Kendra Anderson, Owner of Bar Helix
Our new series CULTURED features tastemakers who are shaping the cultural and social landscape of the city. In this issue, Esther Lee Leach interviews the owner of Bar Helix in Rino, Kendra Anderson.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY ESTHER LEE LEACH
LOCATION: BAR HELIX
Esther Lee Leach: Kendra, I am so excited to hear about your journey to creating this very chic place in Rino, Bar Helix! Way before you opened up Bar Helix, you were in the corporate world. What was your career background and how did you make your way into the culinary and beverage world?
Kendra Anderson: My very first job was actually in the restaurant business at Denny’s, of all places! I loved everything about it. I’d always planned on a corporate career after college, but once I got into it, I immediately missed the hospitality industry. So to keep myself inspired I threw myself into home cooking, entertaining, and eventually doing small catering events for close friends and family.
ELL: So you’re doing these events and cooking for friends and then you decide that you want to start a catering business. Now most people in your position would just go ahead and start but you wanted to gain more experience. You enrolled in the Cook Street School of Culinary Arts. Tell us more about that experience and why it was important for you to complete that program.
KA: Just before I turned 30 I had an epiphany about my life and career direction. I wasn’t financially able to afford to quit my day job in order to pursue my dream of becoming a chef so I chose Cook Street because they offered their full professional culinary training program at night. Easily the best decision I’ve ever made. From there, I launched my own catering business and while I also obtained an Advanced Sommelier certification, my food and wine events business is what ultimately led to my earliest visions of what would become Bar Helix.
ELL: Before attending Cook Street, you were never really a ‘wine person’. What happened there to change your perspective?
KA: Cook Street offered a regionally-based curriculum that simultaneously teaches students both the food and the wines of the most important regions in the world like France, Italy and Spain. Initially I dreaded the wine portion of the course as I thought it was going to bore me to tears. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Learning the art of pairing food and wine literally changed my life. I was so passionate about wine that I ultimately pursued and obtained an Advanced Sommelier certification.
ELL: After graduating Cook Street in 2002, you ran a catering business that eventually transformed into a wine consulting and event management business. Tell us more about that.
KA: I still couldn’t afford to quit my day job so I was running my catering business on weekends and holidays. I loved it but after a handful of years, I felt myself growing more and more interested in moving more fully into the wine industry. So I started producing events that revolved around what I refer to as #soulmatepairings. These are small bites or snacks paired with a wine; so ideally suited to drink with them that you felt the two were true soulmates.
ELL: During that time, you also wrote a weekly wine column under the name Swirl Girl. You have said that your aim of the column was to make the wine world more accessible to a wide range of people. Why was that important to you?
KA: The column and the wine events really sort of fueled each other, in the sense that my work as a sommelier had revealed to me on a nightly basis just how intimidated people felt about wine. I would constantly find myself reassuring people that it was okay to ask questions and not be afraid to try new or different wines than they typically drank. I also purposefully chose not to use the technical, geeky wine terms that sommeliers and other wine professionals would use, because guess what? Regular people don’t talk like that. And wine is and should always be fun, not intimidating, or pretentious. I think people really resonated with how I made them feel great about the wines they were or wanted to be drinking, not freaked out about them.
ELL: Now, let’s get to Bar Helix! How did you make the jump from running a catering and wine consulting business to owning this incredible spot in Rino?
KA: People seemed to really enjoy the wine events, which I was producing at various different restaurants and bars around Denver. I started wondering why there wasn’t a wine bar that offered similar, meaning one that offered killer wines and educational experiences, but in a more modern, sexy, and playful setting. I just felt like there was no single bar in Denver at that time where I could order amazing Champagne by the glass, have a perfectly made Negroni cocktail, enjoy luxurious bar snacks and listen to great music. So I decided to open that bar.
ELL: Technically, one would call Bar Helix a wine bar but it is so much more than that! I call it a wine bar/restaurant/lounge/dance spot. You wanted to create something different, a place that didn’t exist in Denver and you have achieved that. Describe what you wanted Bar Helix to be when you were in the planning stages and what it is today?
KA: It’s so funny that when I was working with a publicist ahead of opening the bar I remember clearly telling them that I wanted to promote the cocktail program because I was so convinced that, given my background and reputation as a sommelier, the wine list would sell itself. As it turns out, we are not a wine bar at all. Easily 80% of our sales are cocktails.
ELL: You have really added something different to the cultural and social landscape of the city with Bar Helix. What has been the response from customers?
KA: Well, thank you! My goal really was to create something unique for Denver and try to push people a little outside of their comfort zones. We’ve been so honored to have received a lot of critical recognition. We won Best New Bar in both 5280 and Westword, and were awarded Bar of the Year by Eater Denver. Our guests have told us that our cocktails are some of the best they’ve ever had. So that feels pretty good.
ELL: Bar Helix is famous for its extensive list of Negroni cocktails. For those of us who do not know, what is a Negroni? And why has this type of cocktail become important at Bar Helix.
KA: The Negroni has long been my favorite cocktail, to me its perfection lies in its simplicity. It is equal parts Campari, gin, and sweet vermouth. This simplicity is juxtaposed with its complex and delicious flavor profile which is bitter, savory, sweet, and just boozy enough. Knowing that many of our guests would likely not have had many Negroni cocktails, I thought it would be fun to showcase an array of variations that ranged from classic to pretty esoteric, and that even a non-adventurous drinker could love. To date, we have sold more than 5000 - more than I could ever have imagined.
ELL: Tell us more about the different events that happen at the space. I heard Saturdays is the night to be here!
KA: We try to keep things fresh and exciting for our guests by offering different experiences throughout the week. For example, on Wednesdays we do something called #WomanCrushWednesdays, which is my modernized take on ladies’ night. Instead of just offering cheap drinks we have a menu which features cocktails that incorporate spirits made by female distillers, female winemakers, and female brewers. then we have #CHIC Saturdays, where we definitely switch up the vibe by turning the lights way down and bringing in DJ Big Styles and various other musical guests. On Sundays during the summer we do something called #MORELIFE brunch which is the perfect #sundayfunday set to a hip-hop soundtrack.
ELL: What does the daily uniform or fashion of the owner of Bar Helix look like? How would you describe your style?
KA: Everyone on the team, including me, is required to wear all black to work. This is great for me because as a native New Yorker, black is my favorite color. I’m extremely inspired by the iconic designers of the ‘70s like Halston, Karl Lagerfeld for Chloe and Diane von Furstenberg. I love clean lines, and simple silhouettes. I’m a minimalist at heart. So for me, jumpsuits are always great because they’re stylish but also functional as I make drinks, serve guests, and even do dishes, every single night! I also think it’s important to embrace my femininity. Even though the bar business is dominated by men, I want to show that women don’t have to dress in a masculine or conservative way to be taken seriously or to do a great job running their businesses. Bar helix has a bit of a sexy, sleek vibe and I want my style of dress to complement that same aesthetic.
Cherry Creek Fashion TV’s CULTURED with Kendra Anderson