Posts tagged ‘Denver’

At Denver’s Infinite Monkey Theorem, wine tasting is raw, gritty and inspired

Even before I arrived in Denver, I was blogging about the Infinite Monkey Theorem (IMT), a counter culture wine lab and tasting room in Denver’s River North (RiNo).

celebrate

I had a sneaking suspicion, even before the Friday I was scheduled to visit, that I was going to fall in love with this winery that turns snobbishness and elitism on its outdated head.

Any winemaker with the chutzpah and the quirky sensibility to name his wine after a probability theorem that posits that a monkey hitting typewriter keys for an infinite amount of time will eventually type the complete works of William Shakespeare is my kind of guy.

Says Ben Parsons, the 37-year-old Englishman who started IMT, about its rather offbeat name, “I always envisioned a monkey typing Shakespeare as a way of making order out of chaos. And my business plan, which involved farming, which is always fickle, a short growing season, harsh winters and driving trucks full of grapes through mountain passes to a city on the other side of the state, resembled what could be considered chaos. Or at least there were an awful lot of factors over which I had very little control.”

But because he believed he could make Shakespeare-quality wine in an old warehouse, next to a back alley, that’s exactly what he did. Indeed, his seasonally-changing Syrahs, Malbecs, Roses and Rieslings have secured glowing reviews from Wine Spectator, medals at competitions and, most importantly, at least to Parsons, the loyalty of young, active Coloradoans who email him pictures of themselves drinking his wine while pedaling through mountain passes or cooling it behind rafts on Colorado’s famous white water.

To Parsons, wine and wine-drinking is all about community. His fashionably immodest tasting room has scattered sofas, tables made from reclaimed timber, one, the so-named community table, seats 20, dangling wine bottles transformed into lights and a tricked out vending machine that dispenses perhaps his most unorthodox scheme so far—wine in slim aluminum cans. IMT

“Why the pretense?” Parsons says. “Everybody in Colorado is outdoorsy. They hike, ski, raft and climb and it’s tough to carry a glass bottle into the wilderness. I wanted to come up with packaging that isn’t going to break, that cools down very quickly in a river and that can be crushed down and thrown into a backpack.”

So far, canned wine (also Wine Spectator-approved) makes up 20 percent of IMT’s business, but it’s soaring in popularity with airlines (glass bottles, after all, could be used as weapons), concert venues (IMT was a star at Brooklyn’s Great Googa Mooga music festival this year) and at sports stadiums.

He also sells wine from a keg-dispensing station and in boxes for Snooze, the popular breakfast joint that’s spreading across the country faster than a runny egg.

Sure, he says, there will always be snobs who look down their nose on canned wine, purists who insist wines need corks, but he doesn’t care.

“We focus on the variables that matter—using the best grapes, harvesting them at the their peak, nurturing each batch and getting to know the people who drink it,” says Parsons, who has a degree in oenology. “We want to cut through the pretense, shake things up a bit.

“Our mission is to change people’s perception of wine, to make it accessible. It’s not about proving you can age fine wine in a can. It’s about a particular lifestyle, about enjoying yourself.”

And who knows, maybe Parsons populist approach to wine-making will follow yet another theory, the 100th Monkey Theory after which, of course, Parsons has named one of his wines.

A blended mix of Petit Verdot, Petit Syrah, Malbec and Cabernet Franc, the 100th Monkey that Wine Spectator bequeathed last year with 89 points was described by the Wall Street Journal as “boysenberry jam in liquid form.”

But as for theories, Parsons hopes that like the 100th Monkey Theory that suggests a tipping point happens when you finally reach 100, that eventually everybody will get it that wine doesn’t have to be stuffy or elitist.

Photos by: Ryan Lee: www.thinktomake.com

Advertisements

Denver Rocks the Culinary Casbah

It has been two months, three days and 16 hours since I took part in a Culinary Connectors tour in Denver, Colorado, and I still wake up in a fevered sweat dreaming about Max MacKissock’s smoked beets with grain, sorrel and yogurt. He’s the chef (or Cuisine Bean, as the Bean Team calls him) at The Squeaky Bean, one of three restaurants featured the night I took Culinary Connector’s “Top Restaurant” tour.

I have Becky Creighton to thank (or perhaps to curse, since, as I said, I’ve been unable to think of much else) for introducing me to MacKissock, currently on a Food and Wine list of the country’s top new chefs.

Creighton is the owner/creator of this three-hour tour, one of several she offers through the company she started five years ago, and not only did I get the opportunity to swoon over MacKissock’s fresh, innovative dishes that treat plants (Squeaky Bean owns six garden beds and an organic farm called the Bean Acre) like movie stars, but I got to meet him and his crazy partner, Johnny Ballen, who produced a hilarious video spoof of what they called “the bionic restaurant” that sprang back to life in June 2012.

