As we’ve watched “pivot” become the all too ubiquitous theme of 2020’s restaurant narrative, individual businesses have uncovered wellsprings of every imaginable approach and reinvention. The bittersweet combination of desperation and visionary creativity that has fueled the nearly overnight overhaul of the industry at large has provided a glimpse into the gymnast-like malleability of everyone involved. Most alterations have been dramatic. For Run For The Roses‘ Steven Waters, it has taken no less than five additions to his previously well-attended downstairs speakeasy to refashion the business into a viable model he hopes will tread water.
By transforming the space within Free Market, formerly held by Little Owl Coffee, into an impromptu liquor store, adding to-go cocktails, outfitting an oasis-like patio in the Milk Market alleyway, collaborating with Bruto on daily specials and establishing an entirely new juice brand Good Thing — Waters’ adjustment has been more akin to M.C. Escher than the simple rotation “pivot” might suggest. He believes that nothing short of this multi-tiered technique could save his operation, even with it having been one of the better-liked locales to emerge in the neighborhood. “You know death through 1,000 needles, we’re going to have to survive through 1,000 things,” smiled Waters.
After Little Owl shut down its Free Market location on March 16, the space sat unused with no definitive date for reopening. Waters requested its use at the end of June, opening as an outlet to sell prebatched cocktails and a massive stock of rare and carefully-selected bottles that had previously been housed in the downstairs bar. The patio was added in August when Waters received permits for making cocktails for on-site consumption. The upstairs location has been acting as Run For The Roses de facto base of operations, with the downstairs original opening only on Friday and Saturday evening for properly-distanced lounging. In addition to a range of weekly cocktail specials, patrons can also purchase Little Owl coffee and espresso drinks. Weekly drinks are developed by staff and are specifically designed to run through the backstock. “We gotta be scrappy with it, some cocktails wind up having some pretty special stuff,” said Waters.
Good Thing was developed while Waters brainstormed with his girlfriend Ashley Scarpelli. “It was her idea,” said Waters. The desire to extend his cocktail philosophy into a non-alcoholic version arrived in hopes of capturing the daytime market. “Not a lot of people are starting to drink at 11 a.m.,” laughed the bar owner. The roster currently features seven different options, each designed more to highlight flavor than health benefits. Feeling that the juice market has gone crazy in its attempt to sell a lifestyle, Waters believes Good Thing can favor enjoyment and clean living sans zealotry. Going local and organic whenever possible, the juice is hand-pressed on-site and is currently sold both at Run For The Roses and Little Owl’s downtown location.
The It Was a Good Day ($10) with orange, carrot, lemon, turmeric and mint is one of the most balanced of an already balanced bunch, the mint neatly tying together the bright range of flavors. The Don’t Kill My Vibe ($10) combines beets, lime, cucumber, ginger and celery for a more robust sip that tastes less earthy than many of its more root-forward counterparts. The Surviving the Times ($7) with watermelon, cantaloupe, basil and honey perhaps best exemplifies the flavor-forward principles. “Everything serves a purpose taste-wise,” said Waters of the foundation that has informed his cocktail making since day one.
While Waters and Scarpelli are currently pressing only about 15 bottles of each flavor a week, he hopes to begin wholesaling as the brand gains traction. While each added business has been important in the durability of Run For The Roses, Waters says Good Thing has been the most profitable one outside of cocktails. Despite being developed out of necessity, he plans to continue the project indefinitely. “If we’re open we’re doing Good Thing,” said Waters.
Run For The Roses is located in Free Market at 1801 Blake St., Denver. The upstairs is open every day from 11 a.m. – 10 p.m., with downstairs being open Friday and Saturday from 5 – 11 p.m.