Second Helpings

Walnut Brewery

Every time I go to New York, I find myself liking it less and less. It's not the people, the noise, the size -- all that stuff used to bug me, but not so much anymore. Now, after six years and change spent west of the Mississippi, what bothers me most about New York is simply that it isn't Colorado. And after a weekend in Manhattan, coming home felt good. To celebrate, the first thing I did (after getting a kiss from the wife and sucking down a fast cigarette on the curb) was make reservations at the Buckhorn (see page 51), and while I was there, I started thinking about what kind of restaurant -- other than a century-old steakhouse founded by a friend of Buffalo Bill Cody -- best exemplifies the Rocky Mountain experience. The answer? The brewpub, of course. A frosty microbrew, a nice fat burger, a laid-back crowd made up of old hippies, mountain bikers, former dope pilots and triathletes breaking training -- that's what I was after. Unfortunately, Boulder's Walnut Brewery -- the original brewpub location of what's now the fifty-unit strong Rock Bottom Restaurant chain -- today is a pale shadow of those pioneer brewpubs. Sure, the place is comfortable, but so is an Olive Garden. Yes, the service is quick, but so is the drive-thru at my local Good Times. The Walnut felt so clean-cut and corporate and chain-ish that were a twister to come down, pick the whole joint up and then drop it in a suburb of Chicago or some office park in Minneapolis, it would fit right in as though it had been built there. That's what makes chains work, I guess. The food was no better than bar-room standard, with a couple of steaks, some overworked pastas, sashimi-grade seared ahi with pickled ginger and ponzu sauce, and baked ballpark soft pretzels served with a godawful spinach-cheese dip. Thankfully, the beer is still good. It took me a pint of the house's Buffalo Gold to wash down one of those soft pretzels, a second round of the excellent St. James Irish Red before I stopped weeping over what the kitchen had done to the tuna, and a final belt of whiskey to rouse me from my depressed state and get me up and out the door.
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Jason Sheehan
Contact: Jason Sheehan