The Squeaky Bean, that took root in 2009 in Denver’s Highland neighborhood in a ridiculously teensy space, was never hurting for fans or customers. But it occurred to the partners that if MacKissock was able to work that kind of magic in that handkerchief size of a kitchen, just think what might be possible in a former saddlery building in LoDo with three times the space.

Let’s just say Annie Sullivan** has nothing on MacKissock. And getting to meet him and the other star chefs on Creighton’s culinary tours was a highlight of my trip to Denver, like meeting the reclusive artist who painted your favorite painting. Or running into Brad Pitt in an elevator.

Creighton, who worked in tech for 10 years before shooting off in a completely different tangent, was burnt out, fed up and “hated going to my job every morning.” She went to Sedona with a journal (don’t we all?) and with a glass of wine in hand, set out to design a job she would love.

“Ninety-nine percent of what I wrote related to food, wine and people,” she says which is exactly what Culinary Connectors is all about—connecting people with the chefs and the food they’re experiencing.
The fact the food scene in Denver was about to explode, something she was told by Lon Symensma, the lemongrass-loving superstar who ran the kitchen at New York’s Buddakan before choosing Denver as the spot for his own restaurant, didn’t hurt the success of her pioneer entrepreneurial effort.

“Denver has long been known as a craft beer town,” Creighton said. “But its adventurous, young population is now being recognized as well for pushing the culinary envelope. There’s so much creativity here. Denver wouldn’t dream of becoming another Portland or another New York. The food scene here definitely calls its own shots.”

Besides the Squeaky Bean, which I’m happy to report still maintains its Farrah Fawcett memorial (wasn’t fair, Ballen said, that she died the same day as Michael Jackson) and added a Roger Ebert memorial (with two candles up), we visited Symensma’s ChoLon, a contemporary Asian (well, duh?) bistro that showcases the culinary luminary’s rampant imagination, and The Kitchen, the Denver version, that like its Boulder elder sibling, believes in creating community through food. I particularly loved their commitment to the environment including composting, wind power and the recycling of used cooking oil to power one of the server’s car.

I could go on and on about Denver’s provocative and inventive food scene, but hey, my stomach will only stretch so far.

Although Creighton didn’t play matchmaker at these restaurants (she does, but not on the particular night I imbibed), I also loved, loved, loved TAG and Root Down.

Get in touch:

The Squeaky Bean, still dedicated to irreverence and fun with its vintage cookbook menus, bills clipped to seed packets, wine poured from lab beakers, cocktails categorized by movie titles and a lit-up bingo board, is at 15th and Wynkoop, 303.623.2665, http://www.thesqueakybean.net.

ChoLon, named after the largest Chinese market in Saigon, is at 1555 Blake Street, 303.353.5223, http://www.cholon.com.

The Kitchen, a spinoff of the popular Boulder concept that was started nearly 10 years ago when Kimbal Musk and Jen Lewin’s black lab jumped in Hugo Matheson’s lap, is at 1530 16th Street (Entrance on Wazee Street), 303.623.3127, http://www.thekitchencommunity.com.

TAG, created by Chef Troy Guard who says he goes to bed thinking about food and wakes up thinking about it, is 1441 Larimer St, 303.996.9985, http://www.tag-restaurant.com.

Root Down, whose bottomless blood orange mimosas during Sunday brunch will leave you grinningly blissful, is at 600 W. 33rd, 303.993.4200, http://www.rootdowndenver.com.

Culinary Connectors
, whose Becky Creighton grew up with loud Lebanese family members eating lots of food, can be reached at Box 271441, Littleton, CO, 303.495.5487, http://www.culinaryconnectors.com

**She’s the Miracle Worker who taught deaf and dumb Helen Keller to read and write

Iconic fashion brand still outfitting cowboys and celebrities in Denver’s artsty LoDo

Prada, Armani, Hugo Boss, Calvin Klein, Rockmount.

Um, Rockmount?

Whether you’re aware of this iconic fashion brand or not, you’ve seen it many times. Paul McCartney, when he hosted Saturday Night Live, wore not one, but two different Rockmount shirts. Heather Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal (and indeed most of the entire cast) donned Rockmount’s snap-button shirts in Ang Lee’s Oscar-winning Brokeback Mountain. In fact, the shirts worn by Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist were bought in a charity auction for $101,000 and now reside, entwined together for eternity, in L.A.’s National Autry Center, a museum devoted to Gene Autrey and all things western.

