Welcome back to The Gatekeepers, a feature in which Eater roams the city meeting the fine ladies and gentlemen that stand between you and some of your favorite impossible-to-get tables.
Williams & Graham [Photo: thedrinknation.com]
General manager of Williams & Graham, Donnell Cowell has thick skin. Starting as a bartender in December of 2012, he's experienced a broad spectrum of customers— from bribers to smack talkers, to connoisseurs and seasoned W&G veterans. He talked to Eater about the hospitality philosophy, reservations, and more at the hot LoHi speakeasy.
What is Williams & Grahams hospitality philosophy ? Warmth. And treat people more like guests in our house; Williams & Graham is our living room. We want people to feel warm and welcome like they can hang out. Everybody is casual. We may be modeled after a speakeasy, but I don't think we ham it up or anything. We are more focused on being a neighborhood bar with craft cocktails that are themed around classic cocktail culture, hence speakeasy.
You accept reservations every day but Friday and Saturday. Why not on those evenings? We are a bar, and it doesn't make sense for a bar to have reservations. We like to host reservations some nights because we like to accommodate people.
Any tips for avoiding the wait? We are always going to have a wait. But people have really been adapting to that coming in at 5 p.m., 6 p.m., 7 p.m. when we either have no wait or a very short wait. With our waits being more late night people are starting to come a little earlier.
Does the waitlist sometimes get out of control? Our waitlist doesn't really max out, but if we get to a point when our wait is longer than our hours of operation then we will stop taking people. Right around 11 p.m. that's when the wait is the heaviest.
Do people get upset or shocked by the wait? Denver is adapting to the culture of waiting for a bar. It is not something that is very common, on the coasts of course it is, but not here. I have had people come in and say "This is not New York or this is not LA." I just respond with We are just really small and it just comes down to capacity. We never keep people waiting if we don't have to. We really only have about 60 seats in here and it fills up fast.
Has anyone ever tried to bribe you to get in? Of course and it is always interesting to see what peoples value on a table is. I had one guy come in one night and he put his name on the list and put up a two dollar bill on the counter and said "If you call me any faster that would be cool."
Do customers come in for food alone as well as cocktails? We do have a new chef, Max MacKissock and sous chef Blake Edmunds, and we do try to bring up our food as well as our cocktails to our customers because they do pair well together. We are planning on keeping our current menu through winter.
When did you change to your dink menu last? The fall list just started at the beginning of October, which will last till the end of December when we switch to our winter menu. I like the One Night in Kyoto which is a mix of Nikka 12 year Japanese whiskey, Cocchi Barolo Chinato, yellow Chartruese, and decanter bitters. Its good fall flavors without being too much.
Does William & Graham having any new projects under wraps? We just recently launched an ice company where we will be selling our hand cut large ice blocks. Williams & Graham are going to be providing ice for a couple of restaurants around town. It will also be available in a few liquor stores including Proper Pour and Mondo Vino.
Has anyone ever come in for books? Yes actually I had an English gentleman come in probably about a month and a half ago and he was very surprised it wasn't a proper bookstore.
— By Kelsey Colt