Thursday, May 26, 2011

What's Good: Lou's Food Bar

I talk a lot about food in this space, but really...why not, right? We need food, we enjoy food, and some of the most memorable moments with others, or even in general, involve food (e.g., The Last Supper, Michael Corleone's dinner with Mark McCluskey). Denver is rife with good places to grab a bite, as well as various (and different) neighborhoods to visit for said bite. That, to me, is what Lou's Food Bar is all about.

Lou's is up on the 1800 block of 38th Avenue, and it fits that exact neighborhood well. I don't claim to be a history buff, but that area of Denver is the only one with former mob ties. A little gritty, a little funky, a little hipster, and pretty damn cool. Copy and paste those comments for Lou's.

Case in point, their website reads: "Sausage. Cheese. Big Salads. Fried chicken. Pie." Ummm, yes please.

I've only really had the chance to sample some cured meats and cheeses, a couple beers and a desert via cruiser bike on a Sunday afternoon, but it was apparent that this is a place I like. Food that someone put some thought into, but has some comfort. Nothing flashy, but definitely tasty. The atmosphere is relaxed, but is still a good place to show off to your co-workers. And the happy hour (3:00-6:00, daily) helps keep the bank account afloat. More than anything, I like a place that has a fun atmosphere, serves good food, isn't pretentious, and has a sweet patio with cool lights for a summer night in Denver. I'll be back to try more, but the first impression was "I like hanging out with that person."

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Endorsement: Spontaneity

Rewind to a couple of Fridays ago: I was set to meet six friends for a low key happy hour, The Ale House was the decided-upon locale. Here is the somewhat accurate rundown of events that followed (names have been changed to protect the innocent):

6:05 - Meet Joe at the Ale House, Chris shows up about 10 minutes later

6:15 - Chris makes the comment "Hey, there's cheap flights to Vegas, who wants to go?" Sarah shows up shortly thereafter.

6:25 - Vegas discussion continues. Sarah doesn't have her kids this weekend and had a long week at the law offices. Seems extremely excited about the Vegas idea. Gets her iPad out to search flights.

6:45 - Second round of drinks ordered. Vegas discussion continues, five tickets are found via iPad for a United flight later that night. Joe goes to call wife and attempt to obtain an unprecedented hall pass. I check on the other two happy hour attendees who have yet to show up.

7:00 - Joe amazingly gets a "sounds like fun, go for it" from what is obviously the coolest wife on the planet. I confirm, our sixth friend is out, but Rachel replies "Vegas? Yeah, cool. I'm in." Original Vegas flight option is no longer available...Sarah continues searching for options.

7:20 - A 9:30 United flight is identified. Five tickets - including a leg room upgrade from Chris (he's taller than me). Group relays their full names and dates of birth to Sarah who is booking the flight on Travelocity via her iPad. Rachel is unsuccessfully looking for a parking spot at the Ale House. Factual note: Chris is the oldest in the group.

7:45 - All we need to do is hit the "confirm purchase" button when Chris chimes in, "We're about ready to drop quite a bit of money on a flight to spend 11 hours in Vegas. We could go up to Blackhawk and tear it up for that amount of money. Should we think about this?" Which is extremely ironic considering Chris goes to Vegas an average of 10 times per year. Group laughs mockingly at Chris while each orders another round. Flight confirmed. Chris calls Planet Hollywood to obtain comped room, "just in case" and orders a limo to pick us up (yes, that's how often he is there).

8:00 - Quick stop at home to let the dog out, quick call to friend to ask to let dog out in the morning. Carpool with the two sober members of the group driving to DIA while listening to a montage of Frank Sinatra, Motley Crue and Lil Wayne (we were a bit giddy by now and "making it rain" as best we could).

8:30 - Arrive at DIA with nothing but the shirts on our backs, IDs and ATM cards. Quick race to see if Chris' Clear card is actually quicker than going through the short security line. It wasn't. Hop the train for the B Gates, while 3 members stopped by McDonald's and Steak Escape for a horrifically awful meal. Rachel and I opted out of the cuisine.

9:30 - Wheels up. Due to extended legroom, group decides to have a "sitting flutter kick" contest to see who can go the longest without stopping. Chris orders drinks from flight attendant - two per person. Flight attendant loves our story, provides 10 drinks for $25. First big win of the night.

9:45 - Important pact is made: If you win what your flight cost, you get to keep it. Anything above that is split amongst the group equally. Sort of like socialism without all of the oppression.

10:15 (MST) - Rachel wins flutter kick contest.

10:30 (PST) - Wheels down. Several "Hangover" and "Swingers" quotes thrown out, limo guy with a sign with Chris' name on it briefly attempts to run the other way.

