Happy Place: Root Down, 1600 West 33rd Avenue, 303-993-4200
The Hours: Monday through Friday, from 4:30 to 7 p.m.
The Deals: $3-5 select cocktails; $5 house wines and select draft beer; $3-5 food specials
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The Digs: If you're in any way overexposed to the green movement, you'll want to hate Root Down, an ultra-hip gas station turned restaurant located just over I-25 in Highland. You'll scoff at the recycled basketball court that serves as the dining room flooring; you'll roll your eyes at the bowling lane that was transformed into a long, lacquered bar top; and you may even be annoyed by the decorations. Round aluminum-can tops cover the walls of the private dining room, vintage telephones hang in a grid over the recycled booths in the bar, and many of the fixtures -- the garage door that opens up to the front patio, for example -- are testaments to the former functionality of the space. Combine the visuals with the fact that Root Down's kitchen is supplied primarily by locally grown, organic ingredients, and you kind of just want to eco-barf everywhere.
But try as you might, it's difficult to have a shitty time at Root Down, and after a while, the cliché aesthetic suddenly lends to the funkiness of one of Denver's best bars, whose bartenders don't mess around. Led by rock-star mixologist Anika Zappe, Root Down's drink list is a well-crafted scroll of some of the most finely perfected cocktails in Denver.
The Verdict: We were on a mission: three seats, preferably within a few feet of each other, somewhere inside the parameters of the bar area. You see, the problem with Root Down is that everyone knows about it. It's also smack in the middle of a neighborhood packed with folks who love to walk down the street for a few cocktails and delicious grub. Finding a place to sit among the chaos can be tricky, especially as you stare down the fifteen other people preying upon the next open stool.
Once three stools opened up, there began the second wait -- for drinks. The service can be slow when Root Down is busy, but the bartenders work extraordinarily well together. Within a few minutes, rosemary-lavender lemonades (spiked with vodka and highly dangerous) were propped on the bar -- and food was on the way.
Whether you're enjoying a hot, sunny day on the patio or shaking off the chill in the dead of winter, Root Down is fun. After engaging in a philosophical yet hilarious conversation with our bartender about Kittens Inspired by Kittens, our plates arrived. It's not difficult to plow through piles of the sweet-potato fries with lime curry sauce ($4) or the sweet-potato falafel on lemon-tahini yogurt ($5.50), the latter of which is the best nosh on the happy-hour menu. The lamb slider was a little dry, and kind of a ripoff for five bucks, but if you're looking for something to share, order the steamed PEI mussels submerged in a Thai red curry ($6). Although the happy-hour food at Root Down lacks the innovation found on its dinner and brunch menus, it still does the job when you're hammered.
Overall Grade: B+
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