Zengo Makes for a Great Denver Happy Hour!

I am finding it very enjoyable to experience new things about Denver, even after twelve years of living here. A lot of times, those new experiences are new places to eat and drink…one of my favorite past-times.

Tonight I enjoyed a great happy hour at Zengo, which is in the LoDo area and right at Riverfront Park. This part of downtown borders the I-25 highway and the Platte River, so it’s easy to reach and a great patio spot when the weather is warm and sunny. Yet even on snowy, frigid nights like tonight, it was a great place for my friend Lisa McAlister and me, to satisfy our appetites. We sat in their bar area, which has soft lighting and low couches, along with tall wood tables and modern stools. The bar is large and curves in a half-circle shape under the colorful assortment of glass lights, dangling as large squares and rectangles. At first I wasn’t really sure what to call their style of food or what it really was. They define it simply and perfectly on their website as Latin-Asian.

Now, I’m not and never will be a “foodsy” person, so regardless of what they or you and I want to call it, I just know that everything I had there tonight, tasted really good. They have a great happy hour menu that Lisa and I picked from. This gave us the chance to share and enjoy from a variety of small plates, which came with a good amount of food, especially at happy hour prices. Between us both, we enjoyed the Wagyu Beef Albondigas (which is the Spanish word for “meatballs”), the Salt and Pepper Shrimp Roll (sushi), a Kabayaki Glazed Salmon Belly Roll (another roll of their sushi), and their Adobo Chicken Steam Buns. Lisa enjoyed a beer and I savored a glass of their featured happy hour red wine.

The service was good and friendly and the environment was pleasant to the senses. In the background the music was soft, which I really like because it’s irritating to me when music is too loud in a restaurant and if conversations are hard to hear. I was pleasantly surprised at how reasonable the happy hour prices were as well, with the most expensive item of our choices being $7 for the salmon sushi roll. Throughout the night, I felt comfortable and relaxed in my surroundings, enjoyed tastes that were pleasantly fresh and a unique combination of flavors, and the presentation of the food was a delight for my eyes while it was also a joy for my tummy. I can say with excitement that I’m already looking forward to going back to Zengo soon and will be recommending it to others. And they made it pretty easy for us since they have a great happy hour schedule of Monday – Saturdays, 5pm-7pm. So get in there and let me know what you think as well!

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Community Coffee Pub – My Second Living Room

Delicious and beautiful

Remember the 80’s show “Cheers”? Where everybody knows your name? I have come to find my version of “Cheers” in my life – the Rooster and Moon Coffee Pub. I am there as I write this. Every so often I stop to look up from my laptop and peruse the diversity of people scattered throughout the space – the majority are on laptops, some have their earpieces in listening to their tunes, others are enjoying conversation with their companion, some are reading a book. I recognize quite a few as the regulars – neighbors, my roommate Diane going above and beyond by doing work on the weekend, Jim working on his business Pattern that creates and sells high-end natural body wash, other faces that I recognize but have yet to meet….and then me, trying to put into words all that I’m taking in around me.Is this coffee shop special? What makes it special? Well, obviously it’s special to me since I’m writing about it and from the looks of the crowds, it is special to a good number of people in the Denver downtown/metro area. I think what makes Rooster and Moon special is the same thing that makes it such a great success – the staff and the owners. Now, I could rate their coffee, review their food, and go on and on about the atmosphere, but 5280 Magazine and Westword have done a great job at that and I highly recommend you enjoy their reads as well. No, I want to focus on the heart of Rooster and Moon and for that matter, what should really be the heart of any coffee shop. We can call it the study of Ethno-cafe (“ethno” is Greek for people/folk and “cafe”…well, that’s the same in almost every language, so I think you catch my drift.Let me paint the scene for you: Today we have Nate behind the counter along with Dwight. Every so often Nate also juggles the task of carrying out delicious dishes to customers. Bodi is back and forth between working the kitchen in the back and the front counter. And yes, Bodi is his real name. He and his wife Jamie own the place along with another couple, Bird and Stephanie. Bird, on the other hand, is a nickname for Jason. His wife Stephanie is a lawyer and helps with the business aspects of the shop. Tina, who is also the owner of the Fast Geek boutique around the corner, is working the espresso machine and creating great designs with the foam. There’s Emily, who is ringing up people at the cash register when they put in their order. And then we circle back around to Jamie – she’s one of the Barista Queens and I bet she’s invested her sweat, blood, and tears into the RM coffee shop, along with her co-owners. I had originally started describing each person more in depth….but realized we would be here for a long time and I want you to go experience them for yourself. They all exhibit similar qualities though – remembering your name, your favorite drink; sharing stories with you and hearing your own. They’re some of the hardest workers I know, with most of them working at RM as one of their two jobs. I have come to love these people. They’re like family and they’re certainly community. It isn’t like that by accident though. A lot of hard work and commitment has gone into making this place their dream of a community center. They’ve been very intentional about that and its why they’ve been rated one of the best in Denver and why on this particular Saturday morning they’re packed. And on top of all this, they serve the best coffee and food, hands down.