Ronald Reagan, Elvis, Miley Cyrus, Robert Redford, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Hanks and just about every honoree in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame wear or have worn (sorry Elvis) the shirts that Papa Jack Weil started making back in 1946. He served as CEO of the company and showed up every day, sitting at a wooden desk near the entrance of the five-story red brick warehouse in Denver’s Lower Downtown (LoDo), until he died in 2008 at 107. He said he owed his longevity to the wisdom of quitting smoking at 60, giving up drinking at 90 (except, of course, for twice-weekly medicinal shot of Jack Daniels) and losing the red meat at 100.

He told his grandson, Steven Weil, who now runs the store and the Rockmount brand (It’s short for Rocky Mountains, in case you’re wondering) that he got up every morning, read the obits and if his name wasn’t in there, he’d get dressed and go to work.

Papa Jack more or less invented the Western shirt. Or at least the first with snaps. Still in production today, these slim-fitting shirts (Papa Jack claimed they were less likely to get snagged on cactus or sagebrush) with the signature sawtooth pockets, yoke and shotgun cuffs are so much a part of the aura of the West that samples reside in the permanent collection at the Smithsonian.

At the historic store in LoDo (1626 Wazee) where the company has been making shirts for 65 years, there’s a small upstairs museum with saddles, quilts, cowboy lunchboxes, photographs, three generations of shirts and a couple “Jack A. Weil Boulevard” street signs from the city’s annual acknowledgement of the founder’s birthday.

Still scratching your head about Rockmount? Here are a couple other places you may have seen the iconic shirt:

** William Shatner wore one on an episode of “Boston Legal.”

** Costume designers for the 1993 Nicolas Cage flick “Red Rock West” purchased 20 of the same white shirt to ensure Cage’s character was always emanating pristine Rockmount.

** Robert Redford outfits the entire staff at his Sundance Resorts in custom-made Rockmounts.

** Clark Gable wore one in “The Misfits” with Marilyn Monroe

** Rockmount once sent a shipment to Antarctica

** When Cream performed their reunion concert in 2005, Eric Clapton sent an email the day before requesting a couple dozen shirts. Steve, who had to tell him there was no way even Federal Express could get them there on time, ended up flying over and hand-delivering them to London’s Royal Albert Hall.

Why does rock-‘n’-roll love Rockmount so much?

“Beats me,” Weil said. “Luck, I guess. And people seem to like the story. We don’t change with the wind. Rockmount is about classic American design.”

I couldn’t resist. Signing my name to musical history at Colorado’s majestic Red Rocks Ampitheatre

Hundred percent, hand’s down agreement. If you’re a musician, top of your bucket list is playing at Red Rocks Ampitheatre.

Ever since 1983 when a flag-waving, strikingly mulletted Bono belted out “Sunday Bloody Sunday” against its red-tinged sandstone, it has been THE holy grail of performance arenas. In fact, trade magazine Pollstar, after 11 years of crowning this outdoor ampitheater near Morrison, Colorado the best, finally conceded it was only fair to give other contenders a chance so they renamed their annual prize the “Red Rock award.”

Last weekend, I got the rare opportunity to not only visit this magical arena that’s owned by the city of Denver, but I got to go back stage, visit the 300 million-year-old sandstone cave-like rooms where musicians hang before their sets, sit on the very couch Macklemore had set just one month earlier when playing for Icelantic’s Winter on the Rocks and linger in the hidden tunnel beneath the stage where hundreds of famous musicians have signed their names. It felt like getting to mecca.

2013-04-16-redrocks2.jpg

The thing that’s so amazing about Red Rocks, besides the scores of well-known names featured in the Performer’s Hall of Fame, is the knee-buckling display of natural beauty, the perfect acoustics that makes you sure that God herself left those majestic rocks in that exact position because she loves us and wants us to experience awe. Stories are legend about sitting in one of those 9450 seats and watching a full moon rise over the back of the stage or the clouds parting to reveal a fully-formed rainbow right at the exact moment Widespread Panic, the band that holds the record for most Red Rocks performances, was belting out an acoustic rendition of Pink Floyd’s “Wish you Were Here.”

While it was U2’s 1983 release of “Live at Red Rocks: Under a Blood Red Sky,” a performance listed by Rolling Stone as one of 50 Moments that Changed Rock and Roll, that sealed its fame, Red Rocks has served as a natural ampitheater since 1906 when John Brisben Walker, former publisher of Cosmo, produced a summer concert series there on a makeshift stage. The magazine magnate brought in opera singers (Renowned Scottish soprano Mary Garden pronounced it as the finest venue at which she’d ever performed), 25-piece brass bands and a Feast of Lanterns complete with four military bands and fireworks off surrounding peaks before selling it to the city of Denver in 1927 for $54,133.

