It's difficult to write about There without lapsing into "Who's on first?" territory. There is a bar and restaurant in Telluride opened by three industry veterans five and a half years ago. And There will be a second location for partners Andrew Tyler, Oren Cohen and Enrique Margulis when it opens in the ground-floor retail space of the Lumina building in LoHi some time in the next week. There you have it.
Tyler explains that the name There — or "there..." according to the restaurant's print and online typography — captures the idea of the place to be. If someone asks you where to meet them for cocktails, you need only say "There." But he also says the place is the culmination of decades of hard work. "We're 'There' — we've finally arrived," he states. "It's taken us 22 years to get brand-new stainless."
Tyler and Cohen met in New York City, where Tyler worked for the Nobu restaurant group, initially as a bartender but eventually as a buyer and higher-up for the group's beverage program, and Cohen was a veteran of Jean-George Vongerichten's empire. Tyler became friends with Margulis while working for Nobu in Miami, where Margulis ran a seafood distribution company, among other ventures. And several years ago he fell in love with Telluride while visiting and decided to ditch the big city in favor of the mountain ski town. Once in Colorado, it wasn't long before plans for There were quickly drawn up and executed.
Hospitality was one of Tyler's primary goals for Telluride's There, and he plans to continue with that focus at the new Denver location. "We understand service, we understand food — we just want to make it fun," he explains. "We want to give it soul. It's built by restaurant people — for our customers."
The first obstacle in opening There Denver was finding a location. At first, the partners thought they could take over an existing bar space, but the owner of the Lumina apartment building, which was being built on land formerly occupied by Pagliacci's (an Italian joint that closed in 2012 after more than sixty years in the neighborhood), offered them a spot once the building was complete. It was a great opportunity, but it came with challenges. The partners didn't want to hire designers, architects and builders, so they went a different route. "We took this space and realized the only way we could do this is if we built it ourselves," Tyler says.
So Tyler learned how to use design software to create digital renderings. "Oren turned into this Amish woodworker," he adds. Everything in the space other than electrical, plumbing and gas were handled by Tyler and his team.
The original Telluride location is tiny, with only 850 square feet and seating for a total of 32 guests at a bar and ten tables, and the There team wanted to maintain the same intimacy and service model at the larger Denver outpost. So there's an open kitchen with a six-seat chef's counter, the main bar — designed to resemble the stage at Telluride's Sheridan Opera House — and a variety of table configurations for sitting or standing. The entire dining room is within view of the chef and bartender, so customers can be catered to individually, even with a smaller staff.
And that's another main theme for There. "There's no host, no server, no bar back, no bus boy," Tyler points out. "It's just bar-dish-kitchen."
Chef Ben Knauss, a native of the Hudson Valley region of New York who earned his whites working in kitchens in New York City before heading west to Portland, Oregon and Telluride, came to There two and half years ago. He just moved to Denver to head the new There's culinary program and is a proponent of the restaurant's setup. "We definitely read each customer individually," Knauss explains.
His menu looks small and simple on paper, with a Sunday-comics style setup of captions and thought bubbles in primary colors divided into tostadas, steamed buns, lettuce wraps, skewers (kushiyaki) and grain bowls labeled "Bowling." But rather than offering the same four or five proteins on different bases, each section has its own proteins (or veggies) and preparations. So steamed buns could come with crispy spicy duck or soft shell crab, whereas tostadas offer a whole new list, with the likes of kobe tartar or a beet-mushroom combo. But they're all sold individually for $4 a piece. Additional bites for $6 or $10 serve as sides or meatless small-plates and a rotating list of "sharables" offers larger platters, like whole Colorado striped bass, chicken-fried quail, scallops or bowls of mussels, which change nightly.
"If I had to categorize it, I'd call it New American izakaya," says Tyler.
"It's just meticulous, badass line cookery," adds Knauss.
A seat at the chef's counter will get you an omakase experience that Tyler says will be the cheapest in town, with prices ranging from $25 to $60 a head, depending on the level selected.
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The bar program is equally creative and customizable, with simple shaken cocktails and "jam drinks" that start with a base spirit and a sour mix of lime and simple syrup with your choice of a spoonful of jam that you can mix in to your own taste. "The parts of the country that have the worst selection of booze always have the best jam," says Tyler by way of explanation.
Beyond that, there's a "black list" of classic cocktails delivered in paperback books (hint: check the back of the book for a list of wines by the bottle at prices far below the standard restaurant markup), wines by the glass from $7 to $15 and tap handles featuring beers from Telluride Brewing Company. "Am I a mixologist? No, I'm a barman," Tyler notes, so even though he says he can make anything a guest has in mind, he prefers to keep drinks simple and fun.
Although reservations won't be required at There, Tyler expects the 57-seater to fill quickly; he says he'd rather have a table waiting for guests than make them stand around for an hour or more. So if you're going, drop an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org to get the full experience as the team intends. An exact date for the opening hasn't been announced, but once unveiled, There will open at 5 p.m. seven nights a week and will serve food until 1 a.m. nightly as a draw to industry employees.
And coming soon: An enormous map of the world at the front of There's dining room will swivel back to reveal a neighborhood market next door that will stock meats, eggs, pantry items, bar tools and more; it will also serve as overflow space for private parties. The market will have a separate entrance, so will be accessible even when There is closed.