Exclusive first look: Tom's Urban 24 opens on Halloween
Ever been to Pete's Kitchen at 2 a.m.? Packed like Whole Foods on Thanksgiving. Breakfast King at 3 a.m.? Not an empty seat in the house. And given Denver's love affair with late-night grubbing, you can bet your chicken-fried steak that when Tom's Urban 24 opens on Larimer Square on Halloween, it, too, will generate throngs of late-night revelers, especially given its prime location on one of the city's most booze-soaked blocks.
Denver doesn't lay claim to a whole lot of 24/7 joints -- there are none downtown -- but Tom Ryan, a Denver-based visionary who Gourmet magazine named one of the top 25 food entrepreneurs in America, and the founder of Smashburger (not to mention the creator of the McGriddle breakfast sandwich and dollar menu at McDonald's and the stuffed-crust pizza at Pizza Hut), realized that Denver's nucleus was a magnet for locals and tourists alike hankering for good food in the wee hours of the morning -- and every other time of the day or night.
"There's a great confluence of people in LoDo, and there's a ton of foot traffic, plus it's a haven for the industry crowd, people who go to the sports venues and the comedy club, CU students, late-night clubbers and early-morning breakfast-goers," says Ryan, who describes himself as a "food geek" and struts a Ph.D. in flavor and fragrance chemistry.
Ryan's eponymous restaurant, which he describes as "comfort food with an urban twist," resides in the former Samba Room space, but beyond the historic stone exterior, there's little that remains from the prior tenant. Instead, the two-tiered space, which seats close to 200, is a groovy mix of retro and modern, with whimsical crescent-shaped tangerine-and-cream booths etched with the sun and the moon occupying the first floor that's flanked by a u-shaped bar faced with beetle-kill pine and floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook the Larimer Square streetscape. And the upper level, nicknamed the "Perch," is a glass-encased expanse, bedecked with round tables and banquettes, that peers over the main floor.
But the real conversation piece is a wall-mounted, kaleidoscopic, acrylic-on-metal map of Colorado, studded with moveable icons and flags that tells diners where their food -- local food -- comes from. "We want to do as many local things as possible," stresses Ryan, "and we commissioned a local artist to create a stylized map of Colorado to designate where we're getting our local ingredients," 70 percent of which, he estimates, are from our own back yard.
And his menu, which is one of the most expansive I've seen in a long time, zigzags between house-baked doughnuts and four-egg omelets, Reubens and Cubans, Korean carnitas and Vietnamese pho. "I really wanted to do a concept that romances familiar foods in a modern way," explains Ryan, adding that diners will "recognize every noun on the menu, but the adjectives might make you pause and say, 'Hmm, that's really cool.'"