First Look – Justin Cucci’s Mediterranean Tapas Bar Opening Spring 2017

Chef Justin Cucci and Edible Beats are back again, this time to open their fifth restaurant in the Mile High and third project alone in the LoHi neighborhood. El Five, formerly known as L5, will be a traditional tapas and small plates restaurant with the flare we’ve come to know, enjoy and expect of Cucci and his staff.

“The beauty of tapas is you really can’t go too contemporary, you’re going to fuck it up. I think what we’re really going to stick to is the history and the tradition of the food. I’m sure knowing us that we’re going to mess with it a bit and try to bend some rules but I don’t think we’re going to do any reinventions,” said Cucci. “I used to live in Israel for a while and [I] traveled to Spain alot and just have really been infatuated with the bones of that food. So, this is to me a Middle Eastern, Mediterranean tapas bar.”

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Cucci jokes of reclaiming his skyline on the fifth floor of Umatilla Street between 29th and 30th — after his all-around beloved view from Linger was obstructed by the continued upward growth of Denver. The obvious enthusiasm about this space, even while it’s under construction, is focused on the views, and rightfully so. Upon exiting the elevator that brings you to this fifth-floor space, you are greeted with breathtaking panoramic views of the mountains and on opposite side are equally impressive views of the city skyline — unobstructed. With fingers crossed, they hope it will stay that way with the building positioned on higher-ground.

“We spent two and half, three years working on the design and refining it. It was always about making sure that every seat has a cool view and an intimate view.” – Brent Forget of Boss Architecture

El Five, or what Cucci and Edible Beats are referring to as El Five, got its name originally from the sites blueprints. The blueprints said L and 5, and at that point they were so early into this venture that they needed something to call the space. Thus began “L5,” but after about a year into it Megan Baldwin (Operations and Development) suggested they did a play on words and actually call the space “El Five” which simply translates to “The Five”.

“Which [this] happens to be the fifth floor but also happens to be my fifth restaurant. So it kind of has this double innuendo that kind of just felt right. I think that’s going to be the name but you never know,” said Cucci.

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Boss Architecture who also worked with Cucci on Linger, Vital Root and Ophelia’s, has been working endlessly to brainstorm and create the Cucci-vision.

“We spent two and half, three years working on the design and refining it. It was always about making sure that every seat has a cool view and an intimate view,” said Brent Forget of Boss. The space, although still under construction, will be filled with little pieces of Cucci’s design aesthetic which means the use of reclaimed purchases. He collected old movie posters from Ebay, that judging by their size had to at one point be highway billboards in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s, all either Turkish, Lebanese or Egyptian. The hope is to cover almost every horizontal surface with these loud graphic pieces while mixing in a decoupage, if you will, of copper and bronze mirrors to balance the intensities and enhance the overall space.

If you’ve ever looked up at the ceilings in a few of Cucci’s restaurants, there’s this recurring theme of making them almost gallery-esque, for example Vital Root’s ceiling is lined with reclaimed colored bottles used to project a beautiful prism of light onto a Japanese maple. El Five, if all goes as planned, will use test tubes against a dark ceiling to create an almost whimsical starry ceiling to give the feeling of being completely under a sky full of stars.

“We just hope its a really, sort of dynamic experience where if you just want to have a drink and some smalls plates, you’ll come here. If you want to eat dinner and have some wine, you’ll come here,” said Cucci.

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Edible Beats and Cucci are pushing for a March 1 opening. The full menu has not been developed, but the general idea will be solely around creating satiating small plates inspired by Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisines.

All photography by Lucy Beaugard.

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The El Five space is still very much under construction but the view of the mountains served as a distraction.

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