When it comes to naming restaurants and bars, chefs and owners rip their hair out (and, as it turns out, drink a lot of wine) while exhausting their brains in an effort to chose the perfect moniker. Every name, of course, has its own backstory — including these dozen Denver restaurants and watering holes with particularly interesting origins.
Finn's Manor: The name of this New Orleans–inspired cocktail bar and alfresco food-truck bazaar in RiNo was inspired by a few different ideas, says co-owner Noah Price. The "manor" equation of the moniker, he explains, refers to a "gypsy palace, which encompasses everything from royalty to traveling vagabonds to troublemakers," while the the name "Finn" — the main character in Mark Twain's classic novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn — is indicative of iconic Americana, not to mention the mischievous nature that's inherent in most kids. "There's a little bit of Huckleberry Finn in all of us," says Price, who admits that it "took forever to come up with a name that had personality and meaning but wasn't too esoteric."
Bar Fausto: Years ago, in the 1950s, there was a famous Italian cyclist named Fausto Coppi, who, by most accounts, was outspoken, fixated on fashion and did his share of partying. Ultimately, though, he earned the title of Il Campionissimo — or champion of champions — for his dominance in the cycling world, and when co-owner Jonathan Power (also of the Populist and Crema Coffee House) was batting around names for his edgy cocktail emporium in RiNo, he settled on Bar Fausto. "We wanted a classy place that took its cocktails seriously, but we also wanted to have fun. Plus, there's a cycling bent to the decor, so it was the perfect name," says Power, noting that "fausto" also translates to "lucky" in Italian.
3126 Larimer St.; 720-445-9691
The Squeaky Bean: Johnny Ballen, along with girlfriend Linda Purdy, had tossed around names for his farm-intensive restaurant for months, intent on choosing something playful, memorable and food-focused. "But like a well-oiled pan, nothing was sticking," admits Ballen. Eventually, the idea for the Squeaky Bean name sprouted around the kitchen table, while Ballen, his girlfriend and her mom were cooking dinner, which included a simple dish of green beans unearthed from the garden. After taking a bite, Linda said, “I love the squeak that a fresh green bean makes between your teeth.” Inspiration quickly germinated and Ballen shouted, “Squeaky bean! Squeaky bean!” Needless to say, the name took root. And like much of the beautiful produce at the Squeaky Bean, the green beans are plucked from the restaurant's three local farms.
1500 Wynkoop St.; 303-623-2665
Stoic & Genuine: Chef and restaurateur Jennifer Jasinski (Rioja, Bistro Vendome, Euclid Hall and Stoic & Genuine) and Jorel Pierce (chef de cuisine of Stoic & Genuine; pictured above) were hanging in New York City, along with Jasinski's husband Max MacKissock, the exec chef and co-owner of Bar Dough, for the summer kick-off party of Bravo's Top Chef Masters. (Jasinski and Pierce were both finalists.) And during the celebratory dinner at Danny Meyer’s The Modern at the Museum of Modern Art, the crew popped open a few bottles of wine before the conversation turned to one-word descriptions of everyone at the table. Jasinski described MacKissock as “stoic." Pierce asked, “If he’s stoic, then what am I?” Jasinski's answer? "Genuine." The cheeky combination of the two adjectives became the name of Stoic & Genuine, their seafood concept at Denver’s historic Union Station.
1701 Wynkoop St.; 303-640-3474
Linger: With the only restaurant in Denver that occupies a former morgue, Justin Cucci, the quirky and nonconformist chef and restaurateur who owns Linger, made the predictably unorthodox decision to embrace the building's morbid history, dropping the "O" in "Olinger" — the mortuary's original name — and renaming it Linger. The prominent historical neon sign (pictured above) still stands front and center on Linger's rooftop patio, and Cucci hasn't changed it much except to darken the "O" so that it glows black and alter the spelling of "mortuaries" to the more apropos "eatuaries."
2030 W. 30th Ave.; 303-993-3120
Ophelia's Electric Soapbox: Cucci is also the brains behind Ophelia's, a "gastro-brothel" and live-music venue located in the historic Victorian Airedale building (a former brothel/peep-show venue/adult bookstore) in Downtown Denver. Its name pays homage to the building’s storied past, as well as Ophelia (pictured above), the muse and mistress of the boudoir. "We found this great picture of our muse, a strong and empowered turn-of-the-century woman who's naked from the waist up, and while we were building the restaurant, it seemed only natural to name it after Ophelia," says Cucci.
