A progressive place that takes you back – The Populist

populist whiskey

Whiskey cocktails

The purpose of the Populist Party was to be progressive, a movement for the people.  It also happens to be exactly what Jonathan Power and Noah Price (of Crema) have created on 32nd and Larimer, in the RiNo District. These talented, bearded fellas developed the perfect approach of aligning the neighborhood’s culture, affordability, and infrastructure with their restaurant. In doing so they created a dining room for the neighborhood and a lovely (but not dull) environment for the common people.

Enter The Populist, est. 2012.  It is an unpretentious place with the perfect amount of seating, a menu of seasonal favorites, a lush garden patio with texture, and a talented staff who infuses their reflective style with the restaurant. Large damask print walls encompass the main dining room lined with windsor chairs.  The booths are finished in the same pattern as the wall,  providing a seamless look. A community table in the center instills the philosophy of bringing differences together. The Populist is the work of  people who are well versed in the fundamentals of creating meaningful dishes and usable spaces.

Some may argue that the culinary platform the owners are developing is based on gentrification or  inspired design, but the foundation for The Populist lies within the food and drink.  A chef’s tasting menu will be available nightly along with the dinner menu. For my visit on November 11th, the tasting menu started a movement with huitlacoche ricotta agnolotti. Who doesn’t like a ravioli with cheese and farm vegetables? The earthiness of the corn smut is the emerging artist of the dish that was not too late to the party. I’ll be back for that.

owner wife emily power populist

Emily Power – yes, the better half – was heavily involved in developing the aesthetic of The Populist

Plant fungus not your thing? Too bad. Fortunately bigger flavors lie within the non-traditional meat dishes. The unfussy, easy-to-share, beef cheeks from last Sunday’s tasting menu were prepared with porcini potato smashers and a tamari reduction. This dish was the mid-century meat and potato dish with an added element of surprise.  The success of this dish is reminiscent of the 40’s and early 50’s when Five Points was a robust center of jazz and culture, and Denverites developed an interest in new and exciting dining experiences. The Populist meets you in the middle. A level of finesse is achieved for each course, while relying on the basics.

Has the setting yet come into focus? Then come take a seat and get acquainted. Just one look at that beautiful bar and you are ready for a drink. The reclaimed wood, shiny industrial metal, and polished vintage glassware won’t let you sit empty-handed in this place. You may fancy the lineup of scotches and whiskey or a rotating cast of brews such as Genesee Lager, Hoss Rye Lager, and Santa Fe Chicken Killer Barley Wine. In addition to the classic cocktail menu, Populist has crafted a menu full of variations on the classics.  Rest assured, it will make for a beautiful night of comparing Manhattans by an antique wooden piano.

populist bar denver

The bar at The Populist

Much like the rest of the establishment, the wine list is unassuming and mirrors the concept of a well done thrift store. It certainly doesn’t waste your time – spot on, while remaining very guided. The menu lends itself to affordability and sustainability. However, the Vietti Barolo awaits your taste buds if you are willing to splurge on their behalf. If you are into supporting local, you will be happy to see Ben’s Infinite Monkey Theorem on tap. And why shouldn’t it be? The wine is, after all, produced right across the street.

Like the neighborhood surrounding it The Populist is both charming and intriguing. The natural elements and clever touches reflect equally in the design, the people, the libations, and the food. The purpose has been achieved;  the food scene has been moved forward while still holding tight to the history.  I invite you to see for yourself.  “Power to the People”.

Opening Wednesday November 14th, 2012
3163 Larimer~Denver, Colorado