Jump Ahead:

Maybe this is the future of Denver eating and drinking. Maybe the Welton Room Lounge is an “if you build it, they will come” sort of situation. Maybe we are nearly ready for $17 cocktails with ocean foam and fusion plates balanced on tiny cocktail tables next to panther statues. Right now, though, the lounge and the adjoining Monkey Bar at Welton Room feel sceney, minus the actual scene.

Originally opened in 2019 in the space that is now the Monkey Bar, the Welton Room moved into a larger space next door in late 2022, at the 25th and Welton light-rail stop. The location is important because the eatery is very much the “new” Five Points. It’s chic and glossy and different from the older secondhand shops, small liquor stores, and divey music venues that serve as neighbors. But greater Denver has been slow to recognize the changes happening along Welton Street between 24th and 30th streets—once a thriving center of Black culture that has been gentrifying over the past two-plus decades—hence the lack of people to see and be seen.

That’s a bummer, especially when Jorge Ortega and Champ Buabucha have delivered two separate but related businesses that take cues from the now-closed Bazaar by José Andrés in Beverly Hills, a gastronomy-forward bar and restaurant where the two once worked. Welton Room is the restaurant concept, although not in the conventional way we might think of a restaurant here in the Mile High City. There are no dining tables; instead, the space is outfitted with small cocktail tables, jewel-toned velour seats, leopard print carpet, and, yes, a panther statue. The rotating 18-item dinner menu is tapas-style. Meanwhile, the Monkey Bar lounge is all about presentation-heavy cocktails.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a restaurant without tables,” my husband said over the club music as we were led to our side-by-side banquette in the restaurant. While we are probably (OK, definitely) not the target demographic for this type of place—we both remember life before iPhones—we were some of the only patrons in the place at 6:15 p.m. on a Thursday. It was, well, a little awkward, but we were too hungry to dwell on it.

Steak dish & La Emperadora cocktail
The Colorado hanger steak. Photo by Sarah Banks

The menu is full of globe-spanning bites with portion sizes that skew—thankfully—larger. I’m kind of over (and going broke from) the small-plate trend where you need to order five $18 dishes per person to fill up. We started with the red pork belly bao, which came filled with nice, not-too-fatty pork belly, pickled onions, cilantro, and a sprinkling of dukkah, a nutty Middle Eastern spice blend. The flavor was mild and gently sweet, but the buns themselves were heavy. Bao should be light and fluffy; I’d guess the hit on the griddle crisped these up far too much.

The Colorado hanger steak was a standout for two reasons. First, the steak, rubbed with coffee and splashed with black garlic and ají panca (a mild Peruvian red pepper), is an incredible flavor bomb of salty, smoky, vinegary, and spicy goodness. And second, six ounces of steak for $22? I’ll come back for this by myself and eat it as an entrée.

A bowl of strozzapreti, a pasta that is a longer version of cavatelli, took its spot on our crowded mini table next. The noodles were topped with mushrooms, a perfectly poached egg, black truffles, finely ground breadcrumbs, and shaved Parmesan. Like a creamy truffle pasta with an oozing egg yolk should be, this is a rich and satisfying dish, but the noodles were slightly gummy and probably could’ve been pulled from the stovetop a tad earlier.

I would skip the lamb albondigas on a return visit. While I appreciate the desire to do something different with meatballs—here, they contain feta and mint and rest atop a tomato sauce spiked with Aleppo pepper and clove—the flavor combo just didn’t work for me. It also took some work to break into them, a cardinal sin considering meatballs should always be fork tender.

Piña del Mar cocktail
The Welton Room Lounge’s Piña del Mar cocktail. Photo by Sarah Banks

The cocktail menu, however, is an influencer’s dream. At brunch, the restaurant serves a bubbly concoction out of a bathtub glass complete with a rubber ducky and several other similarly creative beverages. I ordered the Piña del Mar because I was intrigued by the ocean foam listed in its ingredients. Turns out that ocean foam tastes about as you’d expect, in the best possible way. Its light brininess tempered the tartness of the pineapple and the spice of the serrano pepper, with each flavor well represented and not overpowering the others.

The Welton Room’s prospective audience, though, has yet to heed its come-hither whispers. When it does—and it should—it might get a glimpse into what could be Denver’s eating and drinking future, where style and vibe contribute in a more meaningful way to the dining out experience. 2590 Welton St.

In Summary

  • The Draw: Presentation-heavy cocktails and a loungey vibe
  • The Drawback: Some dishes don’t work as conceived, and the space can feel too trendy for comfort
  • Noise Level: Loud club music
  • Don’t Miss: The Colorado hanger steak and any of the cocktails

3 New and Notable Spots in Five Points

Next time you’re in Five Points, check out these recently opened eating and drinking spots.

Welton Street Cafe

This beloved Caribbean and soul food spot, which closed in March 2022 after spending more than two decades at 27th and Welton, is slated to reopen this spring a couple of blocks over in a new building. Along with classics such as fried catfish, collard greens, and mac and cheese, look for rum cocktails and some healthier baked and grilled options. 2883 Welton St.

The Marigold

If there’s one thing that Sudhir Kudva (the mastermind behind concepts such as the Squire Lounge and Gold Point) knows, it’s bars, and the Marigold, which opened a year ago this month, is no exception. The rooftop deck is Welton Street’s first, and this bar doesn’t just peddle beautiful gin-driven cocktails; it sells plants, too. For all you thirsty green-thumbers, plants get restocked on Thursdays. 2721 Welton St.

El Pescado taco
Taco Uprising’s el pescado (fish) taco. Photo courtesy of Taco Uprising

Taco Uprising

Next door to the new location of Welton Street Cafe is Taco Uprising, a fast-casual Mexican spot that Matias Gutknecht and Samuel Valdez debuted in June. The jumping-off point was Valdez’s uncle’s taco and burger stand in Mexico. Although there’s no burger on the menu, there are several different tacos, including a variety of vegetarian and vegan options for morning, noon, and night. 2849 Welton St.

This article was originally published in 5280 March 2024.
Allyson Reedy
Allyson Reedy
Allyson Reedy is a freelance writer and ice cream fanatic living in Broomfield.