Denver - Open letter to Charlie Palmer re Charlie Palmer's District Tavern
Dear Mr. Palmer,
First off, in the interest of full disclosure I should say that I'm not really a fan - I lived in NY for 11 years and never visited any of your establishments there, and TheHotel is my go-to stop in Las Vegas but I've never been to Aureole or Charlie Palmer Steak.
Having said that, you had me from the word "go" with District Meats. I eat dinner out 7-8 times/month in Denver, and some of my fondest dining memories in the last 12 months involve dinner at the bar with some great cocktails, cool videos on the big screen, and Teres Major steak with fries (second instance of full disclosure - I haven't exactly roamed the menu. Aside from one unfortunate tri-tip steak episode, the only things I've ever ordered in about a dozen visits are the Teres Major steak and fries).
(At this point I have to give a shout out to Tara - not sure if she is still with you, but when I walked in and saw her behind the bar I knew I was in for a good evening, because she is the only bartender I encountered who actually uses jiggers, stirs drinks when they should be stirred, and knows how to garnish a drink properly. If I saw someone else behind the bar I usually ordered beer. This may seem elitist, but I'm not so sure - a lot of mainstream restaurants in Denver are starting to up their cocktail game - see Trillium for an example.)
I can understand the thinking behind the recent reboot to Charlie Palmer's District Tavern - yes, Denver is kind of a sprout-happy town, so the whole "meats" thing could have been a turnoff for some. However, I think the real key to success here is to have a handle that people can latch onto easily. Look at The Kitchen - perpetually slammed, but I've had serious (comp-inducing) service issues on my last two visits, and my encounters with the raw bar have been somewhat suspect. At the end of the day, though, everyone knows what this place represents - Boulder farm-to-table hipster chic at it's finest.
My concern is that the "District Tavern" concept and corresponding menu revision may appeal to Denver's equivalent of the B&T crowd (baseball and theatre?) and no one else, since the identity of the place is starting to get a little generic. Maybe going in the opposite direction and pushing the "meats" concept to an extreme (a la Cochon, Husk) might have been a better move (it certainly sounds more promising than the "ladies drink free" promotion I heard the bartender mentioning tonight - really, you can do better). If you spend much time hanging around brewery taprooms in Denver, Boulder, and Fort Collins you certainly get the sense that there is a market for that kind of cuisine around here.
You've been on site for at least a third of my visits, so I know you're committed to making this place work, so please accept this constructive feedback in the spirit it was intended. Plus, I really miss seeing "The Last Waltz" and Johnny Cash on the big screen :)
Concerned Neighborhood Diner
Dear Concerned Neighborhood Diner,
In the interest of full disclosure, I should say that I like feedback. It gives me a chance to address specific concerns.
First, thank you for the Teres Major shout out. Initially I was just trying to share my love for secondary cuts of meat – the kind of cuts that butchers used to keep for themselves—but it didn’t seem to resonate with most of the diners, and that’s what led me to rethink and then rebalance the menu.
As we do house such a large restaurant in the heart of downtown Denver, it is important for me to respond to what customers tell me they do and don't want based on what they do and don’t order. If that seems to tip towards “generic” to you, I don’t know what to say except that I am an old school guy who doesn’t dwell too much on restaurant “hooks” and “handles.” I primarily think about hospitality and that means trying to offer options that please a wide range of diners, even when they’re sitting at the same table.
But, I will admit, it’s hard to settle a new restaurant into a new town—hard to find the right mix of customers and blend them with the right mix of staff (we are still making adjustments on that end). Though, if you happen to be a Yelp or Open Table reader, I think you'll find that those who have stopped by during the last few months to give us a chance have been overwhelmingly satisfied with the food, atmosphere, and now the service.
All that aside, I hope to have the opportunity to stay in Denver, continue to settle into the LoDo District, and share some good food in a place you can come to rely on.
You mentioned that I have been on-site during a third of your visits, so the next time you see me, flag me down: You know my name. It would be nice to know yours.
PS: Sit tight at the bar: I am looking into the “Last Waltz” video situation.