Signs of life are sprouting up in the Dairy Block with the opening of two new spots adjacent to the Maven Hotel in Downtown Denver. This week, Sage Restaurant Group’s opened Kachina Denver— a spunky southwestern watering hole— and Poka Lola— a playful cocktail bar inspired by the 1950s soda fountain craze.
The Lowdown: “Here, we believe it’s important to take food seriously, but we don’t take ourselves too seriously,” Kachina General Manager Luis San Martin explained as he walked us through the space.
The restaurant’s bright colors and contemporary design clearly connect to the concept’s southwestern roots. The walls are brightly colored, including a mural from local artist Emanuel Martinez. White tile lines the open exhibition kitchen. Cacti, succulents and lilies surround the expansive bar that runs parallel to a wall of windows that allow for open-air seating on nicer days.
Don’t Miss: Is it too forward to say don’t miss the entire cocktail menu? After trying most of the menu with Sage Restaurant Group’s s Director of Beverage Operations Brandon Wise, we’ll confidently encourage you to step outside the everyday margarita and try one of his more creative concoctions. Some of our favorites were the creative-fresh flavors of the Zanahoria with Rhum J.M. Agricole Blanc, lime, fresh carrot juice, orange liqueur and cilantro ($12) and the hint of spice in the Lobo with deep eddy grapefruit vodka, St. Germain elderflower liqueur, lime, bell pepper and hellfire habanero shrub ($10). Non-drinkers will also love the wide selection of non-alcoholic agua frescas like the Desert Pear, made with prickly pear puree, lemon juice, raw sugar syrup and cucumber water ($7)—although we highly suggest drinkers add a shot of tequila to that easy sipper.
As for the menu, Executive Chef Jeff Bolton was excited to tap into his childhood memories of cooking with his Spanish-Cuban grandfather while creating this menu.
“Southwestern food has a distinct identity,” Bolton explained. “It’s a convergence of cultures—European, Native American and more. In a lot of ways, this food is a history lesson.”
If this is what history tastes like, we’re signing up for the class. We loved digging into six different flavors of Kachina’s Navajo Tacos boasting a blend of regional renditions of classic Native American taco preparation – light, fluffy fry bread, filled with fresh seasonal, local ingredients. All six were an incredible tribute to “flavorful, but not spicy” combinations, but the true stand-outs were The Mojave with duck confit, pickled cactus, chipotle agave and manchego cheese ($6) and The Maricopa with gulf shrimp a la plancha, green chile aioli, peach habanero salsa and a brussels sprout slaw ($6).
Kachina Southwestern Grill is located at 1890 Wazee St., Denver. The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Friday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Weekend brunch is available on Saturdays and Sundays from 10 am a.m. to 2 p.m.
Poka Lola Social Club
The Lowdown: Take a few steps across the lobby of the Maven hotel, and you’ll find yourself transported to the 1950s inside Poka Lola. The open-layout cocktail bar is lined with plush chairs, bold black and white-patterned floors and a touch of robin’s egg-turquoise seating that takes you back in time. You can cozy into a corner and listen to the familiar percussion of a cocktail shaker and their vintage pinball machines (Bonus: They’re free to play). The team hopes that Poka Lola will become an “industry staple” in the Denver restaurant community, and a comfortable place for people to grab a creative drink and take a trip back in time after work.
Don’t Miss: Named after nothing more than resembling the rhythmic syllables of Pepsi-Cola and Coca-Cola, Poka Lola embraces the soda fountain culture with a bit more flair. It was Director of Beverage Operations Wise’s first opportunity to build a concept from scratch with Sage.
“It was like being handed a blank canvas,” he explained while taking in the space. “I tapped into my childhood, and that joyful feeling you get when you’re handed something like a cream soda or root beer float.”
These cocktails are far beyond your average boozy milkshake, though. Wise blurred the lines of classic and creative with beverages like The Crate & Barrel with bourbon, sweet vermouth, barrel-aged Benedictine absinthe and bitters ($10) and The Negroni Soda with Campari, sweet vermouth, orange cream citrate and housemade juniper soda ($9). Chocolate lovers will adore the Windsor Egg Cream with fernet, chocolate, cream, egg white, seltzer and mint ($9).
When we giggled and smiled sipping the Windsor Egg Cream in a classic milkshake glass, Wise was pleased.
“What you just did right there? That’s everything I was going for,” he said.
Poka Lola will offer a limited menu revolving around classic comfort foods with a twist. Think pasta with Italian sausage, bell peppers, onion, tomato sauce, white cheddar cheese and a garlic bread crust or Smoked Colorado Lamb Ribs, topped with chipotle barbecue sauce and served with house-cut fries.
Poka Lola Social Club is located at 1850 Wazee St., Denver. The bar is open seven days a week from 4 p.m. to close.
Unless noted otherwise, all photography by Alexandra Palmerton.