Coffee shop by day, bar by night: Black Eye Coffee, which on Monday opened a new location in Capitol Hill, is the superhero of mixed-use cafes. This little shop manages to do both coffee and cocktails right.
“You do not want to go to a bar that feels like a coffee shop, and you don’t want to go to a coffee shop that feels like a bar,” Black Eye Coffee co-owner and founder Gregory Ferrari says. For that reason, Black Eye Capitol Hill undergoes a “change” at 5 p.m. every day: The pastries are put away. The shelves behind the bar spin around, revealing a wide range of spirits. The cafe gets a little darker, a little cozier, compared to the sunny, warm space it provides during the day. There are still booths and a community table, but the space suddenly looks more like a date venue than a place to read or browse using the free WiFi.
Customers can order coffee all day and booze starting at 9 a.m. Black Eye is open from 6 a.m. to 1:30 a.m. and offers a sit-down food menu that changes through the day: Breakfast runs 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., dinner from 5 to 11 p.m., and late-night from 11 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. Black Eye has Leopold’s American Small Batch Whiskey on tap and it’s used in an artisanal Irish coffee that showcases the cafe’s two superpowers.
“In order to survive in a place like Denver…you really can’t be a pure coffee shop,” Ferrari says. He and his partners expanded to Capitol Hill from their first location in LoHi because they saw a need for more “hangout bars” in the neighborhood. “Capitol Hill is massively underserved for the density of the neighborhood,” he explains.
The cafe, located on the first floor of the new Moto Apartments building at 8th Avenue and Sherman Street, is decorated to “fit the neighborhood,” Ferrari says. “Coming in as a new shop, if you don’t feel like you belong, you just won’t.” Black Eye is located just a few blocks from Denver’s historic Poets Row, and the owners decorated with an eye for the opulence and art deco of the ’20s and early ’30s.
The cocktail menu is designed with the neighborhood in mind. The names of the 25 craft cocktails are inspired by lines from poetry or books. The menu also boasts the “Deconstructed Cup of Coffee” flight, which contains no actual coffee but is inspired by the “flavor profile” of the featured coffee on offer. The bar menu is attributed to general manager Sam Azarow, previously of Wolfgang Puck Catering; Alex Figura, the chef behind Lower48 Kitchen, designed the food menu. Ferrari, who has worked in the Denver coffee industry for 10 years, brought the coffee expertise. Along with business partners Ali Elman and Dustin Audet, he opened Black Eye’s LoHi location in 2012 (the name Black Eye came from the early history of bare knuckle fighting in the Highland neighborhood). The crew roasts their beans in Arvada, and sells them in the store.
All that loving attention to craft means that when I ordered a cortado at Black Eye, I actually got a cortado. And when I ordered a “A Truly Wicked Story” cocktail (made with house-made grenadine) it was perfectly balanced. Plus, even when I set up camp with my computer in a booth for several hours on a busy weeknight, my server never pressured me to leave. This is a cafe where I could happily spend the whole day—and night.