Here’s what Denverites who never visited Rebel over the course of the restaurant’s three years in business have missed: one heck of a good time, courtesy of chef-owners Bo Porytko and Dan Lasiy. Tiki, ramen, dim sum, and night-market pop-ups. Goat roasts and prom nights. Comedy shows and Filipino feasts.
They missed Porytko’s head on a platter, neck spurting blood, during the murder-mystery–themed first-anniversary bash, and the karaoke party where Lasiy recalls “running up and down the restaurant shirtless like Bruce Dickinson, singing Iron Maiden.”
They lost out on the chugging contests Porytko liked to challenge guests to. “Bo’s an amazing chugger. It’s unreal,” says Lasiy. Apparently it runs in the family; Porytko confesses, “My mom’s really good at it too. She used to win all the contests.”
Sadly, fun doesn’t pay the bills, and financial constraints due in part to area construction led to the decision to close the restaurant’s doors on August 4. But while it lasted, here’s the most important thing those who never dined at Rebel missed: Some of the most uncompromisingly original dishes this city has ever seen.
Tripe poutine in foie gras gravy. Chicken-fried head cheese and Nashville hot oysters. Gourmet shit on a shingle. Some 100 different kinds of pierogi, each more original than the last. Desserts such as the deconstructed PB&J: Peanut-butter marshmallows with grape-jelly ice cream in Wonder Bread purée. And then there’s the roasted half pig’s head, which Porytko describes as a “microcosm of the whole animal — the cheek is like belly, the tongue is like tenderloin, the skin is chicharrón. The idea is that, in the head, diners get to eat the whole pig.” Sometimes it even came with brain sauce.
In short, Rebel wasn’t just a restaurant: It was a clubhouse for culinary weirdos, a sanctuary for anyone who sought an eye-popping, taste bud-scrambling, mind-bending experience more than just a meal. Here, Porytko and Lasiy say so long but hopefully not goodbye.
You grew up together in New Jersey, but you’d never shared a professional kitchen before Rebel. How did your creative process as a team develop?
Porytko: We have pretty similar thought processes, but our approaches are different enough that you can probably tell which dishes are mine and his once you’ve known us a while. I tend to push things a little too far and make them too dramatic, and he’s good at making simple things complex. Like the fried cauliflower head. There’s like three or four components on there but it’s super-bright, it’s got great texture, it’s just perfect. Those are the things Dan teaches me.
Lasiy: We align in terms of wanting something different, but for me it’s more the brotherly aspect. When we started, we were like, no matter what happens, we want to remain friends. And that’s been an underlying force since we were kids.
Looking back, what are some of the things you’re proudest of?
Lasiy: The fact that Westword had an elected public official sign a piece of paper that said we were “the best place to get head in Denver” was amazing.
Porytko: I like the fact that we got a cease-and-desist letter from Runza [for using the trademarked word for the bierock sandwich on one of their menus].
Lasiy: And the overall support from the community. You can’t please everyone, but we do this because we still want to, in whatever fucked up way we can. From day one to the day we decided to close, the love we’ve gotten from everyone is awesome.
Porytko: We constantly have people buying shots for us. I’ve never been at a place where people assume we want to drink as much as at this restaurant.
Lasiy: But that’s because we put ourselves out there. You don’t see that in other restaurants. We wanted to interact with everyone.
Porytko: It was literally built into our business plan, that sense of camaraderie. I can’t tell you how many of our regulars are now good friends. That’s one thing I’m definitely proud of, the community we’ve created. The only thing we didn’t accomplish was making money. There was the possibility of having investors, but then they’d have a lot of control.
Lasiy: There were too many times when we were like, oh shit, this is getting tight. But we want to do this on our own terms, and that’s why asking a bigger investor for money is not something we want to do.
Porytko: Knowing that something like a broken walk-in would be so devastating that we might not be able to make payroll — that became scary enough that we just had to call it quits.
Are you already working on ideas for your next venture?
Lasiy: That never stops. It’s the curse of being in a creative field. You can never shut it off. But I’m done with working in restaurants for a while. I’ve been doing it for almost 20 years. Right now my mind is polluted. I just need to step back and figure out what I want to do.
Porytko: I definitely want to do another restaurant, but Dan’s been cooking for eight years longer than me. That’s eight more years to feel jaded. I also have an idea for a pop-up, a wildly ambitious project that would mean not just me but like a whole team of people.
Lasiy: The ideal scenario for me would be to buy an RV, travel the country, do pop-ups with all my friends in different cities, and write about it. To be the next Anthony Bourdain without the heroin and depression.
Portyko: I don’t think you can get there without the heroin and depression. But we’re also happy to pass the torch to people from the neighborhood. To sell to the people at Nocturne is a lot better than this space getting knocked down and turned into micro-apartments.