On November 27, Bao Brewhouse opened with a menu of to-go friendly Chinese-inspired snack fare. Replacing the recently-closed Euclid Hall, the project is still in the process of updating the iconic space — currently focusing on what will ultimately be just one menu of a multi-tiered on-site experience. The venerated room has been completely refurbished — murals by Mike Graves and Tuke One are interspersed with cheeky neon and Chinese iconography. The HVAC system that slithers across the whole room has been transformed into a giant dragon, the otherwise ferocious monster made delightful by the same playful touches that can be found peeking out from Grave’s omnipresent city-wide characters. Of all the new rooms that are currently stuck hibernating, Bao’s seems the readiest to burst — the vibrancy of the place palpably clawing the at doors from behind the temple-like entrance.
Michael Swift has been planning and reshaping the concept for nearly two years — after a long stint working for Aspen’s pan-Asian house of fine dining Jing helped to cement his love for dumplings. Initially planned in collaboration with childhood friend Joe Finkerbinder — the owner of Bionic Brew in Shenzhen, China and organizer Electric City, of one of China’s biggest craft beer festivals — the place has since shifted gears to focus on collaborations with local breweries to produce exclusive beers incorporating Chinese flavors. Once indoor dining re-opens, the first level will serve snacks, sandwiches and beer, with the upper level focusing on more elaborate fare and luxurious tea ceremonies.
Despite Bao Brewhouse being one of the more space-oriented concepts to emerge during the pandemic, chef Jules DeBord’s menu of starters, dim sum, roujiamos — a traditional flatbread sandwich — and a selection of noodle and rice dishes are not only takeout-friendly but provide a clear indication of the sophistication to come. With 26 years of restaurant experience — 16 of which DeBord says she spent in Asian cuisine — the chef seems perfectly built to bring to life the integrated menu. While calling it fusion would do a great disservice to the food’s nuance, the menu certainly does a good job of creating cuisine that perfectly illustrates the place’s initial vision. And even with Bionic no longer being involved, the offerings are still informed by the cutting-edge of urban Chinese dining culture, with American flavors pointing towards an aesthetic and culinary coalescence that is happening on both sides of the Pacific.
The current menu is largely made up of the small-bites that will ultimately be available for casual ordering both from the counter and seated QR codes on the first floor. The Big on the Pig ($11) — a pork dumpling drenched in chili oil and punctuated with crispy garlic and shallots — is a standout, with the Euclid Hall ($10) — a bratwurst and kraut fried gyoza set atop a bed of blood orange mustard — providing a suitable homage to its sorely-missed predecessor. The roujiamos — a pressed sandwich most often found on the streets of the Shaanxi Province— are also presented with equal allegiance to both Chinese and American flavors. The traditional braised pork ($10) — with chilis, spring onions and cilantro — leans closest to the original, while the In-n-Baout ($10) — with cheeseburger, grilled onions, lettuce, tomato and treasure sauce — refreshes the California staple, and is available without sacrificing two-hours or more to the mammoth lines that still ensnare blocks of Aurora and Colorado Springs. Noodle dishes like the Lee Ho Fook ($18) — with Cantonese skirt steak, pak choy, shitakes, spring onions and crispy garlic pan-fried egg noodles — and the Yang Kwei Fei ($19) — a duck and pork belly dish named after the drunken princess immortalized in the Shaw Brothers’ 1962 film The Magnificent Concubine — are currently available to-go but will ultimately become part of the upstairs menu.
The beer program will feature collaborations with local breweries — with Vail Brewing Co having already developed a Lychee Wheat. Evergreen Brewery has been tapped for a Mandarin Cream Ale, with a Szechuan Stout still being floated. The project is set to continue, with new and seasonal brews being added from across Denver’s illustrious scene.
The upstairs is currently being built out to include private enclaves for tea drinking and will feature larger-format plates including Peking Duck and whole fish dishes, along with an even more upscale cocktail selection from bar manager Ian Kearney. “The upstairs will be the crown jewel of the place,” smiled Swift. While the joys of casually sitting and enjoying a place’s ambiance have made even the most mundane counters seem appealing, Bao Brewhouse sits as a Pandora’s Box, the food providing but a glimpse into the treasures that seem ravenous to be yet enjoyed.
Bao Brewhouse is located at 1317 14th St., Denver. It is open for pickup and limited outdoor dining Wednesday – Friday from 5 – 9 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday from 12 p.m. – 9 p.m.
All photography by Alden Bonecutter.