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Archive for the ‘Nightlife’ Category

When Eric and I heard Happy (which is the new, shortened name of Happy Noodle House) was having a prix fixe dinner and cocktail “social” on New Year’s Eve, it was a foregone conclusion that we’d be celebrating there. And having recently read something about how noodles are an integral part of traditional Japanese New Year celebrations, it seemed appropriate, too.

Oh, who am I kidding? I just wanted an excuse to get dressed up (having read the part of the invitation that said “formal attire” with glee) and really pig out at Happy.

A lot of other people did, too, it seems. That morning, I noted on Twitter that the event was sold out. Oh goody! I love a big crowd!

We arrived for dinner a tad late, but luckily a table was waiting for us at our favorite spot in the bar against the wall. On top of that, we found out that our favorite server, Chris, was assigned to our table! Let the cocktails flow and the fun begin.

We started off with an amuse bouche — mine was a taste of their intoxicatingly good carrot-coconut soup (seriously, I could live on this stuff) — and the Crazy 88, which is a refreshing, cucumber-kissed sparkling wine cocktail. The drinks and amuse went down the hatch so quickly that I missed getting a picture of them.

In our first course, the famed crispy greens from their regular menu made an appearance, this time joined by satisfying hunks of seasoned tofu and surprisingly tasty cauliflower bits. Accompanying was a Kiss the Sky — a zesty gin drink with ginger and lavender liqueur.

First Course, New Year's Eve, Happy, Boulder, CO

First Course

New Year's Eve, Happy, Boulder, CO

Kiss the Sky

My second course was a crunchy, fried egg roll served with a creamy sauce. Can’t remember what all was inside the egg roll, but I do remember I snarfed it. The drink was the El Presidente (being swilled by me, below), which was described as a rum version of the Manhattan.

New Year's Eve, Happy, Boulder, CO

Second Course - I couldn't hold back, so it's partly eaten here. Sorry.

New Year's Eve, Happy, Boulder, CO

El Presidente (the drink, not me)

The main courses were enormous (way too much considering what we’d already eaten). What I could manage to fit of the broth-y noodle bowl with mushrooms and garlic was soothingly delicious.

New Year's Eve, Happy, Boulder, CO

Main Course

The prix fix dessert was a tapioca and fruit tarte. Chris and I bonded as fellow tapioca haters, while Eric tried to convince us that “if we could just get past the texture….” Uh-huh. Instead I had a special off-menu concoction from the kitchen — consisting of miso, caramel and chocolate — that also got devoured before I could snap a picture.

All this, and THEN the official party cocktails started to arrive: a glass of champagne, a punch, the French Mojito and Death in the Afternoon (an absinthe drink that was a favorite of Hemingway’s and has an interesting back story that I wasn’t capable of absorbing at the time — ask Mark and he’ll tell you).

New Year's Eve, Happy, Boulder, CO

French Mojito

After toasting the new year with neighboring parties, polishing off a few more cocktails and taking a dozen pictures on variations of this theme:

New Year's Eve, Happy, Boulder, CO

we decided it was time to bid the wonderful Bitter Bar and Happy folks good night.

We stumbled over to the cab stand on Pearl Street and realized we wouldn’t get home until about 5am if we waited in the ridiculously long line.

I suggested we see if additional cabs were pulling up at the downtown hotels. We walked to the nearest one (let’s just call it the Mt. Mulien Motel & Mpa), and asked if they could call us a taxi. My inebriated husband may have given the slight impression that we had been guests at the hotel’s restaurant (you know, Mill’s), and before I knew it, we were being whisked home in a toasty warm shuttle van. For free. (Plus a whopping, guilt-assuaging tip.)

If the increasingly blurry photos above didn’t scare you off and you’re interested in attending a bash at Happy, I noticed they have a Valentine’s Day event coming up. My words of advice: 1) Ask for Chris. 2) Pace yourself.

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Imogen Heap at Fox Theater, Boulder, CO

The lovely Imogen Heap played the Fox Theatre on Saturday night, and despite the snow storm, we navigated the icy roads and the dismal parking situation on The Hill to make it just in time for her first song.

The experience of an Imogen show is somewhere between watching a DJ labor over his turntable and attending an opera audition. She’s constantly fiddling with a number of electronic and non-electronic (a kazoo, for instance) gadgets. She mutters under her breath. Consults privately with her on- and off-stage crews. Yet when she opens her mouth to sing, the most incredibly sweet, ethereal sounds come out seemingly effortlessly.

The set was in keeping with this duality: four laser-cut panels formed a beautiful, futuristic tree on which graceful images such as flying birds were projected. Yet lots of contraptions hung down from its branches including a gong, clunky Christmas lights and a triangle.

