The authenticity of Katie Mullen's Irish Restaurant & Pub comes down to the details, from the 20-ounce tulip pint glasses to the traditional Boxty potato pancakes served as a side with most entrees.
But such precision comes at a nerve-racking price. The 600-seat restaurant's entire supply of tables, handmade in Ireland and shipped across the Atlantic, have been tangled in customs for weeks and might not arrive until Sunday. Katie Mullen's plans to open Monday afternoon.
"It's getting tight. But we'll have them before we open," said Katie Mullen's co-owner Tom Cronin - even if he has to frantically work the phones to find someone to drive the shipment from Chicago.
But it's worth the headache. "We are extremely authentic in what we do in Ireland. And this pub is as true to an Irish bar that you could find in Dublin," he said.
The tables and chairs were made by the same company that supplied the furniture for co-owner Paul Maye's four bars in the northwest Ireland towns of Sligo, Donegal and Maye's hometown of Leitrim. Katie Mullen's is named after his grandmother.
The restaurant is the first U.S. venture for Maye and Cronin, and they spent $2.8 million to overhaul the former home of the chrome- and glass-laden Supreme Court. Katie Mullen's spreads across 11,500 square feet, broken into four distinct bars that range in ambiance and decor from sleek, modern Irish to ornate Victorian. Another 120 seats are on the patio.
"If you take what used to be here compared to what you now have, it's like (the difference between) chalk and cheese," Maye said.
Katie Mullen's is on the ground floor of the Sheraton Denver Downtown Hotel, formerly the Adam's Mark, which new owner Chartres Lodging is spending $70 million to renovate.
The owners expect that Katie Mullen's will be anything but a run-of-the-mill hotel bar, however. The restaurant will serve upscale Irish and American fare such as Shepherd's Pie with locally sourced lamb, Scottish salmon and New York strip steaks from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. before becoming a bar with music in some rooms at night.
The restaurant tried to price its food so there would be something for everyone, Cronin said, whether its $4.95 appetizers for bar hoppers or $29.95 entrees for the expense account set.
Maye hopes to replicate the appeal of his Irish bars, which he says often attract three generations of the same family at different times of the week.
The restaurant is opening on the east end of the 16th Street Mall, which is forlorn on weekend nights compared to the boisterous LoDo scene. The location forces the restaurant to "create a destination" for diners and drinkers alike, Maye said, and also provides a critical boost to the Downtown Denver Partnership's effort to revitalize the Tremont district.
"These guys are very well-known restaurateurs, and the fact that they've chosen to expand at this end of the mall in particular sends messages at a number of levels: It's good for Denver, it's good for downtown and it's good for the Tremont district," said John Desmond, vice president of urban planning and environment for the partnership.
If Katie Mullen's Denver debut goes well, the owners hope to expand the idea to as many as eight other U.S. locations within the next few years.
In the meantime, Maye and Cronin are well aware that they're opening a restaurant at a time when consumers are wary of spending money. More than 1,400 people applied for the 140 job openings at the restaurant.
"It's a myth that bars are recession proof, though they might be slightly more recession resistant," Maye said. "All the downturn does is make us raise our bar on service and execution."
* Where: in the Sheraton Denver Downtown Hotel (formerly the Adam's Mark)
* What: Will have 54 taps serving 11 varieties of draft beer, including Guinness, Harp Lager, Smithwick's and several Colorado craft beers as well as high-end whiskeys and wines. The bar also will serve 40 varieties of bottled beer.
Menu includes Irish bangers, bacon and cabbage and grilled Belfast cut pork chops.
* Price ranges
Appetizers: $4.95 to $9.95
Entrees: $9.95 to $14.95
Main courses: $14.95 to $29.95