The Warehouse of Colorado Springs
25 W Cimarron St
Colorado Springs, CO
The Food and Beverage (F&B) industry, to put it delicately, can be very unkind. This is just as true in Colorado Springs, as it is anywhere. Many more establishments try and fail then ever succeed. Pick your poison; lack of financing, inconsistency, little or no advertising, bad food, tornadoes, poor location, etc. These are just a few reasons, among many, that lead to culinary demise. Not that there is any proven formula for success, despite the many restaurant consulting firms who say otherwise. While bartending in Japan, I lost my job twice at the same multi-million dollar club due to change of ownership; yet there was a yakitori vendor with a cart outside on the sidewalk who had been in business for over twenty years. Like I said, this is a tough industry, often unpredictably so. So when you do find a restaurant that has managed to, not only survive but, succeed over a period of many years, chances are you should go in. So I did.
For over ten years The Warehouse, located at 25 W. Cimarron St., has anchored the southwestern part of our downtown’s culinary scene. Word of mouth is very important in this industry, and The Warehouse has always carried a good reputation. Recently, that reputation got a rather large (literally) boost in the personage of one Chef Lawrence “Chip” Johnson. Chip purchased the warehouse this past summer, and like many new owners, can usually be found somewhere in the house. Chip is the type of man who would look completely at home wearing chainmail, a Viking helmet, and carrying a large axe. Despite being a tad physically imposing he has a completely disarming personality. He tends to put folks at their ease and seems to possess no hubris to speak of, as his preferred nickname implies. His bio is as impressive as his stature. The lists of awards and accolades he has earned takes up three full pages of text. He was working in the industry years before his bartender was even born. He almost single-handedly enlivened the local culinary genre coined “Colorado Cuisine.” He has a reputation for creating excellent dishes with quality local ingredients. Essentially, the man seems to know what he’s doing.
The exterior of The Warehouse lends a lot to its theme. It looks to be exactly what the name implies. It is a large, free-standing, rather dilapidated structure that could seem daunting but instead serves the idea of the restaurant quite well. The front of the building is adorned with a mural of what appears to be a small crowd of people socializing around the bar and over the front door is a huge sign proclaiming “The Warehouse” proudly in iron. Upon entering the foyer, I was confronted by row upon row of framed newspaper articles, certificates of achievement, and culinary awards all documenting the history of the building and its lengthy success.
Off to my right, I found a large set of double doors leading into the art gallery. That’s right folks; this restaurant also houses an art gallery. This isn’t some small, off-to-the-side room with a few prints hung up, no sir! This gallery is a large hall, easily capable of hosting a couple hundred people, whose walls are adorned with original and unique paintings done by a variety of artists from all over the country.
In the opposite direction, I find the entrance to the main dining room and as first impressions go, this one gave me a warm fuzzy. Sitting right up front is a classical, invitingly comfortable, pub style bar. It has a bright copper surface that plays with the low lighting, and as I’m fascinated by shiny things, I found myself drawn in for a cocktail. The bartender was a bouncy little red-head who greeted me in a suspiciously happy manner, and upon request provided me with a good glass of wine. I later came to find that her happiness was genuine. She’s the type of person who could have her legs amputated in a horrible accident and then smile and exclaim to onlookers “Life is so exciting!”
Now so far things had been going pretty good, and then they quickly got better. The owner himself came up and asked if,” we,” my date and I, “would like to take a tour of the brewery downstairs?” It turns out that the basement of The Warehouse houses a rather large brewery capable of providing around twelve different beers at a time. It was an impressive display. Chip explained that, while the brewery is currently inactive until he finds a new brewmeister, he hoped to have his own beer coming out of the taps early next year. Having glanced into the art gallery, gazed into the shiny bar-surface, and toured the brewery I decided it was time to get to the eats.
I found on the menu a variety of dishes to complicate the decision process. Over the course of my investigatory visits I sampled a decent artisan cheese palette ($11), and the cashew crab with wasabi honey, strawberry horseradish, and balsamic reduction, ($15). I shared with my picky, vegetarian friend an artichoke and spinach cassoulet ($10) that I liked and she loved. I had the peppered strawberries, a salad comprised of Sambuca, crushed black pepper, pinions, asiago and baby lettuce ($7). As an entrée I ordered the grilled apple pork grillbasted with maple applesauce ($23). The pork was tender and juicy and the applesauce made a nice compliment. It was served with bluecorn bread, apple-rhubarb chutney, and the best panko-battered fried tomato I’ve ever had.
All in all, service was decent and the food was great. I had issues with the stemware that my wine was served in. The glass was on the small side and made it impossible to swirl air into the wine. The staff while attentive and extra-ordinarily happy (something in the water maybe) seemed lacking in menu knowledge. These are things easily remedied, however, and neither really took away from the overall experience.
If I had been a smarter kid growing up, I would have asked Santa for a restaurant, art gallery, and brewery all in one location. I look forward to spending many a meal there with my friends, and foresee a long successful road ahead of Chef Chip Johnson.