Where people love the coffee, and the coffee loves people

I don’t know about you, but for me there’s something so stimulating about a happy, bustling coffee shop – the warmth and smells of coffee, the noise of the espresso machines blending in with the music overhead, conversations humming lightly in the background – and somehow in the midst of all this, people are able to focus. Well, some of us are able to focus and every now and then I certainly get distracted, but I welcome the breaks. Don’t we all?

So where is your second living room? Where do you know others and they know you, that is outside of your home – your comfortable four walls? They exist for all of us in some way or another. At least I hope you have one that exist for you. It can be the essence of a community.

A Mixology of Drinks and Experience – Green Russell

Where do I start? Green Russell is one of my favorite new experiences to enjoy in downtown Denver and it has plenty to explore.
You can call it a restaurant, however it can also be described as an upscale, swanky bar. I was first referred to it by Vince, one of the workers at the Goorin Bros. hat store on Larimer Square. When he described it as a “speakeasy” with “prohibition style drinks”, my attention was caught! I mean, when you think of going to a new place and saying “Vince told me to ask for Joe” (perhaps in a bit of a New York accent – but I don’t have one of those), you don’t forget about it. It took me a while to finally make it to Green Russell and when I made it there, it was the beginning of a beautiful experience.
So let me set the stage…it’s underground on Larimer Square. The entrance where the hostess takes your name is quite deceiving, making it feel secretive. Definitely get reservations if you’re going on a weekend, because they book up. When they seat you, they take you in through another door to a different world. Dimly lit, you first take in the dark wood bar and large leather seats. These chairs are the only ones I’ve ever sat in that make me want to describe them as “luscious”. I’m sure the bar atmosphere has something to do with that. You have areas along one side that are small tables with two or more chairs pulled alongside them for that perfect intimate setting to enjoy romantic conversations or good laughs with your friends. The other side is graced with a beautiful, dark solid wood bar. It stretches along the length of the room, with old-school bar stools topped in red. Wood beams are throughout and the walls vary from exposed brick to rock. It is elegant, yet hip and sexy all at once. 
But what bar is truly great without amazing staff. The mixologists, as is more appropriate for referring to these upscale chefs/bartenders, are decked in suspenders, vests, and either a fedora or a flatcap (from Goorin Bros. of course). Their tattoos peak out at you from their rolled up sleeves, a small reminder that you’re in the 21st century rather than the roaring 20’s (and I realize…there were tattoos back then, but you know what I mean). Now that I’ve been there several times, I’ve come to recognize most of the staff…best way to sum them up? They’re serious about what they do, get excited about the drinks they make, and most likely know about the history of your drink as well (and yes, there is a history to drinks).
Now to the real good stuff…what makes this place so unique and exceptional…the drinks! Green Russell is all about the mixology of drinks. Expect that your drink may take up to twenty minutes to make but the wait will be well worth it. They have a great drink menu that I have yet to order from. I’m stuck on the custom drink…I let the mixologist know what I like and don’t like, and sometimes toss in there how I’m feeling that night, and away they go to create a concoction I can’t imagine getting anywhere else. It truly is amazing and as easy as it is for me to get excited about things, these drinks are seriously profound. And yes, some people get hung up on the price (average of about $12/drink), but it takes no genius to realize that you get your money’s worth. There’s more alcohol in these drinks than what you get at your typical bar and the mixers are as natural as they can come – if it can be fresh squeezed or grown, Green Russell does it all themselves. Even their ice is shaved or chipped by hand from large blocks of ice that you may catch them from time to time carrying in from the back. To top it all off, they serve some delicious appetizers and amazing large slices of homemade pie served in old fashion pie tins. Last time I was there, I enjoyed the Colorado Cherry pie with whip cream made from scratch. 
As you can tell, my review is all together positive and pretty exuberant. Don’t just take my word for it though. I recently took two male friends who are corporate pilots and a woman from London. All three of these people have been all over the world and experienced some of the best food, drinks, and atmosphere you can find. Did they love it? They were amazed and I quote, “blown away”. And trust me…they came into the place pretty dubious. They haven’t stopped talking about it since and sharing about it with other people…just like I’m sharing it with you. 

If you decide to go explore Green Russell, let me know about your experience by sharing your thoughts here on my blog. I could go on and on about this place, but we would be here for a while and you need to get over there…let me know what I left out. I wish you happy drinking and that you find it worthy to pass along to others.