When a restaurant hits the five-year (or similar) mark, it can be a time of reflection, repositioning, and even sometimes reinvention. In Denver, we’re seeing this mid-life crisis of sorts take place across the city: Acorn and Old Major are both committing more resources—and menu space—on innovative dry-aging programs, while the Source is transforming via renovations and new tenants, including Reunion Bread Co. and the just-opened day-to-night bar concept, Isabel.
Chef Paul Reilly, his sister Aileen, and brother-in-law JP Taylor Jr. (also of Coperta and Pizzeria Coperta) are following suit with a refresh of their own at their flagship farm-to-table restaurant, Beast & Bottle, which opened on 17th Avenue in 2013. Then—as now—its mission has been to serve sustainably sourced ingredients alongside sexy cocktails against an eclectic soundtrack. That MO hasn’t changed in the past six years.
What has changed is the Denver dining scene. “While we love that Beast & Bottle has been known as a special occasion, tasting-menu restaurant,” Paul says, “we want to adjust that towards being a more comfortable place, a neighborhood spot where guests always have a good time, any night of the week.”
To celebrate this new approach, the Reillys hired Justin Barr, a former Coperta line cook, to paint a vibrant vegetable mural on two exterior brick walls at Beast & Bottle; it’s a welcome, cheerful sight on busy 17th Avenue. The playlists that Paul has always enjoyed creating will keep playing—a special One Hit Wonder dinner is forthcoming—and there’s new soft lighting above the bar and dining tables that give the space a warm glow.
Whole lambs from Ewe Bet Ranch in Loveland still arrive at Beast & Bottle every Monday, and Paul and executive sous chef Charles Haughton will continue to turn them into delicious things for the new “Lamb” section of the menu. Think: pancetta (found in the tender potato gnocchi dish Paul makes with Denver’s Altius Farms’ swiss chard and creamy-funky Taleggio), sausages (served with braised red cabbage and house-made mustard), and ground lamb (for a quarter-pounder with yogurt aïoli, Gruyère, and lemon-cured onions on a City Bakery brioche bun).
“Not Lamb” currently features a dish of Mediterranean-inspired chorizo, lentils, and octopus that Reilly created after taking a giant Pacific octopus off captain Dustan Dickerson, who fishes for cod out of Dutch Harbor in Alaska. Dickerson was struggling because the invasive species were damaging his cod nets; to avoid the octopi being thrown back into the sea, Paul said he would figure out how to use them. “They require a lot of prep work,” Paul says, “but we all love them.” There’s also a crispy chicken from McCauley Family Farm in Boulder and a show-stopping, caramelized hunk of confit pork shoulder meant for wrapping inside Bibb lettuce leaves with pickled butternut squash slaw and kumquat nuoc cham.
Reilly has also devised a “Plats du Jour” lineup that spans Monday pork spare ribs and Wednesday steak frites to Friday blackened fish sandwiches. A new snacks menu section offers the likes of garlicky sweet potato tots with lime-miso mayo and a stellar guanciale butter toast topped with peppery radishes and a bright squeeze of lemon. Colorado charcuterie remains a focus, as do flatbreads, which are now being made with house-milled spelt and amaranth grains from Moxie Bread Company in Louisville. (Paul uses this grain mill, in case you feel like playing around with the trend at home.)
Desserts by talented pastry chef Jodi Polson are still on the menu, and the bar program, led by Erin Pirkola, still includes Beast & Bottle’s beloved bottled cocktails. But there’s also a new draft drink available—currently the gin- and Concord-grape-based “A Letter to Jimmy Sage,” garnished with aromatic charred sage—and an entirely new, mostly local beer selection chosen specifically to pair with the food menu.
In all, the Reillys and Taylor are pushing their first-born restaurant to answer the call of the times. Casual, comfortable, and consciously sourced are the pillars of Beast & Bottle’s rebirth, which is surely going to be a delicious path forward.