Since opening downtown in November 2018, Jovanina’s Broken Italian has steadily been gaining traction for its thoughtful approach to Italian cuisine made from local and seasonal ingredients. The upstairs has become a cozy hangout to enjoy house-made pasta, wood-fired pizza, a variety of vegetables, main dishes and carefully crafted desserts from chef de cuisine Chip Travelute and pastry chef and chef de cuisine Ashley Morrison. The vibrant cocktails and well-considered wine selection have also, in no small way, played a part in the restaurant’s initial success. Recently, the restaurant expanded to include a Prohibition-style speakeasy downstairs called Sotto Voce featuring the same food and drink and a much more intimate, alluring vibe. The 35-seat den comes complete with a real Prohibition tunnel that has been refitted into a charming place to store some of the house-aged spirits, and a snug two-seat enclave for any couple seeking the full experience.
Co-owners Jake and Jennifer Linzinmeir — both graduates of Cornell’s illustrious Gastronomy Program — opened the concept as a tribute to Jennifer’s Italian heritage and Jake’s appreciation for the cuisine gleaned from his experience working overseas in continental kitchens. The menu reflects both a solid respect for tradition and an ease and tranquility drawn from the team’s commitment to local ingredients. The menu changes frequently, both due to seasonality and a consistent desire to craft the best possible items — the current list being the 27th incarnation produced since the opening. Favorites include the charred broccolini ($11) with lemon, chili and pecorino cheese, the conchiglia ($16) with basil, arugula and cashew pesto and the truly essential chocolate tart ($10) with salted caramel, whipped mascarpone, puffed buckwheat and one of the flakiest crusts in town.
To gain access to Sotto Voce one must descend a candlewax caked stairwell complete with psychedelic wallpaper covered in images of hands holding cloudy mirrors. The entryway is appropriately transporting — the downstairs has all the eerie sensuality of a pirate ship’s hull and an oddly sophisticated hodgepodge of gangster-era leather booths, exposed brick and rustic furniture. The fact the building used to serve as a cigar factory is not immediately apparent or advertised, but the repurposed freight elevator gives a subtle nod to the space’s intriguing history. “Curator of Vibe” Howard Doskey has done a good job giving the place an almost cinematic appeal — an elegant and elaborately-stocked bar cart, wines that guests can hand-select straight off the shelf and an absinthe program complete with a `traditional presentation all help give the refuge an air of vintage refinement.
While the menu is the same, the dramatic shift in aesthetics makes the dining experience at Sotto Voce a considerable departure from the wholesome one found upstairs. The dim lighting makes it perfect for nightcaps and amorous rendezvous — something Doskey has ran with and augmented. The room can also be rented for private events with a maximum capacity of 55 standing guests. While the concept has been quietly shifting into focus for a little while now, this weekend marks its grand opening. By every indication, it is exactly the mysterious counterpart that Jovanina’s needed.
Sotto Voce is located at 1520 Blake St., Denver. It is open Thursday – Sunday 5 p.m. – close.
All photography courtesy of Jovanina’s Broken Italian.