The Beatles, in their only U.S. performance that wasn’t sold out, were the first to take the stage after it was rewired and rebuilt for rock concerts . Since then, everyone from Jimi Hendrix, Steve Martin (his “A Wild and Crazy Guy” was produced there) and Jethro Tull (whose rock-lobbing fans at a June 10, 1971 concert inspired then Denver Mayor William McNichols, Jr. to ban rock concerts completely until a concert promoter sued the city for discrimination) to the Zac Brown Band (who will be playing three already-sold-out concerts this summer) has performed here.

When the buses of music’s biggest names aren’t precariously winding their way up the steep entry to the 6450-foot stage, people from around the world show up to hike and bike Red Rock’s trails, practice yoga in its stands and to run up and down its 69 rows of benches.

Red Rock’s 640 acres are one of Denver’s 46 Colorado Mountain Parks. The Sunday I was there, the arena resembled a Gold’s Gym for the young and beautiful, most of whom were running avidly back and forth along the rows, doing crunches with legs tucked beneath the seats and jumping with feet together from Row F to G and so on all the way to Row TT, without breaking so much as a sweat.

2013-04-16-redrocks3.jpg

But back to that secret tunnel. Every inch of the walls, steps and electrical wiring leading to the sound engineering room is covered with autographs: everyone from John Mayer, Sting and Santana to perennial favorite The Grateful Dead.

I simply couldn’t resist. I took a deep breath, grabbed for my pen and signed my name.

2013-04-16-redrocks1.jpg

Talent trumps PR at Clyfford Still Museum in Denver

In an age where people tweet their every move, where even the talentless become celebrities, it’s refreshing to be introduced to Clyfford Still.

clyfford1

He’s one of the most significant and influential artists of the 20th century, yet rather than seek the celebrity of such contemporaries as Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning, Robert Motherwell and Jackson Pollock, he dropped out, went into hiding and wouldn’t have posted a Facebook update if a gun was put to his head.

Lucky for us, he never quit painting…even though he fled the art world in the 1950’s at the height of his fame. Instead, he relentlessly pursued his ground-breaking Abstract Expressionism far from the glare of the spotlight.

He cut off all ties with the above mentioned artists, told Peggy Guggenheim and other important gallery owners to go to hell and communicated mainly through vitriolic letters, spouting his desire “to get out of the orbit of their devices and leeching ambitions.” When he died in 1980, he left a one-page will bequeathing his giant body of work, most of which had never been seen, to the American city that would build a museum to showcase his work. Needless to say, there were stipulations. The museum had to be solely devoted to his work, none of his pieces could be lent or sold and it couldn’t bother with any of that foo-foo stuff, things like an auditorium or a restaurant.

Several dozen cities vied for the honor, but it wasn’t until 2004 when then mayor John Hickenlooper (now Colorado’s governor) flew to Maryland and convinced his widow Patricia that Denver, a city with no ties whatsoever to the finicky artist, was up for the task of properly displaying his creative output. As Hickenlooper pointed out in what must have been an extremely charming dog and pony show, Denver was throwing massive amounts of moolah into its Golden Triangle Arts District. And besides, they would bend over backwards to follow every one of Still’s demands.

In return, they would be executors of some 2400 pieces, more than 94 percent of his body of work, created between 1920 and 1980.

An early piece before he pioneered Abstract Expressionism. Jackson Pollock once said, "Still makes the rest of us look academic."

An early piece before he pioneered Abstract Expressionism. As Jackson Pollock said, “Still makes the rest of us look academic.”

As British art historian David Anfam said when given the task of joining newly-appointed museum director Dean Sobel at perusing the as-yet-unseen collection, “I feel like the archaeologist Howard Carter about to enter Tutankhamen’s tomb.”

Many of the pieces, rolled up immediately after being painted and stuffed into tubes and assorted plumbing pipes in the Maryland barn where Still painted, still smelled of oil, still had the masking tape that Still himself had affixed.

As Sobel said as he showed us around the two-story, 8500-square foot concrete museum that opened 31 years after his death, “We’re still going through his estate. It will take ten years, maybe more. It’s like opening a long-lost treasure chest.”

In addition to the nine galleries on the top floor of the Zen-like building, beautifully designed by architect Brad Cloepfil, the museum displays archival materials such as sketchbooks, photographs, tools and letters including the one Still wrote to Betty Parsons officially seceding from the art world. A glass door on the first floor reveals the conservation studio where, every week, never paintings, some spanning 12 to 14 feet, are unfurled and painstaking prepared to be exhibited for the first time.

To give you an idea of how important this reclusive artist was and still is, four of his pieces (from his wife’s collection, not in the collection protected in that one-page will) sold for $114 million in November 2011.

So, yeah, Kim Kardashian may have a lot of twitter fans now, but I’d be willing to place a hefty bet that in 50 more years, Clyfford Still will have a lot more followers. In the end, talent always trumps PR.