The Warehouse, that venerable painted box on Cimarron Street, is about to get a fresh reboot for a foodier culture and you’ll see the proof tonight.

The restaurant closed a few months ago, ending the proprietorship of Chip Johnson, but sparking the return of 40-year-old chef James Africano, who spent almost 10 years in the Warehouse kitchen before leaving in 2007 to cook for Ted Turner’s Vermejo Park Ranch in New Mexico.

Africano recently sat down with the Report in a busy dining room, with groups of staff training in one corner and new beer lines being installed in another. Some walls have been removed, fresh paint coats some surfaces, and one area that used to hold dining tables is now remade with high-tops and a new TV. But there’s still the same sense of place that’s made the Warehouse a unique environment, the walls still home to local artists like Holly Parker.

You know what is really exciting?” Africano says. “I’ve been in the building now full-time for almost two weeks, and on and off since the middle of July, and it’s exciting to me to give the Warehouse back to Colorado Springs. Now, that might sound funny or altruistic, but I’m just excited to meet the people that are excited to be back in the building.”

It might be a more diverse crowd, this time around, as Africano wants to change the place from thrice-yearly high-end dining to thrice-weekly high-end hangout.

The bar will pour 12 to 16 pre-Prohibition cocktails, with staff who have worked at places like The Blue Star and The Famous.  They’ll be joined by taps, cans and bottles representing Colorado Springs, with a few rare imports like Estrella Damm Inedit, a witbier made by famed chef Ferran Adrià. The 40-bottle wine list includes “lots of off-the-beaten-path wines,” says Africano. “We’ve got some stuff in there that’s $60, $70, $80, but everything else is in that $21 to $51 range, where you don’t feel super guilty at the end of the meal.”

But food is the star, and it’s where the biggest changes will be seen. “We’re really making a move to casualize the feel of it, bring the prices down,” Africano says. “I hate the terms, but it’s what everybody knows: We have some shareable plates, some small stuff.”

That means flights of dips and spreads like pimento cheese, guacamole and humuus. But it also means interesting versions of established classics, like the chef’s take on buffalo wings. “One of the favorites that I’ll have on the menu is rabbit wings,” he says. “It’s the forelegs of rabbits, which are like trash: Everybody throws them away, or poaches them and spins them out and turns them into sausage. So we’re going to serve these chipotle-hot-sauced rabbit front legs that are confited in olive oil first, and then deep fried, finished with the sauce and served with a blue-cheese fondue and pickled carrots.”

Almost everything on the dinner menu is under $19, though there are plates like a 20-ounce bone-in bison rib eye from Turner’s Great Range Brand Bison for $28. “It’s like a $60 meal anywhere else in the world,” Africano explains. “But I want people to eat it and enjoy it and have it and be able to experience what it is.” But mostly expect meats like steelhead trout, quail and pork flat iron steaks. Some bread will be baked in-house, some by Shawn Saunders’ Sourdough Boulangerie.

And then dessert will variations on cookies and ice cream, with the latter from Anne & Mann’s Homemade Ice Cream. The restaurant will then sell a dozen day-old cookies for $10 and donate $9 of it to a school chosen by drawing every month.

So, with all that in mind, hit the preview party tonight from 5 to 9 p.m. Food is free, with a cash bar. Otherwise, the grand opening comes at 6 p.m. on October 23.

“It’s exciting to be back, get it cleaned up and turned into something exciting, people will talk about a lot,” Africano says. “Every so often these kind of restaurants need a little new life breathed into them.”

[Image: Bryce Crawford]