Streetcar520, the reimagined restaurant and bar in Colorado Springs, from owner, Ari Howard, takes a formerly well-loved Irish pub that began as McCabe’s Tavern in 2006, and revamps the entire concept to create a vibrant, broad stroke menu of globally inspired cuisine with a feminine edge. RMFR sits down with Howard and executive chef, Ketil Larsen, to discuss the drastic evolution, the motivation behind the thoughtful transition and to experience their new fall/winter food and drink offerings.
“I’ve been showing up here every day for 10 years and I want it to be somewhere I’m excited to walk into every morning,” says Howard. “The space previously appealed very much to men and not very much to women and I wanted something that appealed to both genders alike.”
And it truly does invite everyone in with elements of awe and wonderment. As soon as we enter our eyes are drawn to the bold, colorful murals that adorn the walls by artist, Michael Ortiz, owner/operator of Like Minded Productions in Denver. Howard says she was able to picture the strong, graceful “warrior goddesses” that now leap off the walls embodying a graffiti-like quality without the expected grit and that the depictions successfully capture “exactly what I wanted and then some.”
“When I would explain the concept to people and tell them the name everybody sort of envisioned a trolley museum,” laughs Howard. “But really, I was more focused on street food, streetcar, street art. However, street food is a trend and I didn’t want to do anything faddy, it had to be timeless. So I had to scrap the tagline but that’s still the brainchild of it all.”
Streeetcar’s shine plays on with small, glowing lights that hang in an incandescent arch over the sleek, granite bar top, an area that has been completely reengineered to meet the needs of what Howard calls “an intense craft cocktail program” courtesy of lead bartender, Dak Keeling. The back bar holsters a strong representation of Colorado craft spirits, 12 draft handles of all local beer and delivers specialty drinks in a fervent fashion. We’re big fans of his most recent concoction, the campfire margarita, made with Pueblo Viejo Tequila blanco, house smoked peach shrub, lime and agave and we’re all about the classic takes that include a slow sippin’ vesper or daiquiri for a touch of sweet and sour.
The food menu focuses on signature dishes that made their debut during Streetcar’s late July opening but progresses forward with the integration of more local ingredients. Howard commits to a bi-annual rotation with a diverse array of plates, both big and small, that promises “something for everybody” and captures the idea of what Larsen refers to as “modern American” fare.
“That’s what I think is cool about the menu is that you can dine numerous ways,” says Larsen. “You can get multiple courses or just share.”
A conglomeration of cultures and varying portion sizes reflects in small alterations of Streetcar’s most popular menu items that are all reasonably priced for lunch or dinner at $12.00. The burrata arrives in a gorgeous, layered presentation with roasted butternut squash, thinly sliced beets, arugula and a sprinkling of pistachios with pomegranate vinaigrette or opt for the filling kale and Brussels salad with Granny Smith apples, dried cranberries, goat cheese, spiced walnuts and pickled red onions and carrots tossed in an apple vinaigrette.
A generous serving of shrimp etoufee with Larsen’s acclaimed textural grits and spicy Creole sauce tops our list of comforting, winter-worthy dishes; or, we also favor the house-smoked porkstrami with Napa kraut, remoulade and Swiss on grilled sourdough from The Sourdough Boulangerie, go ahead and order yourself a side of fresh cut fries.
We bring it all home with the pumpkin sticky pudding punctured appropriately to absorb the sinful date toffee sauce for $7.00 and recommend it a la mode with a scoop from Blue Mountain Creamery for an extra $4.00.
“We’re staying true to the basic recipes,” says Larsen. “I just like to make something that tastes good and that’s simple.”
Streetcar finds a careful balance in it’s ability to create a sexy date night spot or a comfortable setting that’s perfect for ladies who lunch, with viable options for a hearty cheat day or to meet health conscious dietary needs. With such a hard left turn though from the days of McCabe’s we consider how the demographics of Howard’s guests have also radically changed to match the newness. Although she says she did anticipate much of their former clientele to drop off, surprisingly Streetcar maintains the loyalty and support of longtime customers even despite the severe pivot.
“I have amazing regulars that have supported this business for over a decade that I’m very grateful for,” says Howard sincerely. “But honestly the bulk of the loss of regulars came three years ago when I did the first attempt at a real janky remodel in here. We lost the vision altogether and that was the greatest learning experience of my career. All that did was create this ungodly identity crisis for the business so I spent two years really honing in.”
That bud of an idea now blossoms into an atmosphere that pays homage to the history of the building, a housing and maintenance facility for streetcars that ran up and down Tejon Street from 1902 to 1936, and now greets passersby with a fresh face on one of the most reinvigorated corners in urban Colorado Springs.
“It’s a huge improvement from the porn theater we used to have across the street,” jokes Howard in regards to her new neighbors and Denver transplants, Atomic Cowboy, Denver Biscuit Company, Fat Sully’s Pizza and Dos Santos. “There has been so much untapped potential in this little shoulder end of downtown and I have been waiting and waiting for over a decade. This space is what I wanted and I had to fight tooth and nail just to keep this footprint right here, but it was worth it.”
*All images courtesy of REN Creativ