By Jeffrey Steen | Managing Editor
Hotel Teatro (at the corner of 14th and Arapahoe) has quite the colorful history. It started as the Denver Tramway in 1911, and through the years has played host to personalities from all walks of life. Most recently (since 1997), the building has functioned as the estimable Hotel Teatro. Within its lobbies and dining rooms, one name stood tall: Kevin Taylor. And while his concepts endured for many years, they recently departed to make way for the Hotel’s next culinary chapter, playfully dubbed The Nickel. It opened in July 2014.
Background: When Kevin Taylor raised the white flag, restaurant consultants Blau Associates—led by Jake Linzinmeir—began brainstorming the restaurant’s next iteration. What came about was a natural extension of Colorado itself—a Front Range-grounded concept focusing on local, seasonal fare at home in the Mile High City. This idea was pitched to Linzinmeir’s colleague of many years, Chef Chris Thompson, who signed off on the deal and moved from Restaurant A16 in San Francisco (a Southern Italian concept of renown) to make his home in Colorado.
Chef: Speaking of Thompson, the seasoned toque had spent many a year in Colorado before returning to helm the kitchen at The Nickel. He graduated high school in Telluride, where he then climbed the ladder in various restaurants—several founded by Linzinmeir. Thompson dotted around for a bit, even guiding a San Francisco restaurant to a Michelin star, before he got the call from Linzinmeir about the new opportunity.
Restaurant Design: An extension of Hotel Teatro’s elegant interior, both the newly-minted lobby and dining room sport a Colorado feel. For those hankering a fireside sip, the lobby is definitely a go-to—surrounded by soaring bookshelves and punctuated with comfy leather-bound armchairs. The dining room, by contrast, is a bit more formal—but comfortable nonetheless. Sleek whites and golds line the walls and banquettes, while rich wood tables are left simply adorned and cleanly presented.
Food: “Chef-driven, Rocky Mountain-inspired, and rustic,” The Nickel serves, as Chef Chris Thompson puts it, “Mother Nature-dictated cuisine.” The chef’s Italian heritage shines through, of course, but the menus lean entirely on local product—from special offerings like the Western Daughters N.Y. Strip, dry-aged for 45 days, to the luscious Lamb Bolognese made with house-butchered Colorado lamb and fresh ricotta gnocchi. There’s an ample charcuterie program in the works, as well. It’s just getting started, but Thompson envisions moving from a bevy of outsourced products to house-cured cuts—like prosciutto, coppa, and brasaola. Those will likely come in the spring, Thompson says; for now, guests can enjoy high-quality products from around the globe, accompanied by homemade rillettes and pâtés.
There’s a full collection of menus to ogle, too—from breakfast through dinner. For lunch, Thompson will soon be rolling out some signature flatbreads, while guests who love the first meal of the day can look forward to seasonal fruits and honey (harvested from rooftop hives) atop gourmet griddle classics. “We’ll have planters for peppers, eggplants, tomatoes, and lettuces on the roof, too, come the spring,” Thompson says. He aims to start small, then grow as the seasons allow.
Drink: The beverage program at The Nickel, like its menus, will grow and develop over time, but expect local as the keyword for just about everything. Already, the bar is pouring inventive cocktails showcasing Peach Street and Breckenridge distilleries, while those who are in love with Inifinite Monkey Theorem will be pleased to know there’s both red and a white IMT varieties on tap. Oh, and lest we forget—The Nickel is barrel-aging its own cocktails, which you can happily enjoy in a collection of flights. Ask about pre-designed combinations, or customize your own.