Last October, Good Baby MGMT took on the rather Herculean task of refurbishing The Market at Larimer Square. For founder Josh Sampson — the man behind TheBigWonderful, Denver Bazaar, Yeah Baby and Neon Baby — the iconic space’s transformation was but one piece of the larger task of bringing fresh ideas and a younger demographic to a Larimer Square in crisis. Before formally launching Good Baby, Sampson acted as director of placemaking for the whole block — introducing an all-star roster of new tenants including Bao Brewhouse, Hidden Gems, Drunken Bakery and Ghost Coffee, alongside his original concepts Farmers Market LSQ and Garage Sale. On Tuesday, February 2, Sampson upped the ante with the opening of Larimer Records Cafe — once again dramatically refashioning The Market’s venerated multi-level interior. Sampson rightly describes the project — essentially a pop-up within a pop-up focusing on bourbon, wine, vinyl and beer — as the “hipster sax.”
Sampson arrived in Denver on January 1, 2014, and has since been perfecting his formula for creating original events and shopping experiences — “instant pop-up ecosystems and overnight destinations.” While every one of the projects he’s produced is chock full of ideas and collaborators, Larimer Records is almost hyperactive in its scope — each independent corner bursting with what could easily be an entire shop’s worth of conceptual savvy.
“Denver is an outdoor brand city so I thought it would be cool to try and focus on a fashion style that could compete with outdoor apparel. Just like athletes come to Colorado for the harsh training climates, I came for the harsh retail environment to see if I could train and succeed and ultimately compete at a higher level,” said Sampson. Across the space, over a dozen vendors are represented, with wares ranging from high-end audio equipment to rare vinyl, vintage Playboys and Backstreet Boys trading cards. “I’ve been like a sheepherder for thousands of small businesses,” grinned Sampson. “We’ve found a way to be Amazon-proof,” he continued.
The complete overhaul took just over two weeks, with the density of goods, decorations and food proving competitive even with the abundant ideas that underpin the whole affair. Sampson has outfitted the place with memorabilia from across generations — his great, great grandfather’s banjo shares the front window display with records he helped produce while still living in Williamsburg. A collection of equally antiquarian, heavily-bound coffee-table books from his home collection are available for on-site perusing, providing an invitation towards luxuriating wonder — a commodity that has grown all too sparse during the quarantine. A nearby sign thoughtfully indicates that such whimsy is ideally paired with one of the available bourbon flights.
Beyond the personal investment that spans the curation, Larimer Records Cafe plainly flows from the same wellspring as Lovin Cup Cafe — Sampson’s prodigious venue, recording studio and bourbon bar that helped to set the tone in Brooklyn from 2008 – 2013. While retail is certainly the focus, the record shop is built around an engrossing atmosphere — with full-size cutouts of The Beatles joining a Pharaoh One mural to which the artist will tack on additional elements and stories each week. “Garage Sale is denim and T-shirts, this is music and plants,” said Sampson, in a further attempt to narrow the business’ nebulous identity.
There’s enough going on at Larimer Records Cafe, it’s a wonder it’s not bursting at the seams. In fact, much of the charm is a direct result of the calculated cacophony. One section is a bourbon shop, another corner a full installation from The New Mastersounds’ Color Red Records. Patrons are encouraged to trade old vinyl in for whiskey tastings. Music nostalgia specialist Ryan Dykstra sources oddities — including signed Kiss dolls, rare Grateful Dead records and Beatles lunchboxes — and DJs rare vinyl that he sells right out of the booth. Seating is currently limited to 32 chairs, with an additional 16 spots reserved for music and shopping. Despite COVID restrictions allowing for 100 guests, Sampson says vinyl has been flying off the shelves, with the deliberate intimacy giving room for the products’ neat orchestration to shine. “We’re trying to have as much as frickin’ possible while trying to reinvent retail,” he smiled.
Food-wise, Larimer Records Cafe offers a pared-down selection from many of the same faces that comprised Farmers Market LSQ. Lead by Farm to Truck’s Bronson Kandel and Jon Brookfield, the on-site menu centers around ingredient-forward American staples. The Willow Creek Grass-Fed Burger ($12) comes with cheddar, mixed greens, onion, tomato, pickle and the Larimer-exclusive truck sauce atop an Aspen Bakery brioche bun. The chicken tender basket ($11) comes with three pieces of the expertly-fried bird set alongside apple-sage slaw and Texas toast — ultimately providing yet another vehicle for the championing truck sauce. While the food is generally fairly simple on paper, the execution successfully obtains a fair share of the spotlight in a room with no shortage of star power.
Sampson hopes Larimer Records Cafe will provide a blueprint for some of Good Baby’s intended ventures in LA, New York, Chicago and Nashville, along with providing inspiration locally. Weekly events are still being finalized, though visitors can expect a Soul Brunch, downtempo and trip-hop nights and a dinner and a movie to begin popping up on what is set to be a busy weekly schedule. A fresh installation from Jack White’s Third Man Records is set to arrive within a matter of days. As with all things Good Baby, Larimer Records Cafe is highly dynamic, gracefully riding the crest of this year’s continued uncertainty.
Larimer Records Cafe is located at 1445 Larimer St., Denver. It is currently open Tuesday – Sunday from 9 a.m. – close (as late as the state will allow).
All photography by Alden Bonecutter.