Jareb Parker and Bo Porytko probably couldn’t exemplify the dynamic duo more if they tried. Parker co-owns Middleman with his cousin Charlie Thomas, the 20-year bar veteran having opened the “classy and trashy” hangout in 2018. Porytko — who formerly helmed the iconic and sorely missed Rebel Restaurant — took over the closet-sized kitchen at the tail end of 2019, and continues to serve some of the city’s most exciting and innovative dishes under the guise of bar snacks. To the untrained eye, the conjoined effort could look like a typical dive. For those in the know, the concepts add up to be one of the city’s real heavy hitters for both cuisine and innovative cocktails. “Me and Bo just kinda do what we wanna do,” Parker said.
The bar recently introduced its winter menu, featuring only a few classic staples and a fantastic new selection of cocktails sourced directly from the team. For each biannual revamp, folks show up with their spins on classic cocktails, ingredient-oriented concoctions and some outright left-field assemblies. “Bartenders often have drinks locked and loaded,” Parker said. Once the recipes have been submitted, the team tastes, critiques and develops the final products together, with Parker often slapping on the name before each one hits the list. “I like the bartenders having ownership over the space and the menu,” he continued. The Ananas ($14) — with pineapple rum, sotol, lemon and pineapple amaro — is probably the closest thing the menu has to a porch pounder, with the Bodega Spritz ($12) — featuring Yzaguirre vermouth, Braulio, Cerasum bitter cherry and lemon — still fitting into easy drinking without losing its edge. Parker contributed the Brandy Schewitz ($12) which more than likely is the only cocktail in town to feature the “adored” wine and certainly the only one to make it taste good.
Porytko almost completely overhauls his menu every month. The food is always a bit left-field and never fails to inspire. The fare always has some recognizable elements, though diners can almost guarantee to be presented with gastronomic feats often reserved for big-ticket venues. Porytko is probably one of the most talented guys cooking in Denver, using those talents to cook whatever the fuck he wants. The current menu has two more weeks in the sun, with the tempura head of broccoli ($16) and its house-made sweet chili sauce and dried vegetable furikake being an absolute essential.
Brilliance all too often predicts pretense. At this squat, East Colfax compound, the opposite is true.
Middleman and Misfit Snackbar are located at 3401 East Colfax Ave., Denver. Middleman is open Monday – Thursday from 4 p.m. – 12 a.m., and Friday and Saturday from 4 p.m. – 2 a.m. Misfit Snackbar is open Monday – Saturday from 4 – 10 p.m.
All photography by Adrienne Thomas.