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Local Life

Raising the coffee bar

Alcohol adds some flavor to coffee shops

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When Kyle Gammage is behind the bar at The Bluegrass Coffee and Bourbon in Olde Town Arvada, he sees three kinds regulars — those who come in for their morning coffee, those who come in for a happy hour drink and a bite, and those who just hang out all day.

That’s the benefit of a coffee bar business — there’s something for someone all day.

“It’s all about the atmosphere here, which is different than a traditional coffee shop,” said Gammage, coffee manager at The Bluegrass, 7415 Grandview Ave. “There’s a little more camaraderie here than you get with the bar vibes.”

Coffee bars blend two craft cultures — coffee and alcohol, such as beer, wine and whiskey. Both scenes include people who are passionate about their beverages and are looking for the best quality and local purveyors.

“When I first started, I worked with a local winery to offer those kinds of options to our customers,” said Shawn Manzanares, owner of Highlands Cork and Coffee, 3701 W. 32nd Ave., Denver. “People just like the ability to drink alcohol at a coffee place.”

The Bluegrass and Highlands Cork are just two examples of a model that is spreading throughout the metro area — Black Eye (LoHi), Drip (Denver), Thump (Denver) and Jake’s Brew Bar (Littleton) are also serving coffee and alcohol, which is something Starbucks has experimented with as well.

At The Bluegrass, bar manager Ryan McDermott and bourbon education specialist Carsten Anderson make sure guests have access to local beers, like creations from Arvada’s own Odyssey Beerwerks, and top shelf bourbon and whiskey. The Bluegrass was named one of America’s top 80 best bourbon bars by “The Bourbon Review” magazine.

At the Highlands Cork, guests can get an Irish coffee, but they also do martinis, wines, kombucha (fermented tea) and one beer on tap.

In the true spirit of the blending of coffee and bar culture, many of these business offer food. For the breakfast crowd, Highlands Cork offers a wide range of options, including omelets, and does paninis for lunch.

“At this kind of job, you have to be a multi-tasker, and now how to do everything, from being a barista and bartender and more,” Manzanares said. “I’m always looking for ways to move the concept forward and (looking) at ways to change things.”

The Bluegrass is known for its pizza, and has won best pizza at the annual Taste of Arvada for the past three years. A particular favorite is the Denver Omelette Pizza.

“Our pizza all comes down to the ingredients and recipes,” said Tyler Aird, one of its kitchen managers. “The amount of awards we’ve won proves we pump out lots of great pizzas.”

And, since it’s hard to have a bar without live music, both locations offer live music at various times.

Coffee shops and bars both thrive on the relationships with their customers, and visiting The Bluegrass during any given morning finds the barista greeting customers by name and asking about their weekend.

“Obviously, there’s more people looking for coffee in the morning, but we do have some ready for a Kentucky Coffee right when we open,” Gammage said.

The Kentucky Coffee is one of The Bluegrass’ specialties, made with Benchmark Bourbon, Kahlua, steamed milk, espresso, Buffalo Trace Bourbon Cream, and topped off with whipped cream.

“It’s actually really great to be part of someone’s morning routine,” he said.

One of those customers who make the coffee bar a regular stop is Tom Robinson, who works at the nearby School House and Kitchen.

“It’s cool that I can make my coffee alcoholic on a whim,” he said with a laugh, as he waited for Gammage to make his drink.

“Olde Town is a great place for coffee, but this is where I always come. It’s really one of my favorite places in the area.”

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