Only a few years ago no one would call Denver a real cocktail destination. Fortunately, the city’s ascent — ushered in by local staples like Williams and Graham and solidified by the arrival of established newcomers like Death and Co. — has been swift, innovative and publicly applauded. Competitive bartending contests take the city to be a serious destination and Williams and Graham was named the best bar in America at the 2015 Spirited Awards. Both bartenders and customers alike have quickly transformed the scene from one driven on Coors to a place where appealing drinks are commonplace and legitimate artistry is not hard to find.
On Thursday, May 16 Cherish Spirits Lounge opened its doors in Cherry Creek, bringing a truly unique approach to the imbibing experience. The bar program — helmed by veteran bar manager Evren Bora — will feature a plethora of unique spirits, a wide variety of barrel aged and house infusions and a changing menu of left-field cocktails to be shaken, stirred and garnished tableside. Bora will do much of the legwork — mixing drinks to order from within an ornate, compact cage with hardly enough room for him and the over 75 spirits that provide the palette for the inventive cocktail list. With all the infusions lining the walls of the interior, the cage resembles a mad scientist’s lab — an appropriate setting for building the complicated drinks.
Once Bora does the initial mixing he passes the ingredients to an expo who will complete the assembly tableside, giving patrons the full experience of their beverage’s creation. Cocktail nerds, spirits obsessives and more casual drinkers can all revel in the noteworthy concept by Richard Sandoval alumni and Denver resident Bart Delorenzo — who served as opening contractor for 65 of Sandoval’s restaurants worldwide. Cherish will be Delorenzo’s first solo concept, but the intricate and comfortable space is clearly the result of decades of experience. “It’s dinner and show,” quipped Bora, regarding the reasoning behind the tableside construction.
Bora — who previously worked as bar manager at Boulder’s License No. 1 and Denver’s Coohills — is a highly devoted craftsman. Prior to delving into the Cherish project, he flexed his skills both at work and at larger-scale competitions — winning the Shaken not Stirred Martini Competition with Cooper Lounge and winning people’s choice at the Woodford Reserve event with a complicated whiskey drink dubbed Fowl Play. Combing duckfat washed Woodford reserve, kumquat infused dry vermouth, sweet vermouth, allspice dram and amaro Montenegro then garnished with salt, allspice cured dehydrated duck egg yolk and a bourbon and brown sugar candied kumquat peel — the intentionally complicated beverage is a good example of the kind of avant-garde approach Bora will bring to the 15 drink menu. “If you want to create something great, you have to put all yourself into it,” said the bar manager. Bora said he took a single day off in February.
The pun-heavy menu was made in collaboration with bar lead Travis Gale. Bora and Gale designed the beverages to be luxurious, dividing the list into six categories — light and bright, forward and refreshing, rich and comforting, forward with a bite, sweet and savory and non-alcoholic. While nothing on the menu is quite so ornate as the Fowl Play — a lot of them actually look quite simple on paper — the preparation and accouterments make each drink quite the splendid spectacle. Mint frozen with liquid nitrogen, cherry bark smoke and elaborate chocolate decorations are just a few things you can expect to find lining the superb glassware. The Ryenapple Express ($22) is rye, peach liqueur, pineapple and lemon topped with a red wine float. Served with a mountain of ice and a metal straw, the drink is refreshing while still being rich and spirit-heavy. The Espress Yo-self ($16) is house-infused vanilla vodka, cold brew and hazelnut cream and drinks like a souped-up chocolate martini. All the cocktails fetch a high price tag, but Bora’s pours are not delicate.
Chef Matt Ellman will create a small menu of bar snacks that allow him to express French and Italian technique through world cuisine. There will be close collaboration between the kitchen and the bar, each using the other’s recycled byproducts in the location’s many house-made products. Discarded lemons and limes will be used for infused salts, with duck fat and other food products being utilized to distinguish the spirits. With all the preparation some drinks can take an entire month to fully assemble the finished product.
While the cocktails certainly bring a higher price point, the lesser-known, worldly spirits — hand selected by Bora — carry a premium. But the real draw is the menu’s creativity. The unusual and indulgent drinks are impressive in their own right, and Cherish’ contribution bodes well for Denver’s cocktail maturity at large.
Cherish Spirits Lounge is located at 221 Detroit St., Denver. It is open Tuesday and Wednesday 4 p.m. – 12 a.m., and Thursday – Saturday 4 p.m. – 2 a.m., it is closed Sunday and Monday. A grand opening will take place on June 12.
All photography by Alden Bonecutter.