When modern Denverites refer to Union Station, historic buildings may not typically come to mind. On the contrary, downtown Denver’s bustling transportation hub has become a rapidly urbanized mecca where high-rises seem to grow faster than foliage. Subsequently, new age eateries within the area boasting innovative or fast-paced narratives appear to pop up on street corners in a strikingly similar fashion. Despite this undeniable trend — the corner of Chestnut Street and 20th Place has managed to produce (and preserve) something with a surprisingly divergent focus.
If the name Woodie Fisher doesn’t ring any bells, you probably are not alone. At one point, the same historic structure rang with sirens and a sense of urgency surrounding the potential of buildings engulfed in flames as opposed to the incessant haste of city life. The name Woodie Fisher pays homage to Redwood “Woodie” Fisher, one of Denver’s first firemen who heroically lost his life while stopping a runaway horse-drawn hose wagon in 1870. Now the same name will stand in his honor as Woodie Fisher Kitchen & Bar. Appropriately it’ll be housed in one of the first fire stations in Denver — the historic Hose House No. 1.
“Groundbreaking” is probably the least appropriate word for this new concept. The restaurant — which is breathing new life into the oldest remaining structure in Denver’s Union Station neighborhood — offers a sense of comfortable, old school charm rooted in Denver’s history. In other words — you won’t find fusion, molecular gastronomy, or hard-to-pronounce dishes on this menu. What Woodie Fisher brings to the table is a straightforward selection of identifiable, well-executed staples by an accomplished Denver chef.
Furthermore, when chef Franco Ruiz was approached with the concept, he recognized an opportunity to shift his culinary trajectory from fine dining to something both thoughtful and casual. Ruiz — who formerly held the title of chef de cuisine at Alex Siedel’s celebrated farm-to-table restaurant, Fruition — has created a menu which he describes as “ingredient-driven, sustainable and approachable.” The High Plains Wagyu Tartare ($12) with pickled mustard seed, egg yolk jam, chive and crispy potato chips looks and tastes like it belongs in a fine dining setting. Likewise, Ruiz’s culinary technique is showcased with the Culotte ($27), a lean, juicy, perfectly cooked cut of steak derived from the sirloin tip and accompanied by a house-made steak sauce, charred leeks and Hasselback potato with soured cream. When considering Woodie Fisher’s embracement of Denver history — these plates highlighting meat and potatoes are incredibly appropriate for a city which formerly held a reputation for a steak-and-potato-driven culinary culture.
Other notable dishes include informal yet flavorful bites such as the crispy chicken skins ($10) with house ranch, Fresno hot sauce and chive, a classic Margherita flatbread ($13), or the smoked pork short rib ($26) with white bread and chicharron crumble, bread and butter pickle relish and creamy cheddar grits.
Woodie Fisher’s interior may be described as both contemporary and nostalgic. The restaurant’s interior features high ceilings, exposed brick, charred wood, chic leather booths and various elements reflecting the building’s unique history. In the main dining room, you will find a large olive tree, a chandelier created from repurposed bicycle chains and perimeter garage doors. Meanwhile, a fabulous light fixture made up of 600 fire hoses dangles above the lovely private dining room. Ample patio space is available as well as a chef’s table, lounge and last, but not least — the bar. The stylish, yet laid-back appeal of Woodie Fisher makes it an ideal location to pull up a seat at the bar for beer, wine or cocktails on any given occasion. Try a Steamboat Dreamboat ($10) with Jim Beam Black bourbon, Aperol, orange tea, honey and lemon or the Strawberry Park Sour ($11) with Banhez mezcal, Vya dry vermouth, strawberry jam, lemon and spiced rum.
Brimming with flavor, character and unpretentious charm — Woodie Fisher is a welcome addition to downtown Denver’s dining scene. Roll over to 1999 Chestnut Place on July 1 to experience the grand opening.
Woodie Fisher is open daily for dinner, from 5-10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 5-11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.