At Your Service
Bryan Dayton, OAK at Fourteenth, Boulder, CO
By alia akkam
A 2011 fire left the just-opened Boulder,
Colorado restaurant OAK at Fourteenth
in ashes. But the team spent nine
months rebuilding from scratch, and this
rustic, new-American eatery persevered,
recently celebrating a year in business.
Co-owner Bryan Dayton, the man behind
the popular beer, wine, cocktail and arti-
sanal soda program, is also a champion
of old-fashioned hospitality. Here, he
talks about courteous service—and his
customers’ predilection for Knob Creek.
The Beverage Network:
Denver has fast emerged as one
of the country’s most interesting
cocktail destinations. What is OAK at
Fourteenth’s approach to drinks?
Bryan Dayton:
Ours is a little more
simple than some of the other programs.
We have classically inspired drinks with
modern twists. Some of the ingredients,
like green Chartreuse, might be esoter-
ic for the average person, but not for the
PDT and Milk & Honey crowd. It’s about
finding a way that’s fun and gets people
into cocktails.
The cocktail menu is divided into
low-alcohol and high-alcohol libations.
You even pay special attention to drinks
without liquor, like housemade passion
fruit and lemongrass soda. What are
some of your most popular creations?
Under Low Alcohol, the Venetian
Cup, which is essentially a Pimm’s Cup
with Pimm’s, Campari and our own gin-
ger beer. We pour it tableside. The East
Aspen Heights is boozier, with Bom-
bay Sapphire East, yellow Chartreuse,
blackberry, pear and lemon.
Because the city is indeed
cocktail savvy, what trends are
you seeing?
Seeing people from all these dif-
ferent, dynamic backgrounds order-
ing cool cocktails blows me away. You
would think Boulder would be more
of a wine and beer city, but guests
are looking for us to walk them into a
cocktail and open their palates. Vodka
is still definitely king. We only have
one drink—the Oak Martini—on the
menu with it, but we sell a lot of them.
We also sell a ton of whiskey and go
through a bottle of Knob Creek a week,
which is surprising for a 120-proof spir-
it. Boulder’s also big on tequila, and
even mezcal because Richard Betts of
Sombra is here.
Because OAK at Fourteenth
is a restaurant, do you consider the
food when dreaming up your cock-
tail menu?
We do have a business model
where great food and great beverage
coincide. Some places emphasize the
food and don’t have the best wine list,
and some have great cocktails but
the food isn’t so good. We get a lot of
compliments on our shared plates—
items like wood oven roasted bone
marrow with anchovy chimichurri and
herb salad—so guests can have a few
bites and a few drinks.
It’s clear from the options on
your menu and the enthusiasm you
have for your guests that hospitality
is important to you.
From the moment a guest walks
through the door with the host, we need
to be as humble and gracious as pos-
sible, make sure all their needs are tak-
en care of and provide the best service.
Educate yourself so you know the menu
and you aren’t fumbling. You have to
make yourself invincible.
How do you instill this mindset
in your staff?
Every night, in pre-service, I tell my
staff, “You’re going to make people happy
tonight, right?” If they don’t, there’s the
door. It’s ingrained in them.
What should the bartender’s
ultimate mission be?
There’s a lost art of hospitality. A lot
of people get away with mediocrity, but
people are also more complacent now.
I’m impressed by the old-school maître
d, the one who takes hospitality to the
next level; five days a week he’s doing
his gig.If you came over to my house, I
would make you a great cocktail, not a
bad one. I would take your coat, offer
you a seat and a glass of water. A res-
taurant is someone’s home.
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