Juicy Bamboo

26 Jun 19
The Denver Post
By Deliah Singer, Special to The Denver Post 2.5 stars (out of 4) Ratings range from zero to four stars. Zero is poor. One star, satisfactory. Two stars, good. Three stars, very good. Four stars, excellent. Remember when you were 20 and somehow got away with ordering an alcoholic drink at a restaurant? The excitement of it, from asking for it until that first sip, made you feel bold and capable of anything. There’s a thrill in the risqué, in not following the rules all the time. We imagine that exhilaration is, to a greater degree, what tingled down the spines of bootleggers during Prohibition. It’s a feeling we get a little closer to when we visit the various Prohibition-era bars that have found eager audiences around town. (Think: Williams & Graham and Green Russell, though the Cruise Room is the OG in this category.) One of the most recent additions to this crew is the Arvada Tavern. An unexpectedly hip joint on the increasingly hip strip of Olde Wadsworth Boulevard in Olde Town Arvada, the Arvada Tavern has been some version of a watering hole since 1933. (In fact, the spot held Arvada’s first tavern license.) When current owner/operators Lenka Juchelkova and Mike Huggins took over in 2012, they “tried to bring it back to what it represented in the 1940s,” Huggins says. “A classy operation.” (The husband-and-wife team also run the Tatarian, Union Lodge No. 1, and Kline’s Beer Hall.) At this dimly lit, jovial spot, the cocktail program is the obvious star, with a menu jam-packed with a who’s who (what’s what?) of classic tipples. The tastiest of the seasonal American fare, dusted with European influences, can be found among the shareable appetizers rather than the unremarkable entrées. Give the Arvada Tavern a try yourself — so long as you’re of age (if you’re drinking, that is). Vibe: Juchelkova and Huggins evoke the 1940s — and honor the venue’s history — with a prefab, Art Deco-style bar, walls adorned with old photographs, and aproned bartenders. Black booths, high-tops, a brick wall, and lots of wood flesh out the tavern vibe. The seemingly out-of-place “Coors beer” sign in the dining room is from the same year as the blade sign that once hung out front. A small, street-facing patio is the perfect perch from which to people watch on balmy evenings. Hits: When in doubt, order anything you can share. The top half of the menu is where chef Jordon Copple is at his best. There’s the house-made German pretzel ($13), a monument to carbs. Really, a small loaf of bread that wants to be a pretzel, it has a chewy, golden-brown crust sprinkled with salt. Cut off a chunk and slide it through the thick Pueblo green chili-studded cheese sauce. Repeat as desired. Pierogis ($14) are another must-get. Sourced from Wheat Ridge’s Pierogies Factory, the crisp, fried exteriors give way to a flavorful potato and cheese (our pick) or pork filling. For an extra $2, diners can have them served “dirty,” or covered in cheese sauce, which we suggest, because the spicy ranch-esque sauce that the little pockets arrive with is a mismatch. If summer has you thinking you need a touch of green with every meal, opt for one of the sizeable salads. The menu was in the process of changing toward the end of last month, but the harvest salad ($12), which has since been swapped for a simpler spring salad ($10), was a bright tangle of mixed greens, Brussels sprouts, butternut squash, almonds, chickpeas and feta tossed with honey-Dijon vinaigrette. The chile verde ($8) looks more like green chile, but the flavor profile is spot-on. Roasted pork is cooked to supple texture, and the blend of Pueblo green chiles, fire-roasted tomatoes and tomatillos satisfies a Southwestern craving. If only it were a touch spicier. [related_articles location=”right” show_article_date=”false” article_type=”automatic-primary-tag”] The Arvada burger ($15) is a classic combo of Colorado beef, melted cheddar cheese and LTO that’s elevated with bacon jam and garlic aioli. Misses: Except for the burger, Arvada Tavern’s entrées lack the flavor and flair of their menu counterparts. The lemon-caper sauce atop the chicken schnitzel ($24) adds an unpleasant sour note to the dish, while the panko breading is too soft and the meat is absent a juicy interior. Its plate fellows — Brussels sprouts (recently changed to glazed carrots) and mashed potatoes — were good but not memorable. It’s surprising to see a $35 price tag on an otherwise reasonably priced menu. Those dollar signs promised ribeye, green bean almondine and mashed potatoes. The meat was properly cooked but bland. The beans and potatoes were, well, beans and potatoes — nicely executed but not worth the price. To end the meal, pistachio cannolis dipped in chocolate ($9) disappoint. The pistachio flavor is missing entirely from the filling, which isn’t creamy at all, and the shells are bland and hard to break into. (If there’s a dessert available from 50-plus-year-old Rheinlander Bakery down the street, opt for that.) Drinks: Take a deep breath before diving into the Tavern’s liquid selections. There are a lot of ’em. The 10-draft and one cider list is all about Colorado (though Guinness does make an appearance), including Batch 19 ($7), a pre-Prohibition lager from Coors Brewing Company. Wine is served in every color ($8 to $13), with a concise list that’s all available by the glass or bottle. The focal point, though, is the cocktail compendium: 27 classic (or classic-adjacent) tipples that are expertly crafted and served in just-the-right glasses. A refreshing warm-weather option is the Last Word ($12), a witch-potion green swirl of Juniper Jones gin (from Denver’s the Family Jones Spirit House), Luxardo liqueur, green chartreuse and lime. The Vieux Carré ($15) is a touch sweet, but it’s nice to see the New Orleans cocktail, often overlooked in favor of old fashioneds and Manhattans, listed on a cocktail menu. If the Mai Tai and daiquiri (both $12) on the regular menu aren’t enough for your beach-vibe sensibilities, stop by on Tiki Tuesdays when the Tavern serves a special menu of 20-some themed cocktails and specialty bites in a dining room decked out with special lights and bamboo wall coverings. Service: “Ask me anything. I’ve tried everything.” That’s the kind of greeting you might get from a server here. Service is casual and friendly but also responsive to customers’ requests. It’s clear that servers have been trained, particularly when it comes to the robust drink menu, and recommendations are based on true familiarity. They give diners their space, checking in without being overbearing. Bottom Line: It’s difficult to run two businesses — a bar and a restaurant — equally well. The Arvada Tavern is at its best when it keeps its focus on well-crafted drinks and upgraded, shareable pub bites. Price: Appetizers ($9 to $16); Soups and salads ($8 to $10); Entrées ($12 to $35); Beer and wine ($5 to $13); Cocktails ($12 to $15) Fun Fact: Step through a 1940s-era phone booth and make your way up the stairs to the Bernard Ballroom, the Tavern’s speakeasy. (It’s named for a restaurant — Bernard’s Fine Dining — that existed in the location in the 1960s.) Open on Friday and Saturday nights, the Ballroom serves the full bar menu and there’s free live music starting at 8 p.m. (guests must be 21 or older). Restaurant Info: The Arvada Tavern; 5707 Olde Wadsworth Blvd., Arvada; 303-690-6269; arvadatavern.com; Hours: 4 p.m. to midnight, Sunday through Thursday; 4 p.m. to 2 a.m., Friday and Saturday (it’s 21-and-over after 10 p.m.); Reservations: Accepted, except on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday; Parking: Street parking Subscribe to our weekly newsletter to get entertainment news sent straight to your inbox. The Denver Post needs your support.Subscribe now for just 99 cents for the first month.
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