Green Russell

Bar in Denver

Speakeasy Bar

Green Russell, upscale Denver speakeasy shows that it’s a man’s world – and that, at least in this case, it’s a very good thing.

Normally I quail in distaste at the word “speakeasy,” anticipating an environment dedicated more to its décor than to its drinks, which tend to be mixed by nostalgically costumed staff that evince a sullen disdain for anyone hopeful of timely service. But when everyone – from friends in town, to wistful would-be residents, to the hotel concierge and the entire valet staff – recommend a place, I figure there must be something to it.

Reached by a precipitous stairway down from Russell’s Smokehouse (named, like Green Russell, for the prospector who first discovered gold in the Rocky Mountains), the bar is accessible only by aid of an escort through a side door in the otherwise ingenuous Wednesday’s Pie shop. (Don’t worry – it’s clear enough when you actually get there).

Inside, the speakeasy is dark, cool, and dense with the fug of hair pomade and aftershave. Maybe it’s the smoking room-chic décor (done by Jacqueline Bonanno, wife of the proprietor), but Green Russell seems slanted toward a crowd wherein men outnumber the women two to one. This may, on second thought, be primarily due to the all-male population behind the bar, who are indeed mustachioed and arm-gartered, keeping up an easy banter while knifing hunks of ice with Benihana-style fervor.

Manager Taylor Drew tells me that Green Russell imports enormous blocks of ice from mountain springs, from which the barkeeps chisel individual cubes to fit each drink. The difference, he says, is not only in the quality of the water, but in how long it takes to melt. At his claim, I glance at the opaque cube in my highball glass and realize that it has barely rounded its corners.

My seat at the far corner of the bar affords a mezzanine-like view of the bar’s action, wherein well-suited gentlemen with courtly manners rub shoulders with their lady friends on one side, and tight-shirted bros with gelled hair on the other. Strong jaws sheathed in well-groomed stubble are as plentiful as the taxidermy adorning the walls. This Hemingwayan tableau, played out against a set of craggy rock walls, stamped tin ceilings and low leather furniture, is presided over with as much integrity as style by the barkeeps, whose Brill-Creemed, bow-tied splendor is tempered by the roundly avuncular tone in which they refer to me as “dear”.

If that weren’t enough to take all the wind out of my feminist sails, I’m utterly ravished by the presentation of my finest drink of the night: a whiskey sour ordered for me by an owner of Breckenridge Distillery, whose staff frequents Green Russell after hours. Built on his locally produced bourbon, the drink is laced with an impeccable proportion of lemon juice, sugar and the unexceptionable egg white, an ingredient that few bars deign to include. It also has a laurel wreath traced across the top in bitters.

Along with impeccably made vintage libations, the menu boasts a slate of house favorites named with insouciant humor, none more so than the “You’re Killin’ Me, Smalls,” which I chose on the advice of both the hotel valet and the distillery owner. The drink’s herbal, lemony foreground of Small’s gin, citrus and crème de violette gives way to a dry, smoky punch at the back of the throat, courtesy of Del Maguey mezcal. It paired supremely with an order of charred brussels sprouts. This dish, accompanied by oily pork belly and floury onion jam, was the most delicate on the menu, which abounds in foie gras, pulled pork and potatoes.

Green Russell unabashedly vaunts its ability to create bespoke cocktails to suit any taste, with just a few clues as to what you the drinker enjoy. Having been ably guided through the menu by Sean, a recent addition to the bar staff, I asked him to make a cocktail for me that would accompany whatever pie he recommended from the house’s daily selection. I ended up with something made with Bulleit rye bourbon, Leopold Brothers’ applejack, black pepper simple syrup, Cointreau, possibly some ginger beer…at some point, I lost track. It tasted like what might have been drunk on Christmas at the Gatsby mansion, if things had worked out between Daisy and Jay.

If chauvinism always acquitted itself thus, I’d have no argument against it. A lady could very happily know her place, were the world a place like Green Russell.

Chelsea Batten is an itinerant journalist and photographer

Photographs courtesy of Green Russell

Reviewer's Rating
Ambience Incredible Staff, Hidden Gem
Clientele All manner of locals – businessmen, hipsters, sporting types, service industry crowd.

Additional Ambience Information

Dim, cave-like, “man’s man” atmosphere.

Additional Price Comments

Signature cocktails start at $12, Premium 1oz. pours start at $20.

Last updated on 29-08-2014

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