and a long high-top in the front was repurposed into a community table in the back. “These floors had grease and God knows what else on them. We want you to feel that this is a space that always had energy,” says Gianinetti.
Design Platform and Scout Interiors handled the update, striking a balance between masculinity and femininity, brooding and coziness. There are really two distinct rooms in this long, narrow address: The front holds the bar and a row of booths, while the back opens into a dining room flanked by couches and a pair of plush booths, all anchored by that community table. Walls are so dark they’re nearly black, plants and flowers are spread throughout the space, and light box floral patterns illuminate one side of the dining room. The team commissioned still-life photos from local artist Jack Ludlum, to inject a little masculinity into what is otherwise a fairly feminine space, according to Gianinetti.
Sure to be the most Instagrammed feature of the restaurant is a yellow neon "Wild Things" sign that hangs in the entrance. The phrase, says Gianinetti, comes from Wendell Berry’s poem “Peace of the Wild Things,” about finding peace in nature. They’re working with Ludlum on a custom piece that will feature the poem. The phrase also encapsulates how the guys would like to live their lives and do business.
As for the kitchen, we reported last week on Maialino-alum Jon Lavelle’s vision for the food, which tracks with the local-centric ethos that was on display at the original Way Back and scales up in ambition. His opening menu includes a beet dish served with trout roe and housemade yogurt, with an acidic element that comes from house-fermented beets rather than lemon (because lemons don’t grow in Colorado). You’ll also spy bison heart, served thin-sliced with pickled mustard seed and shaved turnip, and squid-ink fettuccine matched to green chile pesto and crispy rice.
But there are also several items on the opening menu — fried chicken, lamb ribs, a dry-aged sirloin — that reflect the partners’ ambition to make the Way Back 2.0 into a real neighborhood restaurant in addition to a local thought leader in haute cuisine. “One of my biggest pet peeves is trying to be everything to everyone, but…I gave in to my own pet peeve,” says George. “Kade and I lived in this neighborhood for five years. I love this street, we know the people in this neighborhood really well, and we got to know them even better at the other Way Back. Being on Tennyson, I think approachability, perception of value, hitting that right price point — it goes to the ability we have to become a neighborhood bar that also is an amazing restaurant.”
In other words, the partners want their neighbors to feel just as comfortable sitting at the bar crushing ribs and Coors Banquets as they do bringing their visiting parents in for a high-end meal.
You’ll see value reflected in the bar menu, too, which has been scaled back in both price and complication from that of the original Way Back. While a few favorites remain, the list is now anchored in what George calls “light riffs on classics” and “sessionable beers.” All cocktails now clock in at less than $11, with a run of highballs priced at $8 and pre-bottled spritzes at $9. Tap beers are mainly but not exclusively local, and by-the-glass wines come from all over the world, with nothing priced at more than $12.50.
The new Way Back will be open Tuesday through Thursday from 4 to 10 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 4 to 11 p.m., with a two-hour happy hour kicking things off each night. Brunch is also in the works. Call 970-682-6888 or visit the Way Back's website for more information.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.