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$4 cans of Coors Light. $10 glasses of dry sparkling rosé from Catalonia. $10 to $16 cocktails as complex and delicious as any you’ll find in star bar scenes along the coasts. All of the above is what the L Denver is offering Mile High City drinkers at its new space on Broadway, which opened at the end of January.
Co-owners Adam Hodak and Alex Lerman are behind the bar (and on the floor) right now, working with limited staff and seating capacity until pandemic restrictions loosen. But that’s familiar and fine with them, having tended bar together for years at the Green Russell on Larimer Square and feeling grateful to be open during this unprecedented and uncertain time for the hospitality industry.
Hodak and Lerman met when Hodak was beverage director for Bonanno Concepts, a role he held for more than a decade and which eventually evolved into Hodak becoming a partner in Vesper Lounge, Russell’s Smokehouse, and award-winning speakeasy Green Russell. He hired Lerman, a Denver native, as a bar back at the Green Russell in 2012 and the two poured drinks together until 2016, when Lerman moved to New York City. There, Lerman tended bar at such renowned spots as Saxon & Parole, Dram, and the NoMad Hotel; he earned the position of head bartender at the hotel’s Nomad Bar, which, during his time there, was named the best bar in North America and the third best bar in the world by the 50 Best Bars list.
Today, the two pros are excited to be in charge. “I wouldn’t be here without Frank [Bonanno],” says Hodak, “But it feels great to be doing our own thing.” Lerman agrees, crediting his experience in New York City with the confidence he feels now behind the bar at the L. “The quality of service at Nomad was on me, and that was humbling and meant a lot. Now, to come home and be able to share what I’ve learned means a lot, too. And it’s great to be working with Adam again.”
Hodak and Lerman did the literal work to open the L, which is located in what was Quality Paws pet store on Broadway, between 1st and Ellsworth Avenues. It took more than two years to complete the extensive renovations—the duo spent a full month working on the walls, put in two new bathrooms and new plumbing, and added a ramp at the back to make the bar fully accessible, on top of cosmetic touches like installing reclaimed hardwood bar shelves and a bar top made of Colorado ash—and the space is still a work in progress. Bar stools will wait until pandemic capacity restrictions relax (and thirsty guests can once again pony up to said stools), and a lounge area and patio with community tables and a drink rail will be furnished over time. Hodak is also planning to build a rooftop deck down the line.
Meanwhile, local artist bunny M is dressing up the bar with a gorgeous floral mural that seems to float along the wall opposite the bar; it should take six weeks to paint by hand. The sparse but comfortable tables and chairs are really all that’s needed to enjoy the L’s drink menu, accompanied by a soundtrack chosen by Hodak and Lerman—and eventually, their staff. They’ll play everything from Indie to hip hop to alternative, and thanks to a cabaret license, eventually the L will also host live bands and DJs.
No matter what song is playing, top-notch drinks are the reason to go to the L, which is named for the L subway line in New York City and the El train in Chicago. “I believe that some of the best bars in the country run off these lines, and I wanted to pay homage to them and bring the feeling I get there to Denver,” Hodak says.
He and Lerman hope that groups of friends will make the L a regular stop, catering to every taste with a range of beverages. “We will do White Claw and well-vodka and sodas, as well as cocktails and great glasses of wine,” Hodak says. There will also be 14 local and national beers on tap when it makes more sense to install the draft system, and, for now, various cans and bottles—from Montucky and Miller High Life to Brooklyn Brewery’s Sorachi Ace farmhouse ale—are filling in the hop gap.
“Broadway hasn’t had a bar like this,” Lerman says. “It’s not an elite cocktail bar, although you can get great cocktails here. We’re going to stay true to the neighborhood, which means you can walk in and have a shot of Jameson and a beer or a fresh, well-balanced cocktail. Those things can run parallel.”
That ethos translates to the L’s under-$5 cans of beer; Lerman’s thoughtful wine list, which leans towards Old World and West Coast producers; and an exquisite cocktail menu where most drinks fall in the $10 to $12 range. (It’s a shame that the L hasn’t printed its beautiful art deco menu yet, designed by Denver’s sister-owned Cognoscenti Creative, but Hodak is loving the cleanliness and ease of ordering through QR codes, particularly for this moment in time.) Gorgeous glassware and elegant garnishes abound, like the swirl of a thin slice of cucumber inside the long Guava Island, a vibrant patio-pounder made with jalapeño-infused vodka, Suze and Cocchi Americano aperitifs, house-made pineapple gum (for texture and a bit of sweetness), yuzu and lemon juices, and a float of Stem Ciders’ chile-guava cider.
The El Camino, served in a rocks glass, took Lerman 20 tries to get right, with his girlfriend finally intervening to insist that he stop tweaking the drink, which has become a favorite at the L already. In it, Lerman channels the nostalgia of eating salt-and-pepper seasoned watermelon at a picnic and fun summer times (which we could all use right now) into a fantastic cocktail, combining avocado-oil-infused mezcal with watermelon and lime juices, champagne vinegar, celery bitters, freshly ground black pepper, and manzanilla sherry for a hit of salinity. Paired with a celery seed-salt-and-pepper rim, it’s a drink that deserves attention in any season.
The Good Fortune, which is a play on a white negroni that Lerman was inspired to create as a marker of good things to come, is based around a white peony tea tincture (which reflects the white peonies on the wall mural), with absinthe, Suze, Dolin Blanc vermouth, St. Germaine elderflower liqueur, and Beefeater gin rounding out the mix.
Should you feel peckish while you sip, the L and Danger Zone Calzones, a husband-and-wife owned, jet fighter-themed restaurant two doors down, have you covered. Scan the Danger Zone’s QR code from your seat at the L to order from its menu of over-stuffed pizza pockets, which will be delivered straight to your table. You can create your own filling combination, go for a Danger Zone favorite like the Wingman (meatballs, pesto, mozzarella), or even keep it vegan with seitan-based local brand Cholo Ass Vegan’s chicken, meatballs, pepperoni, sausage, and cheese, which co-owner Hillary Todd, an omnivore, says tastes even better than the real deal.
Any drink you can imagine from local bar pros, good music, simple surroundings, and calzones? The L delivers it all.
Monday through Sunday, 4 to 11 p.m; 46 N. Broadway, 720-940-8715