Whiskey, beer and food - three important forms of sustenance that equate to serious business at The Rackhouse. Okay, perhaps not so serious. I had the pleasure of sitting down with the pub Owner/Manager, Chris Rippe, last week to learn more about his fiercely independent restaurant that rocks the socks off most other pubs in Denver.
1. Rackhouse Pub has a lot to offer: locally sourced ingredients, artistically crafted bar food, 20 beers on tap (19 of which are Colorado brewed) and the fragrant smell of Colorado whiskey from the Stranahan’s Distillery next door. How long have you been in business and what motivated you to open shop in the Art District on Santa Fe?
We opened up two years ago on Halloween in 2009. The relationship with Stranahan’s Distillery is what motivated me to move here. The founder of the distillery, Jess Graber, and I knew each other when I worked at Flying Dog Brewery. He had this restaurant space when he purchased the entire building and was looking for someone to open up a concept that supported what Stranahan’s did as an independent whiskey distillery. Although I was looking to open a small bar in my hometown of Carbondale, CO, it wasn’t the right situation and this was.
2. Why did you become a restaurant owner? Have you always had a passion for the business or food?
(Laughing) I’ve always had a passion for food, obviously! I grew a passion for beer and whiskey from my experience at Flying Dog Brewery. I figured there was enough people out there like me to where I could make a restaurant that people would patron. Of course, the distillery had grown to have a large enough name to where I knew it would help bring people in the door. Without the distillery’s partnership, this restaurant would not have worked. We’re located on the outskirts of the Art District, but it’s part of our charm. I joke we’re the easiest to get to and hardest to find.
3. Speaking of food, let’s talk about your menu. Rackhouse Pub offers an extensive list of mouthwatering eats—from street tacos and bone marrow to salmon bruschetta and seafood mac and cheese. Was it just too hard to pick a focus or one theme for the menu?
The focus of the menu, really from day one, was “Bar food, built better.” I explained to Jason Runnins, my chef and partner, my concept and he took the idea, ran with it and really brought to fruition. In a loose way, I always liked what Four Peaks Brewery in Tempe, AZ where I went to college (and ironically you, the interviewer, as well!) offered higher quality bar food than wings and chicken tenders, fried and thrown on a plate. I thought we could take what Four Peaks does, improve upon it and do better. We don’t have a fryer and we make everything in-house. Some people label us a “gastro-pub,” which is essentially a fancy term meaning high-end bar food.
4. Who is the hotshot behind your event planning? Hoppy Tuesdays, Whiskey Wednesdays, Taco & Tequila Thursdays, Free Bacon Sundays and Geeks Who Drink Trivia are all weekly events at Rackhouse Pub. Sounds like it’s always a good time here!
Scott Quintna, my General Manager. Let’s just give him all the credit.
5. Okay, short and sweet. The next topic is more of a long-winded question. There are over 20 restaurants in the District, but only 3 (including Rackhouse Pub) are members of the Art District, actively participating in the community and helping promote the area. Why do you think other restaurant owners haven’t realized that it’s a win-win situation? Art galleries, small business owners and lots of other members of the community work hard to support the District and bring foot traffic to the area—not just on First and Third Fridays. That being said, what value has being a member of the Art District on Santa Fe brought to your restaurant and business? What would you say to other restaurant owners who are hesitant about becoming a member?
It’s always been my belief that being an active member of the community your business is in helps you in the long run – even though you can’t draw specific dollars, time and money directly from your investment. I don’t know why the other restaurants choose not to get on-board but I think if they look at the long-term success of the Art District, it’s going to be built around growing the community and the area to include not only more restaurants, but boutiques and small businesses to support the District. Which will, in turn, quickly change the area into a neighborhood that will be constantly hosting shoppers, patrons, traffic and events. Let’s face it, “The rising tide floats all boats.”
6. Before we wrap up, is there anything you’d like to share or any upcoming news/events going on at Rackhouse Pub that you’d like to mention to the fine people of Denver?
Just to visit the website. If they haven’t taken a tour of the Stranahan’s Whiskey Distillery they are missing out. (For everyone who doesn’t know—you can take a FREE guided tour of the Stranahan’s Distillery and even sample a little complimentary whiskey at the end the tour. I did last weekend and came out feeling like a whiskey connoisseur. Which leads to my next question for Chris….)
7. Alright, whiskey or beer only for the rest of your life? If you had to choose…
I’d rather not live in a world where I had to make that choice. (Really? You’re impossible.) Okay, okay, what about beer aged in whiskey barrels?
Yes, Chris Rippe is cheeky and fun to interview. Now go check out The Rackhouse; you’ll be glad you did.