It was an early show (started at 7pm), but the house was absolutely packed to the gills. And even though I am 5’9″ and was wearing three-inch-heeled boots, I had a hard time seeing above the exceptionally tall crowd. Boulder, you are a town of tall f@$#ers!

Imogen had the crowd going wild throughout the show, but especially when she announced she’d be back in April. I’ll let you know when I hear the confirmed date and time. Just plan to get there early — or get your stilts ready.

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I know that I talk about Happy Noodle House way too much, but it has so captured my undying affection that I just couldn’t resist sharing some pics and thoughts from our most recent evening there.

It’s tough to determine whether my obsession with the place revolves around the food, the cocktails or the service. Friday provided no clarity on this front, as all three were outstanding.

We have by now determined that we prefer to sit in the adjoining Bitter Bar. Apparently so does everybody else. It’s been packed throughout the evening the last few times we’ve been there — while the dining room only seems to reach capacity at very peak times.

We lucked out with two seats at the counter. I love sitting here because the mixologists take the time to get to know what cocktail you’re in the mood for and what your preferences are. I had the Violet Flower (which reminds me of the violet tea I got at Lauduree in Paris one time) and Eric had The Last Word, a citrus-y gin drink that I will definitely be ordering on future visits. (I am intentionally omitting the part about the third drink we ordered, a giant Mt. Fuji Bowl. Pay no attention to the resulting delirious tweet associated with that evening. Anywho…)

While the restaurant’s entrees are always lovely compositions that use seasonal ingredients and refined techniques to elevate simple dishes (e.g. noodle bowls) to culinary marvels, I’ve recently discovered that the side dishes and appetizers certainly aren’t there just for looks.

The carrot-coconut soup, adzuki bean-and-rice fritter, and fried green rice, as examples, are all substantial, full-flavored bites that, in combination, make a great meal. Eric also ordered a side dish this time: the hash. It’s a mishmash of noodles, veggies, calamari and pork, topped with an egg. I think it’s meant to be a side dish for a table of two or three, but it makes an affordable entree, too.

Carrot-coconut soup at Happy Noodle House

Carrot-coconut soup. (Photo by Eric Gray.)

Fritter at Happy Noodle House

Bean-and-rice fritter. (Photo by Eric Gray.)

The hash at Happy Noodle House

The hash. (Photo by Eric Gray.)

With these added choices on the ever-evolving menu, I’m not sure we’ll ever get tired of coming here. I’ll try to keep the RHNPs (raving Happy Noodle posts) to a minimum, though! 🙂

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I’d just like to start off with this awesome photo, which seems to sum up the discussion about the infamous Mall Crawl making a possible return to Pearl Street this year:

1989 Mall Crawl (DAILY CAMERA FILE PHOTO)

1989 Mall Crawl (Daily Camera File Photo)

Will hundreds of costumed miscreants once again show up to clog Pearl Street as back in the good ol’ days? If it results in more classic images like the one above, one can only hope.

I think if Boulder’s pirates and Draculas and sexy nurses and back-from-the-dead Michael Jacksons and sprinting-naked-pumpkin-heads want to gather in the, um, main gathering space in Boulder, go for it. But I’m not taking sides on this one. I’ll let the city and the ACLU duke it out.

Just in case the mob is not you’re scene, here are some non-Mall Crawl options.

The Boulder Theater‘s annual party features Devotchka on stage this year. In my experience, the Boulder Theater show is always fun on Halloween! Saturday’s show is sold out, but there are still tix left for tonight, and I’m pretty sure they won’t mind if you want to wear your costume then.

Boulder Zombie Crawl — For you undead out there, gather at Kakes Studios at 5:30pm and stagger down Pearl Street en masse. The after-party is $10.

Fox Theatre — Ghostface Killah of the Wu-Tang Clan (selected to perform on Halloween because of his creepy name, perhaps?). I definitely won’t be there, but maybe that’s your thing.

b.side lounge — Groove the night away to music by Black Bridge.

Conor O’Neill’s — A costume contest with prizes, drink specials and live music.

The West End Tavern — A “good vs. evil” costume party and drink specials including one called Radioactive Slush. Yes!

Tahona — Reportedly having a dance party.

Boulder Draft House — A “Latin Scare Fest” starts at 9pm.

You got more? Send ’em my way.

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After Eric and I spent an evening being wooed by the cocktails and friendly folks at Bitter Bar, located inside Happy Noodle House, our interests were piqued to try Happy Noodle’s food. We finally had a chance a couple of Fridays ago.

We walked in without a reservation, but there was a relatively small and quiet crowd for a Friday. The low lighting helped create a calm and casual atmosphere. There was a good, conversational buzz going, though, so it still felt lively inside.

