By Gigi Sukin, for Denverite
Brewpubs, cozy neighborhood nooks and cocktail lounges freckle the Mile High City, but there have been far fewer notable additions to the drinking and dining scene dedicated to wine. Under the shadow of the surrounding skyscrapers and across the alleyway from its big sister Tavernetta, Sunday Vinyl — opened Sunday, Dec. 22 to ring in the final stretch of the year — is the first wine bar to open on the Denver Union Station platform.
Much like the vintage transit hub and the buzzing pedestrian traffic upon which the space is perched, the Euro-inspired drinkery seduces its patrons to unplug from their screens and stresses, and “re-plug into something analog,” as general manager Justin Williams puts it.
“We came up with the concept in March 2018,” explains master sommelier Bobby Stuckey. “Sunday Vinyl came from me and my wife’s tradition of drinking wine and listening to vinyl on my only day off each week.”
The brainchild of the James Beard award-winning team behind Boulder’s Frasca was inspired by Tokyo’s audiophile venues, a rich network of sound-obsessed cafes, bars and clubs. A medley of overseas research adventures to Copenhagen, London, Paris and Rome further helped inform and solidify the concept.
When the Local(ish) Market, a grab-and-go bodega for commuters and urban cubicle workers at 1803 16th Street shuttered, Williams, Stuckey and the rest of the team jumped on the train-side opportunity. They hoped to appeal to a sensory experience oft-forgotten in the average dining room: our sense of hearing.
“Restaurants mostly concentrate on giving you great tastes, but what about the sound?” asks general manager Curtis Landrum. “It’s too high, too low, or just utter chaos.”
Williams largely headed up the sound selection process, building the eclectic, 500-plus record collection, and partnering with Boulder-based record-of-the-month-club, Vinyl Me, Please.
The horseshoe-shaped marble bar in Sunday Vinyl’s entryway boasts a true music-lover’s stereo-system: McIntosh turntables, one encased on the bar top and two mounted on the wall, along with 16 speakers affixed directionally throughout the 2,800-square-foot space, and a hand-built Sonus Faber speaker at the far end of the dining room that Williams describes as the “lungs” of the system.
Sunday Vinyl bears the imprint of its older siblings: Yes, the glasses are polished, much like the staff, but it begs customers to loosen their top button and have some fun … maybe even dance along to the crisp and ample beats.
The dining experience eschews wine bar clichés and intimidating sommelier interactions for a more user-friendly affair.
“We’re about getting the right bottle to the right guest,” Landrum explains.
The team provides peaceful pampering, eager to talk about the selection and provide recommendations.
Wine director Carlin Carr and lead sommelier Clara Klein built a wine list of Old World and new-wave producers. Guests can pick from more than 20 by-the-glass varieties, including a sip from Frasca alum Nate Ready’s Smockshop Band label. Two beers along with a small but strong list of “classic spirits,” are served sans frills.
The dimly lit space, straight from the imagination of Semple Brown Design, is long and narrow, comfortably holding 65 between the bar stools and table seating. The interior leans heavily into a pale color palette, with booth banquettes toward the back of the dining room that feel like sexy amphitheaters, providing a snow-globe view of the train tracks along with stellar acoustics.
Chef Charlie Brooks has crafted a well-edited menu of snacks, larger appetizers and entrees, with prices topping out at $35. Highlights include the turmeric-brined deviled eggs, savory anchovies and butter with a house-made brioche roll. Entrees range from grilled shrimp to spring chicken with wild mushrooms.
The new venue, open seven days a week, spins its vinyl and pours its vino from 4 p.m. through midnight Sunday through Thursday, and ’til 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday, with late-night happy hour available.
“We want this to feel like a bar,” Landrum says, noting how different it is from the white tablecloths of Frasca. “We wanted to push ourselves to feel uncomfortable.”
Correction: This story has been updated to correct spelling in Carr’s name.