10:50 - Arrive at Planet Hollywood. Scope out the scene, get "free" bracelets to comp cover charge at a club that was opening that night. Go to said club for overpriced drinks, watch funny people dance and obtain bottle service while techno music plays. Gambling itch sets in...

11:15 - Joe and Chris are not hungry so they head straight to the blackjack table with Sarah. Rachel and Jim head to P.F. Chang's for a superior meal to McDonald's or Steak Escape.

Midnight - Jim meets up with Chris and Joe at blackjack table. Chris and Joe started out slowly, but were beginning to win a little. Jim takes Third Base at the table. Sarah comes back with cigars.

12:05 - 4:00 - Group is up - particularly Chris and Joe, but I was a few hundred up as well. Free drinks, funny comments including waving "buh-bye" to the dealer every time she had to hit a 12-16, splits, double downs...we were on a roll. Rachel sits down after a while and wins a few hands. Seriously, this never happens in Vegas.

4:00 - Chris is up BIG, but Joe is up even bigger. I was up pretty big, but ended on a flat note and am now just up "well." Rachel decides to "check out" the hotel room for a 30 minute nap. I make an ill-advised trip to the craps table to try to get back to "pretty big" before cashing out. End up dropping a third of my winnings. Lesson: Kenny Rogers is always right.

4:30 - Group cashes out. Jim sees a yellow chip for the first time. All totaled we were able to pay for everything but essentially one flight. No kidding: four flights, the limo, the legroom (bad choice, if you ask me) and breakfast for everyone at the Bellagio.

5:30 - Head to McCarran Airport with full stomaches and happy, but exhausted faces. Lots of laughs about dealers, bad bets, funny characters and no sleep. Group crashes hard on the plane.

9:30 - Wheels down, 15.5 hours after we met for an innocent happy hour in Denver. Jim, Chris, Sarah and Rachel all head home to sleep. Joe goes to coach his daughter's soccer game. Hats off to Joe.

Moral of the story: Do something might just be a ton of fun. Or in the words of Yoda, "Do or do not. There is no try."

1000 Words: Sunrises

Sunrises are better than sunsets. I will not argue that point. When you have a chance, get up in the dark, grab a cup of coffee, watch and enjoy.

Photo: Sunrise, Charles Bridge, Prague, Czech Republic

Monday, May 16, 2011

What's Good: The Green Russell

Different situations call for different drinks. Winding down on a summer weeknight? I'll take a Blue Paddle, please. Hot summer afternoon? Tequila and tonic with lime (try it sometime in lieu of a marg). Then there are days when you need a cocktail. A REAL cocktail. Gin. Bourbon. Bitters. Ice. If you're having a "cocktail" day, or even if you just want a really, really good drink, go to The Green Russell (1422 Larimer St., Denver).

Lots of "Prohibition-Style" cocktail joints have been popping up around the country (try Peche in Austin) but its the Green Russell's location (behind Larimer Street, downstairs, not easy to find), the fact that you have to walk through a pie kitchen to get there (fully expecting to pass by Peter Clemenza on the way through), the lighting/fixtures/barstools and general atmosphere, and most importantly, the staff's knowledge of great booze and cocktail artistry - the Russell is a step above any of the "speakeasy's" I've visited.

The bar is owned by the same group that brought us some Denver favorites - Osteria Marco, Mizuna, Bones, and Lou's - so the menu, while limited, is solid - try the "pig in a blanket" for a side-of-pork-twist on an old favorite. But let's be honest go to the Russell for a cocktail, not food, and not even beer or wine for that matter.

The menu has several house-suggested drinks, all are good, but if you want to see the suspender/vest/newsboy-cap-wearing bartenders showcasing their know-how, go with the "Bartender's Choice." Here you will be able to tell your 'tender you like a gin-ish drink with a hint of egg white, or simply "something with bourbon" - or whatever might help ease the trials and tribulations of your previous 10 hours. What you'll get in return is a cocktail made with care - in every sense of the word. You notice the fact that there's a hint of pepper where there has never been before, or that the one giant ice cube keeps your drink cold while not watering down your Leopold's (the Russell is reported to have an ice block-making machine that cranks out 300 lb. blocks that are later cut down, and then chipped down at the bar for that exact reason).

My last visit I asked for "something with rye and bitters" - 10 minutes later (good drinks take time, folks...if you want a vodka/cranberry go to the generic sports bar down the street) what I got was an Old Overholt with (regular) bitters, the house made pepper-infused simple syrup and a blood orange slice/rind for flavor with one large hand-cracked ice cube. It was one of the best cocktail experiences I've ever had. Just what I needed after a cloudy, long day at work.