By Jennifer Pund
Alex Gauch has worked in many kitchens, but never his own. The first-time restaurant owner is excited to have things done his way at The Phoenix Bar & Grill in Empire. Located in the former 1860 bar, the restaurant and bar is clean, bright and full of upgrades. Stop in for a burger, steak or a game of horseshoes and a bonfire.
Gauch has worked as executive chef, sous chef, and even a traveling chef, but now he is an owner-chef. He has worked in kitchens across the country—including learning and creating local cuisines on a cruise ship that sailed rivers and the Gulf of Mexico.
After moving to Denver from St. Louis, Gauch found himself looking for a job. He answered a random Craigslist ad for an executive chef, finding out it was for the Georgetown Loop railroad only when he went for the interview. He got the job and relocated up the mountain. He worked two seasons for the railroad while bartending in the off season.
“When I got back into bartending, I decided it was time to have my own bar,” he explained. “It’s tough to find jobs up here, so why not buy your own?” Knowing the lease was coming up on the property, Gauch saved and positioned himself to be at the right spot at the right time. “I knew what was owed for back rent, so when the lease came due, I got the back rent to the landlord and got the building,” he said. “It was actually fairly cheap. It’s fixing things that’s expensive.”
He started cleaning and upgrading immediately. “These floors weren’t white when I got it, I can tell you that. We bleached the floors so many times, hospitals would be proud,” he said. “And I am getting two pool tables, a pinball machine, a foosball table and better sound system for open jams on Fridays.”
Customers love the new clean atmosphere and quality menu options. “I have people coming in with old 1860 shirts wondering what happened. You walk in here and you aren’t depressed all of a sudden,” he said. “You don’t need to drink, you want to drink. And customers are really loving my new menu.”
Gauch is very proud of his kitchen and the quality of food he offers and takes it very seriously. “This isn’t just some old burger joint here anymore. I make my own hamburger patties, I cut my own steaks and make my own butter in house using a mason jar and marbles. I shake it then whip it into a compound butter,” he said. “The butter is really what makes the steak and… my favorite part is the way I have my grill seasoned. I’ve created a little flavor on the meat I haven’t found anywhere else. I don’t even have to season my burgers because the grill makes them taste so good.” Every Sunday you can try the steaks for only $1 an ounce, with a 10 ounce minimum, and a side of mashed potatoes. A salad can be added for an additional charge.
Gauch calls the bar’s back deck his “icing on the cake.” He has cleaned the overgrowth, created two horseshoes pits on the terraced back yard, opened up a large deck with seating and has a fire pit that’s approved for use even during a fire ban. “On weekends we will have a bonfire, but if the moment calls for a fire, please make a fire,” he said.
Check out The Phoenix Bar & Grill in Empire any time and enjoy your meal by the fire watching the big horn sheep graze on a hillside nearby. Watch for continued upgrades and menu additions as customers help fine-tune the offerings. Occasional live music and other events are also planned throughout the year.
The Phoenix Bar & Grill is located at 409 E. Park Ave. in Empire. Call 303-569-5063 or visit http://www.facebook.com/PhoenixEmpireCO for the latest information and specials.
Originally published in the May 2015 issue of the MMAC Monthly