Sampling the scene at Caveau

By Kimberly Dean
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

As soon as you walk into Caveau Wine Bar, you feel like you are in an upscale, uptown New York local bar. That’s just the vibe you get at 450 East 17th Avenue in Uptown Denver. At 8 p.m. one Friday evening when my job-searching architect friend Megan and myself were about to check out Warren Miller’s “Wintervention,” the place was still bustling with the after-work crowd. Some were subdued, and some were slightly impaired, but all were happily sipping their vino.

The front entrance to this trendy Uptown watering hole.
Photo by Kimberly Dean/The Colorado Statesman
Loyal employee Ed Swait was great company.
Photo by Kimberly Dean/The Colorado Statesman
The after­work crowd lingers around 8 p.m.
Photo by Kimberly Dean/The Colorado Statesman

Seated near me at the bar a lawyer in a disheveled suit was trying to convince the man next to him that he could somehow be of service to his business. “You need me, bro.” I had the sense that it was also a one-sided political conversation and had trouble stifling my giggles.

Other professional downtown types filled the tables and everyone seemed either engrossed in deep conversation or consumed by laughter. Quite the mix, which made the atmosphere very intriguing, though I’m told that the clientele is mostly women and dates… blind dates. Okay, probably Internet dates. Either way, guys, it’s a good place to meet single women.

A friendly, unpretentious bar with over 70 wines by the glass, Caveau welcomes experts in wine as well as beginner winos like me who can expect sound advice on what to order — with no upselling. What a relief! The wine Reserve List for discerning enthusiasts, found on a clever iPad, has unusually good prices compared with other wine bars around town. Just ask for it at the bar. The staff is trained extensively on wine, and there is an informal ‘no-snob’ policy, according to co-owner Mike Marquardt. The slogan for the place is “It’s all about the wine.” They even have t-shirts that say that.

My new buddy at the bar, Ed Swait, made conversation while polishing the wine glasses, probably one of the most pleasant tasks you can do while working in a place like this. At least I used to enjoy it back in the day. Having missed the 4-7 p.m. happy hour (which is seven days a week, mind you), judging by clock and the tipsy “suit” two stools down, I decided to experiment with something I hadn’t tried before.

Caveau, which means ‘a wine-tasting cellar,’ has about 39 American wines by the glass. (I had a lot of time to count them while awaiting Megan.) I ordered a glass of Groth, a Sauvignon Blanc from the Napa Valley in California. Finally Megan dramatically appeared wearing a vintage fur jacket and ordered a red: Anarkos from Puglia, Italy. I’ve been to Puglia. Good wine is usually cheap there, perfect with all food, and is more commonly found than water.

After our wine and a couple of small plates (the food is great), we were about to leave, and Ed bought our second round. How nice was that? Megan had had a tough day, and another glass was all she needed to gear up for the movie she had been looking forward to.

Caveau is owned by three brothers from California, the Marquardts. Their father was into wine, and they spent their weekends in wine country. One day while sipping wine, they thought, “We can do this.” And so the concept was born. Apparently a favorite bar for locals from the Capitol, they are gearing up for a busy holiday season followed by a hopefully action-packed legislative session!

The bar has been open for about two years, and every third Wednesday they do tastings of about four wines from the same winery. This month it is Chandon from California. Caveau’s Happy Hour includes $3 drafts (mostly Colorado micro-brews), glasses of $12 and under are just $5, and glasses $13 and over are half off. On Sundays you can even get half off a bottle! They’ve also been known to host small and sophisticated wine dinners for about 12 people.

Helpful Hint: There is free parking for customers on the south side of the building, though they are not allowed any signage. Parking can be difficult around there, so take advantage of it, and enjoy in moderation!