Broadway Roxy Debuts in Former Syntax Physic Opera Location

When entering Broadway Roxy, two phrases conspicuously placed across the interior will immediately stand out. One is a relic from the Syntax Physic Opera days, written on the wood paneling that lines the ceiling, and still presumably applies to the new venue. It reads “terribilis es locus iste” which literally translates to “this place is terrible,” but colloquially reads something more like “this place is overwhelmingly dope.” The other is “Open For Music,” written in letters that new owner Paula Vrakas said she dug up while rummaging around in the place’s basement. The second one speaks to the heart of the project. Broadway Roxy has been open with Vrakas quietly redeveloping the space all summer and is now officially open for music.

Broadway Roxy is the second of Vrakas’ venues. The first — from which the new locale draws its name —is located in Encinitas, California and provided the blueprint for the South Broadway iteration’s music-centered approach. Last year Vrakas booked over 650 shows at the original’s 156-seat space. She intends to do the same here with multiple acts gracing the stage daily in a series of events, some of which fortunately spilled over from the Syntax days. There will still be Weird Touch, Soul Club, Jazz Jam and Comedy Night. Open Mic Night will still be hosted by Anthony Ruptak. For any dispirited Syntax fan that thought the venue’s closure was the end of an era, Vrakas promises a revitalization.

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Every indication suggests that there is nothing to fear. Vrakas, originally “a farm girl from Wisconsin,” moved to the San Diego area where she opened her first concept in an old building — Roxy Restaurant and Ice Cream. She kept the original title, slapped on a gramophone and set forth creating one of the more vibrant independent music venues in the area. Her energy and passion for music are unmistakable. The new Roxy was carefully designed in a coliseum-fashion so that every seat in the house has a view of the stage. This can be difficult in a small, divided room, but the layout works.

The design and cocktail list give nods to the prohibition-era, though not overwhelmingly so. Vrakas assures that an “epic brass library ladder,” is in the mail, and photos of Denver in the 1920s will soon grace the wall. Classic cocktails like the Aviation ($13) — with Sipsmith Gin, creme de Violette and Luxardo — receive proper treatment and appropriate glassware. The Bees Knees ($12) — with Barr Hill Gin, lemon juice, honey-ginger syrup and edible flowers — is light and elegant. A Manhattan, Martini and Old Fashioned are also given due consideration. For $20 you can buy a Kitchen Round in which the kitchen staff receives a drink of their choice “after their shift of course.” This inclusion speaks to the place’s character. “Denver is West Coast active, and Midwest friendly,” said Vrakas. The same applies to Broadway Roxy.

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Food-wise the short menu of shareable plates is being handled by Chris Rasmussen, who Vrakas managed to snag from Highland Tap and Burger. The kitchen is small and everything is produced from scratch. “I had to borrow a can opener the other day,” quipped Rasmussen regarding the restaurant’s commitment to fresh ingredients. While music certainly is at the heart of the project, the food is not an afterthought. Tables now fill the once-open dancefloor and the music lineup is designed to provide the kind of ambiance that can be enjoyed while snacking. “I haven’t booked any grindcore yet,” joked talent buyer Jake Miller. Fear not, the tables will still be moved for proper dance parties on the weekend.

The carnitas tacos ($12) come with avocado salsa, pico de gallo and cotija cheese and hold up in a town where tacos are no laughing matter. Classics like fried brussels sprouts ($8) — with parmesan and bacon jam — and truffle fries ($7) — with parsley and truffle aioli — are expert takes on the bar staples. Larger plates are limited to two sandwiches and two salads. The lamb burger ($15) with feta cheese, tzatziki and greek pico sees Rasmussen at his best.

The fact that Broadway Roxy is still a work in progress is unsurprising considering Vrakas only moved here over Memorial Day. “I’m doing the design and buildout myself,” she said, noting that friends come to help when their busy schedule allows. The place is obviously a labor of love, it looks as if Vrakas will continue to develop and reshape it in perpetuity. While Syntax left some big shoes, all things point towards Roxy having the step to fill them.

Broadway Roxy is located at 554 South Broadway, Denver. It is open Tuesday – Thursday 5 p.m. – 12 a.m.,  Friday 5 p.m. – 2 a.m., and again Saturday and Sunday 5 p.m. – 12 a.m.

All photography by Alden Bonecutter.