With Linger, Justin Cucci fills a niche Denver didn’t know it was missing.
2030 W. 30th Ave.
The Draw A high-energy restaurant with stunning downtown views and an affordable, meant-to-be-shared menu of global street food.
The Drawbacks Inconsistency—some dishes are overseasoned, others lack punch.
Don’t Miss Mongolian barbecue duck bun, masala dosa, carrot and lentil kofte, Moroccan chocolate flan
Price $$ (Average price per small plate: $10)
Justin Cucci knew one thing when he signed the lease on the garage inside Highland’s old Olinger Mortuary building: He wanted to keep the giant blue neon sign, drop the “O,” and name his new restaurant Linger. After that, he didn’t have a plan. No concept for the menu. No theme for the design. While it would have been tempting—and relatively easy—to create a junior version of Root Down, his perennially popular restaurant located a few blocks away, that would have felt like cheating. Absent any plans, Cucci set to work on the space and hoped something would come to him.
Over 21 months, as the Olinger building was refashioned from a hearse garage and mortuary offices to an “eatuary” (as the sign now proclaims), Cucci’s vision slowly came into focus. The large, open space would take full advantage of downtown views. There would be playful riffs on the mortuary theme. And the menu, which didn’t crystallize for more than a year, would be decidedly anti-entrée and anti-French. Instead, Cucci’s menu would reflect what he likes to eat: small plates and street food.
Cucci makes the development of Linger sound almost happenstance, but one thing is certain: This 43-year-old chef has a gift for creating buzzworthy, be-here- now restaurants. Within a month of Linger’s June opening, it was difficult to nab a table. Within three months, the spot was booking 30 days out. There’s now a pretty woman with a clipboard stationed at the front door to manage the bar crowd. And every night, every table is filled—not just with two diners, but with groups of four or six or eight.
Regardless of whether you believe Cucci’s claim that Linger was nothing but a series of happy accidents, there is a lot that works well here. Much of it reveals itself slowly, in the same way it did to Cucci.
First, you’ll notice the stunning views of downtown—not to mention the giant silver milk can from neighboring Little Man Ice Cream. The wall of windows in both the upstairs bar and the main restaurant space make Denver’s skyline your dining companion and lend Linger a distinctly urban vibe.
Next, you’ll notice the subtle mortuary-esque touches—the stainless steel medical chart holders for the wine list. The toe tags that list dessert. The images from the funeral-centric 1971 film Harold and Maude. Cucci gets high marks for keeping the death motif in check; you scarcely notice it, and it’s more amusing than macabre when you do.