After devilish delays, El Diablo opens to angels and demons on Friday
Jesse Morreale takes me by the hand and leads me down a narrow passageway, past the rustic wooden tequila lockers and kaleidoscopic altar littered with white candles, and into the lantern-lit dining room of El Diablo, the new Mexican restaurant at First and Broadway that he and executive chef Sean Yontz have spent more than two years putting together, an endeavor admits Morreale, that's been anything but easy. "It was a really complicated project with lots of hurdles, and yes, it's been frustrating, but the setbacks also afforded us the time to be thoughtful about the design, overall concept, menu and operations."
El Diablo was slated to open in April of 2009. Now, almost a year and a half later, the stunning space will finally be revealed on Friday, when it opens for dinner.
"When the paper comes off the windows, I think people are expecting to see another Tambien, with all the Mexican pop culture," says Morreale, referencing the cantina he and Yontz own in Cherry Creek. "But this is a huge departure from that, and without question, the best layout, design and menu we've ever done."
The 6,000-square-foot, 320-seat space (plus a 70-seat patio), whose focal point is a large rectangular bar illuminated by bordello-red lanterns, is bedecked with a voyeuristic exhibition kitchen, intricate wrought iron accents, a hand-painted muraled wall depicting scenes from Mexican artists, including Diego Rivera and a separate late-night takeout area harboring a small Mexican market, flanked by graffitied Mexican street art portraying the devil in all of his diabolic glory, and shelved with everything from bottled Mexican coke and hot sauces to Mexican caramel. Morreale insists that there's nothing like it in Denver -- and he's right.
"The whole restaurant is one big art piece," says Morreale. "We really wanted to use it as an opportunity for local artists to contribute. The murals, the ironwork, the woodwork, the altar and the graffiti -- it was all designed by local artists."
The restaurant's name, explains Morreale, was also a no-brainer. "We know right away that it was going to be a Mexican restaurant, and more than once, Sean and I have been referred to as the devil. In fact, you might even say that we went through hell and back to get this place open." In addition, notes Morreale, El Diablo conjures up images of "fire and heat and flames and peppers -- things associated with cooking, not to mention a little bit of mischief," which will no doubt come into play, considering that the tequila list trumpets more than 200 different bottles.