Imagine a place where guests are both guinea pigs and judges, bartenders are both mixologists and engineers and everything from the chair underneath you to the drink in your hand is an experiment. Welcome to GreenLight Lab, where owner Brandon Anderson and his wife have transformed 700 square feet on RiNo’s 27th street into an ongoing laboratory for design and drink experimentation.
Anderson and his wife own LIVstudio, a design firm just next door to GreenLight. From Bar Fausto to Sushi-Rama, Il Posto and Red Leg Brewing, this design duo is responsible for stimulating business and infrastructure across Denver. They opened GreenLight as an opportunity to test their designs in their own living, breathing space. By providing a ranking system for guests to judge their furniture on a one to five scale, they’ve created an environment that is constantly subject to change.
“As a designer, you rarely get to sit in a space that you have designed and observe people interacting with your creations,” explained Anderson. “I get to observe people interacting with our furniture and our drinks every day, which is such a unique concept. It’s a laboratory. All of our guests are test subjects, in the best way.”
The idea for GreenLight Lab began nearly a year ago in a cozy upper-northside New York bar. The couple was so impressed by this quaint space, with low music, dim lighting and perfectly crafted drinks that they decided to open one of their own.
“My wife made the mistake of saying ‘if we ever have a bar, I’d want it to be small and cozy like this, place where the music isn’t too loud and the drinks are really good.’ All I heard was, we can have a bar,” laughed Anderson. “We were looking for a new office space for LIVstudio anyway, and we knew that a space in RiNo had just become available.”
GreenLight lab officially opened November 2. Nearly one month after opening the alley dawning their front door was completely ripped out, making it difficult for guests to access, let alone find this tiny hideaway.
“Our front door was a construction zone until about a week ago, explained Anderson. “But people were in here regardless of that obstacle. We just know that if anyone was coming in, they tried like hell to make that happen, and that’s encouraging.”
The construction is now complete. This space that many have referred to as a speakeasy is tucked away on a pedestrian alley off RiNo’s 27th street. You’ll recognize it by the emerald light shining above its front door. And while it’s difficult to find, the drinks are well worth the search. The menu is split into two main categories, approved and experimental (beta). The approved list is an array of drinks that have been tried, tested, voted on by the public and elevated to GreenLight’s more permanent menu. The beta list, on the other hand, is constantly up for change.
“Our cocktail program is like our design program, an experiment,” explained Anderson. “We usually update the menu every two weeks, however, you’ll never walk in and go, ‘I don’t recognize this list,’ but we do our best to allow the bartenders to get creative and invite the customers to vote for what they like best.”
The beta menu is full of wildly creative concoctions vying for their spot on the “approved” list, and while their names are as generic as possible, their flavors are far from it. For examples the Tequila Drink, which melds Cimarron tequila with Leopold Bros. aperitivo, La Venenosa raicilla, Chareau aloe liqueur, blood orange and lime ($12.) Many of the drinks that made it to the approved list have been inspired by guest requests. From drinks like The All American Love Story, which takes flavors as obscure as curry and cumin and blends them into a drink that will transport you to New Delhi to the Rhapsody in White, a two-drink deconstructed play on a classic Ramos gin fizz. Head bartender Kaya Bersto and bar manager Dustin Lawlor encourage guests to try out the dealers choice. Needless to say, these bartenders are not playing it safe.
“I was a barista for almost a decade in Boulder before getting into the cocktail world,” explained Bersto. “I moved to Denver to further my coffee career and ended up getting into The Kitchen. I jumped at the opportunity. Very soon after I was running the coffee program there, training everyone on the espresso machine. And that lead into bartending.”
According to Bersto, Lawlor taught him everything he knows about the bar during their time at The Kitchen. And considering Lawlor was voted 5280’s Best Bartender of 2015, we’re not surprised. The concept that this team is putting forth is the first of its kind in Denver. And while GreenLight is a perfect place for Anderson and his wife to flex their design skills, they want it to be, above all, a place for intimate conversation.
“I want to be a place where people can come and actually have a conversation, stated Anderson. “So many bars and restaurants are loud, you can’t hear the person you’re with speaking. We’ve designed everything in this space to foster conversation, from the light fixated in the center of the table to the low music. For me, its all about that intimacy.”
GreenLight Lab has created a space for Denver drinkers to come and be both the judge and the experiment. The furniture is always changing, the drinks are regularly rotating and the environment is consistently cozy. We can’t think of a better way to quite literally, choose your adventure.
GreenLight Lab is open Tuesday through Saturday, 5 pm. to the last seating at midnight. You can find them under the emerald light, at 1336 27th Street, Denver.