Where: 1539 17th St. Denver, CO.
When: Daily, 4 PM- 6 PM
Pro: Cocktail selection and the freshest seafood in town, seating on the patio provides great downtown views
Con: The Smoked Mackerel Rillette may be an acquired tastes for most from Colorado.
Walking past Jax Fish House off 17th street the splashy logo may catch the eyes of most patrons, but entering Jax is another thing. For anyone who grew up in places that had piers instead of mountains, there is a familiar smell. The crisp and salty smell of shellfish, particularly oysters, strikes the nose upon entry at Jax. It instantly makes you want to reach down for the zipper of your hoodie because it holds a reminder that a cold gust may come in off the ocean. It also reminds you that the oysters are fresh. In fact, the seafood shipments arrive fresh and daily at the restaurant, according to general manager, Kelli Kudrick. That commitment to fresh delivery of seafood to patrons here in the heart of the Rocky Mountains is quiet impressive. On top of freshness, the presentation of this fresh seafood is a done correctly.
The oyster bar provides an enticing welcome mat to the restaurant. Upon further inspection, one notices that what appears as a stand alone oyster bar, is really the head of what could be the longest continuous bar in downtown; It bisects nearly the entire establishment. It provides a great focal point for watching people scurry home while surveying the talented food and bar team. This team uses steamer pots located at the far end of the bar to freshly prepare each portion of soups and steamed seafood. It’s done right in front of you.
A personal touch is definitely delivered by the professional bartending staff who easily predict the needs of every happy hour attendees. Whether your needs fall more on the food or beverage side, Jax has solutions abound. Seafood in Colorado may appear an expensive proposition, but not after looking at the happy hour menu at Jax Fish House. There is a nice assortment of $4-9 items that can satiate the taste buds of Neptune himself. The calamari offering is not only fried to crispy perfection but avoids being greasy. The portion sizing and shape is geared toward those who really love calamari.
Two other dishes on the happy hour menu speak well to hardcore seafood lovers: the Tuna Poke and the Smoked Mackerel Rillette. Distinct flavors permeate each dish. The Rillette is distinct to the North Atlantic region. It is a great twist on those great smoked fish dishes that incorporate cream, hailing from Scandinavia or Nova Scotia. On the lighter side, the Tuna Poke includes sticky rice and would work well as a creative substitute for sushi that can serve several people. Both of these dishes have strong main ingredients, but the smoked mackerel may be too much for some. Another interesting culinary portmanteau is the Gumbo Fries. Instead of standard chili fries, they provide a seafood focused approach that permeates each menu.
As for the drinks, Heath Pierson expertly explained some of the thoughts behind the drink selections. Being a fish house, focusing on seafood, there is an imperative that the drinks work and play well with oceanic offerings. Therefore, citrus items may be a little more present than at other bars, but it works well. The pricing is simple at $4 for each drink: from the Wonka Cocktail to Strawberry Lemonade to the Cucumber Lemon Press and the Seasonal Paloma, everything is under $5. As mentioned, you will find pineapple juice, lemon, lime and grapefruit present in those offerings. The Peg Leg does a great job of complimenting the smoked flavors of the Mackerel Rillette. Likewise, the Cucumber Lemon Press has lighter flavors that meld nicely with the Tuna Poke. Your bartender will help you pair your choices if you have questions. The staff as a unit functions very well with great attitudes. The spirit of happy hour is alive and well at Jax Fish House.
By the time happy hour ends, groups gather in all corners of the space. If you’ve had a rough day on the job, Jax makes a great stop on the way home to lift your spirits with a little taste of the sea. The staff is attentive and fun. Transplants from back East will appreciate the flavorful reminders. Natives can develop a taste for seafood, including excellent raw oysters. Anyone should find it easy to make new friends or meet up with buddies at this upbeat spot.