What: RiNo Yacht Club
Where: The Source, 3350 Brighton Blvd., Denver
When: Monday and Tuesday from 4 p.m. to close, Wednesday-Sunday from 4-6 p.m.
Pros: Innovative cocktails made fresh daily at the bartender’s discretion.
Cons: Not a single actual yacht in sight.
In the delightful but utterly landlocked city of Denver, it would be safe to assume that citizens could get along just fine without a yacht club. While this stands to reason, the Source’s RiNo Yacht Club is quickly becoming an important part of the city’s culinary landscape. Free of nautical pretension, the expansive bar takes up most of the midsection of the mixed-use goliath and draws its name from a tongue-in-cheek reference to its location on the banks of the majestic South Platte. All silliness aside, the spot has successfully fostered an old-school club vibe with a focus on leisure and camaraderie — all the perks, none of the boat shoes. Serving up a concise and well-thought-out menu of elegant cocktails and Southern coastal cuisine, it is easy to see how the RYC has been accruing an expanding group of regulars. Owner Mary Wright’s vision of a community hangout is indeed continuing to take shape.
Bar manager Lauren Lowe is a serious artist. The care and consideration displayed by her and the rest of her team requires a deep knowledge of the craft and an ongoing desire to push the envelope. Daily cocktails ($7) — including a sour, a bitter and a cobbler — are reimagined each day, ensuring that boredom will never be found within these walls. A daily sour served on my visit consisted of bourbon, fresh lemon juice and egg white — Angostura bitters dripped neatly to form an elegant a design atop the fluffy concoction. Despite changing daily, customers may always expect a cocktail made with top-notch ingredients and a great deal of care, served in sophisticated glassware.
Additionally, nine cocktail staples anchor the menu, in which both innovation and consistent quality can be expected. His Royal Badness ($10) is cachaça, lillet rose, grapefruit, lime, violette and salt — the result is light in flavor, elegant in presentation and surprisingly boozy in delivery.
As far as food is concerned, head chef Graham Steinruck produces an amazing array of delicious bites from a impossibly small kitchen situated within the bar. Happy hour snacks are served all week, with a full food menu available Wednesday through Sunday. The centerpiece of the happy hour menu is the deeply discounted dozen oysters ($24 at happy hour, $32 ordinarily). The freshness and high quality of the oysters can be difficult to achieve this far inland — RYC makes it look easy. Botarga (salted, cured roe flakes), smoked trout roe ($2) and paddlefish caviar ($3) can all be added for a small upcharge. House-made hot sauce, fresh-shaved horseradish and mignonette are served on the side.
The main food menu is seven items with price tags ranging from $7 to $15 — each dish being more delicious than the last. The hush puppies ($6) are a southern classic fried to crispy perfection. Served with Anaheim pepper jelly and remoulade, the bite sized corn cakes must be the best this side of the Mason-Dixon. The beet salad ($8) is made with beets, walnuts, pickled green strawberry, peanut crème and popped sorghum. The combination of the luscious and earthy beets with the crunchy, popcorn-like nature of the sorghum results in great flavor and legitimately novel texture. Finally, the club’s take on Brussels sprouts, chicken nuggets, deviled eggs and blue crab salad are all executed with the same level of creativity and care.
Finish off your meal with a sweet treat — the buttermilk pie ($7) served with Benedictine devo cream is generously portioned and is a phenomenal accompaniment to any of the sweeter cocktails.
All Photography by Lucy Beaugard.