“I just Googled naked women and there she was,” said Justin Cucci, founder and owner of Ophelia’s. He was referring to a large cloth mural plastered to the brick wall behind him. The image depicted a raven-haired girl, most likely from the 1920s or 1930s, covered in a black transparent shawl. “I saw her and everything about her-ness became the inspiration for this restaurant,” said Cucci.
Ophelia’s, the unofficial name of the woman in mural – as well as the restaurant– is a brand new eatery opening today in the Ballpark neighborhood. Set inside a former brothel and more recently an adult video bookstore, this new concept joins the Edible Beats family of charmingly eclectic restaurants consisting of Linger and Root Down. This comes after a three-year process which Cucci called his “most reaching project yet.” Now with a revised space, including a massive sunken stage that defines the area as u-shaped, this self proclaimed “gastro-brothel” is ready for its public debut. Read on to learn more about this sensuous new joint including a bizarre story involving thousands of Jägermeister bottles and one miraculous alcoholic.
“It was ripe with seediness,” said Cucci of the historic Airedale building – a brick house that sits on an awkwardly empty strip of 20th between Larimer and Lawrence. He explained that when he visited the then adult video bookstore 3 1/2 years ago there wasn’t anything discrete about the place. “It was still pretty active at the time. There were dildos in the window,” he admitted.
Ophelia’s, which has a sense of sexuality peppered throughout, is a bit more subtle. Here you’ll find tasteful posters and paintings alluring to the feminine mystique. “I feel like all my restaurants are more feminine,” said Cucci while elaborating that the decor is meant to be empowering not exploitative.
But despite sex as the underlying theme, Ophelia’s is largely characterized by the repurposed goods Cucci has hunted and gathered over the years of pillaging various online sites like eBay and Craigslist as well as estate sales and personal connections. There you’ll find over 1,000 multi-colored yardsticks stuccoed to the bathroom stalls, candy-colored bar tops made of illuminated pinball machine glass, and hundreds of hand-held radios puzzled together to build a wall behind the stage. In addition, there are several artifacts from the building including old sex show booths (of which you can find incorporated into the hostess stands) and small vintage marquees. As a result almost every inch of the space has a story. Fortunately for us, Cucci was happy to share several of his tales. One of his favorite involves the downstairs bar which was built using hundreds of little glass Jägermeister bottles. Cucci explained that he was able to purchase every one from a man his father knew when he worked at liquor store. “He would come in and buy 10 to 12 of them a day… I have over 4,000 of them,” said Cucci “And yes, he is still amazingly alive, walking and talking.”
Like Linger and Root Down the menu at Ophelia’s is vegetable forward with an emphasis on farm-to-table practices and sustainably raised meats and produce. However the menu is not strictly vegetarian, and offers many meat-centric dishes like: wild boar sausages wrapped in a savory pastry, porter-teriyaki duck wings, and an ostrich burger served with miso bacon, ponzu onions and pickled vegetables on a pretzel bun. Cucci’s told us one of his favorite dishes are the arepas made with a queso fresco, plantains, black beans, cilantro pesto and a strawberry pico. He also mentioned the lamb gyro salad made with lamb sausage, tzatziki, oven roasted tomatoes, pickled cippoloni and feta dressing for its filling nature. For starters we also recommend the playfully named spring cheese incident, a skillet filled with gooey cheese and veggies like blistered cherry tomatoes, zucchini pistou and asparagus. The menu will rotate seasonally although Cucci mentioned that he might up the pace, saying that even at Linger and Root Down he is aiming to swap out the items more frequently.
Doubling as a music venue, booze is an important aspect at Ophelia’s. With two bars, the largest located upstairs and the aforementioned Jägermeister bar situated downstairs, Ophelia’s is more than a restaurant. Rather with a full performance schedule with touring and local acts, this is a place you’ll frequent not only for the food. As a result the bar program is fully-fleshed with a wide selection of local Colorado spirits and craft beer. For cocktails, the list is small and focuses on simplicity with all drinks made with four ingredients or less.
If all goes well, this should make for a quick turn around. A smart move since no one wants to wait in line for 30 minutes because your bartender is struggling to spiral-ize a zucchini for a garnish. But other than the logistical need, the limited ingredients are meant to highlight the uniqueness of each element.
Take the Airedale made with bourbon, rye, Aperol and grapefruit oil for a updated take on a classic drink. Or try the refreshing Diamond Lil’s constructed with Contratto Bianco vermouth, prosecco, soda and lemon. As for the wine, the list predominately features a South American selection with several Italian and Portuguese wines throughout.
All photography by Glenn Ross. Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox is located at 1215 20th St., Denver.