Chef and restaurateur Frank Bonanno has always been a man with a vision. His restaurants have a precise scope, a theme of sorts, whether it is classic French with a modern twist at Mizuna, ramen at Bones, or barbecue at Russell's Smokehouse. Among his 10 establishments is Green Russell, a speakeasy-style bar in an underground space in Larimer Square. While Bonanno adjusted the set-up of the bar over the years, he always kept the initially envisioned vibe - intimate and personal- intact. It is that vibe that gets big groups turned away, which is why Bonanno penned this blog on his personal site:
Every so often, I get an email from someone who wants me to know their group was turned away from Green Russell. The hostess was rude, they might say. It was a Monday night, and the bar was empty. They were willing to split their party up. Usually, the person just wants to let me know that we missed out on a return client, on potential revenue, on the opportunity to wow someone. Rarely, but sometimes, this is an angry email, informing me that Yelp Will Be Apprised. I’ve sent a half dozen nearly identical responses over the years, and because I wrote one only this morning, I thought I might enter it here and now on this journal, with the idea that in the future, I may just send the link. I really do care. I do want the business. I don’t believe our hosts or managers are rude, and there is a good reason for our rule.
Green Russell does indeed have a "no large party" policy. Our hosts, in an attempt to be fair to all large groups that come in, try to adhere to that policy across the board, no matter how busy we are or aren’t, no matter how polite the group of friends, even if they are willing to be seated at separate tables, even if they’re just going to be here for one drink. There’s good reason for the policy: Green Russell was envisioned as a place where guests can sink into the comfort of deep seat, a great cocktail, and quiet conversation among a tight group of friends—and quite honestly, the ability to control group size has been an integral part of our success story. People come to Green Russell to sit, sip, and lean in.
Denver is loaded with spots to celebrate big circles of friends, associates, bachelorettes, what have you. These bars are better illuminated, their music more lively, the bartenders focused on speed and formula. Osteria Marco, my venue just across the street from Green Russell, is a loud, happy, comfortable place–great for parties. The laughter there tumbles up the stairs to greet diners as they enter the building and it’s fantastic. Ditto Russell’s Smokehouse, just next door to Green Russell–or my bar Vesper Lounge, which was designed to be a neighborhood spot for unwinding amid chaos and laughter over a barrel sized but inexpensive pour.
Green Russell, though, is meant to be different. When we opened in 2007, we were the only cocktail-specific bar in Denver, and everything about Green Russel was designed to highlight that craft and intimacy of having a drink designed especially for you. We are Special. Even when it’s completely full and on a two hour wait, you walk behind those double doors and a portrait of Green himself greets you and a hush falls. You can hear the ice being chipped, the glasses clinking, the mumble of conversations just out of earshot. Green Russell feels intimate; it is intimate. I believe that sense of place gets lost when a drink request needs to be shouted, when a couple needs to excuse themselves in order to part a pathway to their table through a convening group of ten–when a special cocktail order for two gets lost behind seven specific "bartender’s choice" orders, or when chairs and tables get screechingly dragged together along the concrete floor to accommodate more people.
In order to provide a seat for every body, there had to be a cutoff number—twenty person groups? Eight? Early on, I chose six. Six people can comfortably sit in one of the circular velvet booths in the back room. Six people can convene without intruding on the small celebrations around them. Six people don’t fuss over who drank what and who takes on the bill, and six people tend to know one another outside the scope of this celebratory night. Sure, every group of seven or eight or twelve isn’t going to be bachelorettes slinging shots, or drunken members of a Snuggie crawl—but quite honestly, many groups on Larimer Square are just that—and there are so very many bright, accommodating places to welcome them, to welcome you when you are happy and nearly buzzed and part of a collaborative.
Green Russell is different. Its specialness drew you here in the first place. It brings me in on my own nights off.
In short, I stand by this policy, though sometimes a small group of adults—people who really do just want to lean in an unwind—get turned away. For that, I apologize.
If you do post your Yelp criticism at Green Russell, you’ll notice that you aren’t the first to do so. In truth, Yelp complaints from large groups have served to strengthen our client base, our brand, and the spirit of Green Russell as an intimate bar that offers a unique experience, and a special night out. We have, over the years, altered one of the bars to accommodate standing parties–it serves as a waiting area for those wanting to get in, and as a gathering place for larger groups. You are always welcome to bring your group to Bar 1, stand, partake of a pre-batched drink. If, however, you’re wanting to see what all the fuss is about at Green Russell, please try us on a night when you’re up for an intimate experience of showmanship, spirited indulgence, and conversation . . .the kind of experience that lures me into my own bar as a customer, time and time again.