After two slow afternoons at the Paramount Café, it’s safe to say that this location is catered to those looking for a quick and convenient meal at an underground venue. Almost like those intriguing yet unknown diners you stop at, frivolously hungry, after hours of driving on some family holiday, where great expectations can be significantly shattered. Located at the 16th Street Mall area of downtown Denver, this large café was once the entrance and lobby of the historic Paramount Theatre. The building itself, constructed in 1891 holds sentimental and historic value, which is visible through the large stone bricks that encrust the once tallest sky scraper in Denver. Paramount Café, located in the center of the building was started in 1985 and still holds that time period’s demeanor.
The entrance stands under a dome shaped door that is located at the front of a gritty alley way. It’s is almost as if a wrong turn on a dark night could get you trespassing on some homeless guy’s turf. The words “Paramount Café” are draped in a dim cursive red light that sits just above the restaurant door. Very gothic meets the 80’s. Interestingly enough this visual is aesthetically pleasing, placing an emphasis on the old rustic feel of the restaurant and the rich history of the building.
Walking in I am presented with a large, square, semi-circle bar that is placed directly in the center of the first floor. There is a horrible pink bulb that lines the ceiling of the bar table, which seems to be the only source of light in this huge building. To the right of the bar lies another spacy dining room, somewhat clustered with booths and silver tables with matching chairs. Almost like topple wear, or the kind you see at a delicious Italian pizza kitchen. The key word – delicious. These tables and booths lie a top a dark blue carpet that smells musky and old. Like walking into your grand-fathers house for dinner, furnished with heaps of history that smells pungent. Sitting on the long booth that links the line of tables on the far right, there is a huge mirror lining the opposite wall. Allowing you to scope out the whole restaurant without having to turn around. To the left there is a large veranda which over-looks the street. The veranda is an incredible source of light and fresh air on a sunny day and seems to salvage the overall aesthetics of the place. My hunger keeps me optimistic.
Both times we order appetizers which are great due to their hefty portions and inexpensiveness. The barbeque chicken salad is adorned with crunchy red and beige tortilla strips and large chunks of deliciously tender grilled chicken. Spruced with sweet cherry tomatoes, black bean corn salsa, cheddar – Jack cheese, chipotle ranch and honey barbeque drizzle it’s surprising to learn that the fusion of these flavors is quite bland. The tangy, spicy and intense taste of barbeque chicken is missing, which immensely disappoints after the colorful presentation on the clean white plate and tantalizing description on the ashen menu.
The Café Wings however are fabulous. Neatly placed in a large wooden bowl they come steaming, tender and fresh. The one-pound serving is tossed in the Café’s signature Buffalo sauce, spicy Asian, balsamic dry rub and honey barbeque. Orange in color they are filled with flavor and slide right of the bone as you bite into the sapid mix of vinegar, chili, sweetness and meat.
Despite the Café’s vacancy, during both visits the food is brought in a timely manner by a friendly waitress named Mackenzie. She repeatedly checks up on us which is welcoming, making the ambience somewhat family like. The host, a small grey- haired man with glasses who leads us to our gritty table is very warm and inviting, making us immediately comfortable, despite the displeasing aesthetics. The rest of the staff seems dispersed on both visits however I am sure this is because of the lacking clientele. Even though there is a pool table, the Cafe still seems quite vacant in the early evening which is worrisome especially on a Thursday. Possibly a good clean and fresh new take on the menu may draw in a larger audience but don’t get to bothered as this spot is perfect for a quick, filling and inexpensive meal after a good night out downtown.
THE DRAW: Historical building with a lot of culture.
THE DRAWBACK: Dark, spookily vacant and overall aesthetics looks tired.
DON’T MISS: Cafe Wings tossed in the Café’s signature Buffalo sauce, spicy Asian, balsamic dry rub and honey barbeque.
DETAILS: Appetizers $7 – $15; Café Favorites $9 – $15. Open Daily 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.