There are two kinds of cocktail bar opening now in Denver. One is the type of place that displays a mixologist’s extent, and the other is the spot that shows a bartender’s restraint. American Bonded, a new bar opening Thursday on Larimer Street, is the latter. “I’m old enough now as a bartender that I want to make people happy and not just make drinks,” said Kevin Burke, American Bonded’s general manager.
According to Burke, the Denver bar scene is on a pendulum, swinging back and forth between progressive and classic creations. For this latest project, the former Colt & Gray and Ste. Ellie barman joined a heavyweight team (see the owners of Matchbox, Williams & Graham, The Occidental, and Field House) with the hope of recreating some “forgotten or maligned” beverages in a way that’s now easily accessible.
“All of us are such geeks about booze, but we’re also trying to buck this trend of escalating prices,” adds American Bonded co-owner Justin Anthony. As a result, many of the new RiNo bar’s mixed drinks are made by some of Denver’s best but also priced under $10.
Front and center on the menu is a mint julep, which Burke says deserves a new spotlight for its precise combination of four simple ingredients — whiskey, mint, ice, and sugar. Other classic cocktails follow simplistic suit, like the 1946 diablo with Tequila, crème de cassis, lime, and ginger. Even the new house creations are pretty straightforward; see the coconut telegram with coconut-infused corn whiskey, falernum, and lemon. For all of them, Burke says he and co-owner Sean Kenyon focus on “editing” the drinks’ ingredients rather than adding more and more into them.
The food at American Bonded, served by J Street Kitchen, works under a similar principle. Chef Jason Bray has borrowed from his existing food truck’s menu, here focusing solely on “Americana classics.” There are shrimp and grits, and green chili mac and cheese with crushed potato chips, as well as a malted yeast waffle with three-day brined and fried chicken, sprinkled in malt vinegar and onion powders, then coated in brown butter syrup.
From food to drinks, the final outcome should be “greater than the sum of its parts,” Burke explains. For a bar that took more than seven years to come to fruition, with multiple minds behind it, all hailing from different traditions, that outcome should be a welcome relief to RiNo customers. And if they’re not convinced by the quality and price point, there is also on the horizon a rooftop bar and patio and the promise of whiskey slushies come warmer weather.
Status: American Bonded is open daily starting at 4 p.m. Thursday. The bar closes at 2 a.m. and food will be served until 1 a.m.