We were seated on a bench at a long, picnic-style table where a couple of other parties were already sitting. I always kind of like the idea of a communal table, assuming the people you are sitting next to are not jerks — and assuming you’re not going out to have an intensely soul-baring conversation with your dining companion. (Neither was the case here.)

We decided to start off with a bang and ordered the Mt. Fuji Bowl, a cocktail designed to be shared by two or three people. But I could’ve downed that whole thing by myself in minutes! It was so delicious — a fruity, pineapple- and orange-infused vodka concoction — plus it puts on a dramatic show with steam and bubbles rising from the top.

Mt. Fuji Bowl at Happy Noodle

Mt. Fuji Bowl at Happy Noodle. I'm so happy I'm cross-eyed!

Our jovial waiter kindly put up with us diddling around with our phones before our food arrived (It’s not like it sounds! We were brainstorming a playlist for a friend who embarking on a road trip to Portland that weekend and jotting notes in our phones. Our waiter graciously suggested adding Junior Boys‘ “In the Morning.”). He then helped us through the menu, and we ended up with some really delicious bites.

We started with the fried greens, which are just wispy, crispy brussel sprout leaves and other light leafy greens that are fried and seasoned with Japanese Seven Spice. Utterly unsubstantial (which, in my book, is not a bad thing when it comes to appetizers), but utterly delicious.

I ordered the orange tofu udon bowl for my entree, while Eric chose the ahi tuna yakisoba bowl. Both were outstanding. The highlight of mine: the carrots. Yes, the carrots. They were so tender and buttery — I swear I’ve never had carrots like that! And the tofu was cooked just right, somehow maintaining its crispiness while swimming in a bowl of broth and noodles.

Instead of dessert, we had a couple more cocktails. We couldn’t decide what to get, so the waiter had the bartender pick something for each of us. We ended up with the ominous sounding but totally girly, fruity and floral Black Rose and the powerhouse Old Square. They have us pegged.

In retrospect, the drinks kind of stand out more than the food here, but only slightly. And since the food is pretty light and healthy, you don’t feel bad for ordering a couple of elaborate cocktails. It’s a combo that makes for a fun night out!

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My grandma’s old house had an attic with floor boards that would pop up to make the perfect place for stashing silver dollars, letters, baseball cards and other loot. It was one of my favorite parts of visiting there every summer.

I’ve always loved secret compartments, hidden passageways, trap doors and the like.

So it’s no surprise that when I heard about Bitter Bar, I was compelled to check it out right away. Described as a speakeasy-meets-modern-lounge, it’s located inside Happy Noodle House and goes into full swing after the restaurant closes (around 10pm), at which point the restaurant’s front doors are locked and the only way to enter the bar is through the alley. Oooooh!

Alleyway entrance to Bitter Bar

Alleyway entrance to Bitter Bar

I had read that there was a little button, which once pressed, alerts the bartender to your presence. Sure enough, the buzzer was there — all lit up and glowy and just waiting to be pressed.

Press this buzzer for admittance

After-hours guests press this buzzer for admittance

But alas, the back door was wide open when we got there, so we waltzed right in.

I quickly got over my disappointment because we were warmly welcomed by the bartender and offered a seat at the bar. Mark, in his driving cap and tweed vest, introduced himself and handed us a square, leather-bound menu. On its rice-paper pages are dozens of recipes, along with notes like “Please, no special orders…with all these cocktails, really, you want a cosmo?”

No sweet and sour mixers here. Everything is created from scratch with fresh ingredients. (You’ll spot a basket of fruit kept near the drink making station.) And there’s a definite penchant for the past. They serve Absinthe (a big deal here, actually), Chartreuse and spirits that were more popular in other decades — if not other centuries.

The best part is that they are willing to tell you the history behind each drink or ingredient in great depth. We asked about the name of the bar, for example, and Mark informed us that they make their own bitters — strong flavoring agents that are used (with just a splash) in many cocktails. He gave us a 10-minute explanation of the three components of bitters, which was fascinating and I won’t try to recount here, but I’d suggest inquiring about if you go.

I ordered The Aviation, a gin cocktail, which as promised, was perfectly balanced. Not sweet, exactly. Not tart really. Just…smooth. Eric ordered a Monkey Gland (ask Mark for the back story on that one — if you dare), which has a bit of licorice flavor but still managed to be rather subtle and very drinkable.

We called it a night after just one drink — right as the bar started to pick up (at about 11:30pm). But we’ve got plans to go back for some more education on the art of the cocktail, delivered in the most earnest, unpretentious way. The setup may suggest exclusivity, but the bar’s mixologists are just friendly guys eager to share their passion for incredible drinks with anyone — and we’re all ears.

But next time I’m pressing that buzzer. No matter what.

Bitter Bar, Boulder, CO

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