By Paul Albani-Burgio, Special to Denverite
We now know when a new cocktail bar will be opening in the Circa Building at 1615 Platte St. — 3:33 p.m.
We just don’t know which day yet. But it’s coming soon. In February.
Room for Milly, a small 30-something seat bar with a “casual lux feel,” will aim to be a destination for high-quality cocktails, inventive small plates, and conversation. The bar will be located next door to the second location of Blue Sparrow Coffee, which opened in the building earlier this month.
Although the Mile High City’s nightlife options are perhaps more varied than they’ve ever been, co-owner Fiona Arnold says there’s at least one area where the city is falling short: “A really strong happy-hour culture.”
Arnold, who is also co-owner of Blue Sparrow Coffee and the Queens Eleven cocktail pub at 36th and Walnut Streets, says the problem is a lack of bars that are conducive to the kind of casual cocktail drinking that thrives in other major cities.
“In Denver it seems like you either have to make a reservation or it’s a speakeasy or it’s a bar at a restaurant and it’s full of people eating,” she said. “So, we said let’s do a really high-quality cocktail bar that’s really well designed and comfortable to be in, but where you don’t have to make a reservation.”
Room for Milly takes its name and inspiration from Milly Parker, an adventurous woman whom co-owner Fiona Arnold describes as being ahead of her time in terms of her desire to push boundaries and seek out interesting people and experiences while traveling the world during the years between the world wars.
Parker’s influence will also be felt in the décor, which Arnold said is heavy on colors, high-gloss paints, hanging art and varied fabrics.
“We’ve got gorgeous wood and high-end wallpaper and then art on the wallpaper and velvet seating with pillows and cushions,” said Jeffrey Knott, Arnold’s partner. “There’s just a lot of layers and I think it’s going to be very unexpected for people.”
(Speaking of unexpected, that 3:33 p.m. open time is for real: “We want to be open on the early side early enough to catch the happy hour crowd so we were thinking 3:00 or 3:30 and we opted for 3:33. Why not? It’s different,” Knott said.)
If 3:33 doesn’t grab you, $12.85 might.
When it opens in February, Room for Milly will also be the latest proving ground for Knott and Arnold’s effort to pay all tipped employees $12.85 an hour, two years before the city is requiring all restaurants and bars to pay their tipped employees that amount.
The pair increased the minimum wage for tipped employees at Blue Sparrow and Queens Eleven at the start of the year after surveying their customers and finding they would accept paying higher prices for drinks if it meant the business’s employees could be paid better.
“So far it’s been great,” Knott said. “We are proud to pay our employees well and think it will help us to attract great talent and keep them around.”
The overall aim is “more New York or London than Denver.”
The pair said they hope for it to be a neighborhood hub for the kind of good conversation that Parker so loved.
“It’s going to be kind of a salon kind of place and you can just imagine Milly sitting around a table in there smoking cigarettes irreverently and having conversations about poetry and the latest author who is pushing the edge on literature,” Arnold said.
Room for Milly’s menu will, naturally, be focused on cocktails, with an average price of about $13 or $14. However, it was also offer about a dozen beers and limited selection of wines that Arnold said will be “highly-curated” to fit the space. But while the bar will aim to have a cocktail for everyone, Knott and Arnold say they are particularly excited about their martini.
Although not a restaurant per se, Room for Milly will also offer a selection of small plates, including Waldorf salad bites and a bite sized version of Beef Wellington made with chorizo.
“It’s going to be the kind of place where you come for drinks but you won’t be disappointed if you don’t have dinner plans afterward,” Arnold said.
The plan is for Room for Milly to close at midnight during the week and later on weekends, hoping to catch people coming from work, the pre-dinner drink crowd and those looking for a nightcap.
But while Knott and Arnold hope the bar will draw cocktail lovers from all over the city, they say a big part of the reason they wanted to open Room for Milly on Platte Street was to serve and connect with those who work and live nearby.
“We don’t want to be in LoDo or Cherry Creek or the busiest high traffic areas because we want places that are more of a balance between not only exciting shopping and eating and drinking but also neighborhoods,” Knott said. “We build spaces to bring people together and we find that’s much easier to do in neighborhoods.”