As competition grows in the food and booze scene in Denver, it’s easy to feel the pressure to stick out. But as more old school spots close their doors, it seems a growing number of bars are ditching overly fussy concepts and increasingly complex cocktail menus to fill the void.
We saw it first with Sean Kenyon’s move away from his world-renowned speakeasy to his next door “dive” at The Occidental to somewhat of a hybrid at American Bonded. Now Brass Tacks is taking up a similar philosophy with its new downtown haunt.
“We all wanted to go back to the simpler days in bars where having a good time and making people happy was the focus. Go back to basics aka Brass Tacks in hospitality,” explained co-founder Katsumi Yuso Ruiz. She, along with her husband Stephen Julia, industry veteran Stuart Jensen and chef Zach Spott, teamed up to bring Brass Tacks to life after Blake Street Vault called it quits after a decade of service in late 2017.
Their willingness to preserve the historic bar — which has been a gathering spot in Denver since 1863 — is evident in the new interior and menu. Both are stylish but not totally unfamiliar. Designed by Scout Interiors (known for their work at Avanti) the tin-pressed ceiling and exposed brick still dominates the space with a few pops of neon lights and plush booths. If you used to frequent Blake Street Vault, you’d still recognize it.
As for the drinks, there really isn’t a cocktail menu — rather a board with 20 local beers on tap, six cocktails on draft and a handful of rotating concoctions. So when it comes to ordering, the suggested route is to talk to your bartender and give them a feel for what you like. Booze of choice? Spirit-forward? Up or on the rocks? All good questions to have answers to when you belly up to the bar.
If you can’t decide, ask what’s in the fridge for a bottled classic cocktail or order from the list of draft drinks. In particular, the Paloma never fails. If you want something a little different, but tastes familiar, the peanut-infused Bourbon and Cola will take you back. Like your common bar, you can order your drinks as singles or doubles — with singles coming in at a nice $9 or $13 for a double.
If you’re hungry for a late-night snack or a full blown meal — Brass Tacks caters to both. A mean mac ‘n’ cheese ($8), the perfect drunk nachos ($12), a brilliant fried egg & cheese sandwich ($3/ $5 with bacon) and expertly made wings ($5) all satisfy your need for good bar food. Items like a beef and noodle salad ($13) and shared plates like char sui pork belly ($22) with scallion pancakes go above-and-beyond your typical watering hole. For the daytime crowd, the spot opens at 10 a.m. where you can munch on salads and sandwiches and sip on kombucha, nitro cold brew and Vietnamese iced coffee. Four wines on tap also round out the list. Happy hour fiends can come by 3 to 6 p.m. any day of the week or late night from 10 p.m. to close, Sunday through Thursday.
But even if you can’t make it there in time to get the happy hour deal, Brass Tacks’ offerings are all fairly affordable. Which in Denver, as cost of living and rent goes up, is a nice go-to on rent day (or every day).
Brass Tacks officially opened on February 4. It’s located at 1526 Blake St., Denver and is open daily from 10 to 1 a.m.
All photography by Brittni Bell Warshaw.