1215 15th St.; 303-993-8023
Beatrice & Woodsley: The fairytale story behind the naming of Beatrice & Woodsley, one of the most romantic, whimsical and beautifully designed restaurants in Denver, involves two paramours: Beatrice, the daughter of a French winemaking family, who relocated to California in the 1800s to create a small vineyard, and Woodsley, the handsome and crafty son of lumberjacks, who provided barrels for the wine producers. The mythical narrative, according to owner John Skogstad, is that Beatrice & Woodsley fell in love and quickly married. Enamored by his new bride, Woodsley built a remote, rustic cabin in the woods of the Colorado mountains, complete with the day’s amenities and a large wine cellar between the roots of the aspens. And then they lived happily ever after.
38 S. Broadway; 303-777-3505
Atticus: An upscale neighborhood bistro concept that intersects the Platte Park and University of Denver neighborhoods, Atticus is one of those restaurants that took months to name. "We all wanted a name that would reflect the neighborhoods, but we knew if we tied it too much to DU, it would be construed as a bar for the university's students, and that wasn't the type of place we wanted it to be known for," says Brian Midtbo, founder of Table to Tavern, the restaurant group that owns Atticus. One evening, over copious amounts of wine, Midtbo and his team somehow found themselves discussing To Kill a Mockingbird, the Harper Lee novel that features lawyer Atticus Finch (pictured above). And that's when the naming game commenced. "It fits in with the law vibe and the ambiance of the restaurant, and after four months of name searching, we eventually came up with what should have been a no-brainer to start with," says Midtbo.
1135 E. Evans Ave.; 720-459-8273
Old Major: Swine and whole-animal butchery are the calling cards of Old Major, Justin Brunson's temple to pig in LoHi, and the name, which was the suggestion of Ben Parsons, Brunson's partner as well as the founder of the Infinite Monkey Theorem, couldn't be more apt. Old Major, of course, is the prize-winning, rebellious boar in George Orwell's Animal Farm, and the minute Brunson heard it, he know it was the perfect name. "Old Major is a majestic pig that rallies all of the animals to revolt and take over farms from humans, and our mission at Old Major, the restaurant, is to create awareness of the atrocities of factory farming and use and source as many local products as possible as well as create everything we can in-house," says Brunson.
3316 Tejon St.; 720-420-0622
TAG: Ten years ago when Troy Guard, chef-owner of TAG, got his first white English Bulldog, he decided to name him TAG after his own initials (Guard's middle name is Atherton). "I thought it was short and catchy, and when I opened my flagship restaurant, I knew I wanted to call it TAG, after my dog," says Guard, adding that he believes the name represents his restaurant's "playful sensibilities and shows our guests that we never take ourselves too seriously and we’re all about having fun." Guard's dog also became the restaurant's official mascot; his jaw-jutting mug is on the menus and T-shirts, and there's also a large painting of TAG that hangs on a wall in the restaurant.
1441 Larimer St.; 303-996-9985
Hop Alley: Tommy Lee, chef-owner of Uncle, recently opened Hop Alley, a brilliant Chinese restaurant on the fringe of Denver's original Chinatown. After racking his brain for a name, including Graham Street (a street in Hong Kong with the largest outdoor market), Diamond Hill (the neighborhood in Hong Kong where Lee's mom grew up), La Li Ma (the Chinese pronunciation of "Larimer," the street where Hop Alley resides) and Oriental Foods (the name of the previous tenant), he finally gave up when none of the names struck a chord. He then began researching the history of Chinese immigrants in Denver and discovered that Denver, in fact, was home to an authentic Chinatown in the 1800s, located around 20th and Wazee Streets. "Although the then-nickname for Chinatown – Hop Alley – had some unsavory connotations related to drugs, prostitution and racism, I thought it would be a great name for a modern Chinese restaurant, especially since it's a conversation piece about the historical reference of Chinese people in Denver," says Lee, noting, too, that he liked the word "Alley" because it alludes to a "secretive, unrefined and somewhat rustic location," which he wanted to replicate in the design. His research also revealed that the building where Hop Alley now sits was a former soy sauce factory in the 1940s and after that, Oriental Foods, a wonton-skin manufacturer.
3500 Larimer St.; 720-379-8340
The Greedy Hamster: When the Greedy Hamster opened Downtown, there was collective head scratching among, well, just about everyone. Clearly this wasn't a restaurant that was serving those cuddly little furballs for dinner. While the quirky name continues to raise eyebrows, its origin, say owners, Tay Wilbanks and Jim Askins, was inspired by a YouTube video of a hamster stuffing itself to oblivion, coupled with a sojourn to Paris that led to a street vendor who just happened to be hawking a plaque etched with the words "The Greedy Hamster."
323 14th St.; 303-623-2818