Next-level hotel bars and restaurants are on the rise in downtown Denver, and newcomer Citizen Rail is no exception. Debuted in August at the Kimpton Hotel behind Union Station, this urban steakhouse adopts the aesthetic of a chic railcar, with its 74-seat dining room, trendy bar, and patio.
A wood-fired grill and dry-aging room showcase the top priority of the Citizen Rail kitchen. Meat dishes here are inspired by old-fashioned American butchery and Western cooking styles. The LoDo restaurant cultivated early buzz for its thoughtful applications of meat, sleek interior, and happy hour.
What do Denver diners have to say about Citizen Rail nearly three months after the restaurant’s opening? Here’s the good, the bad, and the surprising about Citizen Rail via online reviews and social media:
A Menu Worth Traversing: The LoDo restaurant popped up on various hot lists and dish round-ups in Zagat this fall. Culinary critics appreciated Citizen Rail’s sophisticated, modern vibes embodied in the “long, cool-toned” dining area. And while the meat-centric menu emphasizes chops, Citizen Rail isn’t a carnivores-only affair. The appetizer section pops with seafood dishes like wood-fired oysters and mesquite-fired mussels. Sides feature fresh vegetables such as jumbo asparagus and wood-roasted mushrooms. Zagat pointed out the hickory-braized oxtail and rice grits — chef Graves’ “perfect rainy day plate”— in a recent “Eat This Now” feature. Ruth Tobias recommends the dish when “you need something to fill the belly and soothe the soul.” [Zagat]
En Route to Happy Hour (And Home): How can a restaurant make happy hour even more joyful? Citizen Rail figured out that a simple fix is to expand its hours. In an August Westword “Watch List,” Mark Antonation celebrated the 2:30 to 6 p.m. happy hour slot and Citizen Rail’s plethora of smoky options. From the meats perfected by chef Graves’ wood-fired oven or dry aging room, to bartender Chris Burmeister’s cocktail concoctions, expect a certain level of smokiness. The happy hour menu maintains a selection of reduced-price popular appetizers and a $7 shot-and-drink combination. Notable cocktails include the Plunder Road, a milk punch mixed with mezcal and cantaloupe in which “[n]o single flavor stands out, but a hint of smokiness from the mezcal and a mellow smoothness from the melon and whey make for a thoroughly drinkable cocktail.” Recommended pairs include the smoked sturgeon and potato cake appetizer. [Westword]
Diners Dish: OpenTable diners awarded Citizen Rail 4.5 stars, and an overwhelming majority of previous guests would recommend the LoDo restaurant to a friend. Multiple diners praised the dynamism of the chef’s counter and found that their meal transformed into a “different experience” as they watched the kitchen staff prepare their meal. The attentive wait staff impressed guests, though a few complained about the execution of seafood dishes and the overall noise level of the restaurant. Despite an array of “small glitches,” most diners proclaimed they would return to Citizen Rail. [OpenTable]
Stand Out… Salad? 5280 Magazine sampled the Citizen Rail menu in the early weeks of the restaurant’s opening. While the menu “is structured just like a steakhouse menu should be,” associate food editor Callie Sumlin found that a universal favorite dish was the grilled escarole salad. The warm dish’s “precise balance of textures and flavors is convincing proof of chef Graves’ grill mastery,” according to Sumlin. Other delightful notes include the cilantro butter that tops the grilled oysters and the grilled pineapple that punctuates the Catch the Westbound cocktail. 
On the National News Radar: USA Today included CItizen Rail in a round-up of the ten best dining options in Denver’s nightlife scene. The “10 Best” travel guide section celebrated the restaurant’s easy entrance into the trendy Union Station area, noting that Citizen Rail “exudes the vibe and ambiance that characterize this area.” The modern menu exhibits “just the right amount of sophistication to elevate the casual and welcoming atmosphere” that entices hotel guests and commuting locals alike. The bar program “nailed it from the start” under the guidance of Chris Burmeister, “an apparently fearless mixologist who has created a cocktail menu that shines with inventive options and thrills with surprising ingredient pairings.” [10 Best]