On the evening of Thursday, May 23 the lot behind the Industry building in RiNo played host to the annual Chicken Fight — a massive celebration of wings, fried chicken and other fine fowl. Over 40 restaurants and a variety of booze companies, both local and national, joined forces for an all-you-can-eat extravaganza. Smoke wafted over the dusty lot as country music serenaded the thousands of hungry eaters who came to sample an impressive array of dishes. Wings, tacos, sliders and bao made up much of the roster, with a few wild cards — like the fried chicken and donut — thrown in for good measure. On top of the many standalone bars from brands like Stranahan’s and Budweiser, many places had small cocktails of their own to wash down the bites, keeping the party moving as people did their best to try as much of the food as possible. With so many participating groups it was impossible to try even close to everything but fortunately, there wasn’t a bad or boring item to be found.

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Several tiers of tickets allowed people to enjoy either three or four hours of unchecked feasting. At the height of the event, lines were long but the sociable crowd made them go by relatively quickly. The most popular joints occasionally had impossibly long lines, forcing attendees to cancel their plans and try some of the lesser known spots. While there were several classic spots like Fire on the Mountain and Williams and Graham the participants favored plenty of newcomers. Bar Helix, Budlong Hot Chicken, Smok and The Brutal Poodle all nicely represented the many places that have been changing Denver’s food culture over the course of the past couple years.

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Prizes were awarded across a variety of categories — fried chicken, wings, creative and cocktails — both from a panel of respected judges and a people’s choice vote. For fried chicken Former Saint, Williams and Graham and Grind Chicken and Watering Hole were selected by the judges with Carrera’s Tacos, J Street Kitchen and Williams and Graham winning the people’s favor. For wings GQue, West End Taphouse and Stoney’s won out with the judges through strong takes on classic styles and Smōk, Sugarfire and The Preservery being selected by the public.

For creative Butcher’s Bistro, Hearth and Dram and Mr. Tuna were the judges’ favorite with Mr. Tuna, Hearth and Dram and Mizu Izakaya taking the top three spots in descending order amongst the people. Cocktail-wise Curio, Golden Moon Tasting Room and Esters Neighborhood Pub won it out with the panel, with Smōk, Dos Santos and Stoney’s winning it out amongst the people. The great diversity amongst the selection was a testament to the tight competition and the fact that assorted palates could all find plenty of satisfying dishes.

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Despite the bout of unseasonably cold weather, the event was a great success. Of the many food and drink festivals that follow a similar format, Chicken Fight was a prime example of what can happen with good organization and a well-curated list of participants. Regardless of whether or not a restaurant left with a trophy, a good time was had by all as everyone brought their A-game. The chefs displayed their versatility and everyone left full, sauced and deeply satisfied.

All photography by Alden Bonecutter.

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