225 S. Pine Street, Telluride 970/728-5620
Last autumn, Smuggler’s Brewpub owner and manager Josh Klein and his team transformed the restaurant from a dark, dank sports bar offering standard pub food into Telluride’s go-to gastropub.
Smuggler’s now has a competitive menu featuring everything from root beer-glazed baby back ribs and crispy muscovy duck to an assortment of high-end cocktails, all offered in an historic, family-friendly atmosphere, at agreeable prices to boot.
Not to worry, though: Smuggler’s, which acted as a storage warehouse for the Smuggler Mine in the late 1800s, still offers house-made craft beer and mouth-watering burgers, not to mention great bar seating offering ample sports coverage.
Proud to change the face of Smuggler’s, Klein is even prouder to resurrect a bar dining special that died with his previous employer, the Excelsior.
Starting this week, $15 at the bar can get you your choice of braised lamb fettucine, elk bolognese or all-natural Colorado beef, veal and pork meatballs served with tomato pomodori and linguini. The bar special also includes your choice of any Smuggler’s draft beer or glass of wine.
The restaurant’s transformation is even more evident behind the scenes: Klein and Smuggler’s chef John Warren have made strides to offer menu items featuring all-natural, locally-grown ingredients.
“I remember when everything in this restaurant use to be served frozen and out of a bag,” Warren recalled. “I moved here in 1998, and I don’t think I ate anything here for several years. It’s amazing how much we’ve turned this place around.”
“Obviously we can’t address this with every ingredient we offer,” said Klein, “but we do offer 100 percent organic poultry from Redbird Farms and 100 percent all-natural Meyer Ranch Beef,” adding that even the salads now offer all-organic ingredients grown as close to Telluride as the two can find on the open market.
In the months leading up to Telluride’s hectic holiday season, Klein put his blood, sweat and tears into transforming the atmosphere of the restaurant. For weeks, the restaurant was closed, and the noises of sanding and drilling emanated from the restaurant as Klein himself refinished the walls.
The dark crayoned wooden walls featuring carved initials have given way to lush, clean walls that offer an inviting ambiance, rather than that of a rowdy sports pub.
“We removed a few of the televisions to encourage less of a sports bar atmosphere; removing the screen exposing the mirror underneath,” said Warren. “Some of the locals have stopped by and said, ‘wow, I didn’t realize you guys bought a mirror, too!”
“This fits into our philosophy,” said Klein. “We want a farmer from Naturita to come to the bar, get a burger and a beer and be as satisfied with his meal as the second homeowner enjoying a glass of wine and a pasta dish is with his.”
Speaking of pasta: it’s all made in-house, along with the bacon, sausage and beer (the brewery, Klein said, was designed by Telluride Brewing Company proprietor Chris Fish).
“Everything we can make in house, we do,” said Warren, “Nothing is frozen. We use our beer in almost all of our rubs.”
Part-way through my meal, Melisa Pilgnatro, Klein’s wife and Smuggler’s general manager, stopped by my table to introduce herself. Having worked with top chefs (including Emeril Lagasse), she was instrumental in constructing not only Smuggler’s new menu, but also its list of specialty cocktails. Insisting that I try her Alma Rosa, she said the drink is similar to what her family drinks in Mexico.
Rarely, if ever, do I drink mezcal. But I immediately understood why some in Mexico would want something like an Alma Rosa ($10) after a long day enduring the blistering rays of the Mexican sun. Featuring Mezcal Vago, this pink drink is served in a tumbler with hibiscus water, sugar in the raw, chili salt and fresh lime. The mezcal has very little presence up front, and is quickly overshadowed by the smoky chili salt and relaxing hibiscus water. When the Telluride sun bakes the humid valley after a brief monsoon next summer, I imagine there is simply no substitute for this refresher.
But when the wind is howling and the long rides up Chair 9 freeze your bones, stop by Smuggler’s for a Fried Banana and Bacon ($14). The tempura-fried banana slices are paired perfectly with thick slices of homemade bacon and hearty portions of Nutella and honey-blackberry jam sandwiched between slices of Texas Toast.
The first bite of this permissibly gluttonous treat echoes the warm embrace of southern hospitality. The salt of the bacon and crunch of the sweet bananas was enough to have me yearn for a relaxing afternoon on the couch soaking in Netflix episodes, or diving head-first into a book.
“That’s what we want here at Smuggler’s; we brought this restaurant to a higher level, offering good beer, comfort food and a contemporary atmosphere,” said Klein.
The Vibe: Sit, relax, get a beer, grab a burger. Or, sit, relax and order from pasta, soup or salad item list. Either way, Smuggler’s is a relaxing atmosphere perfect for a date, solo or with the family.
Price Point: While the restaurant does feature top-notch ingredients and is located steps away from the gondola, its menus are relatively inexpensive. Dinner and drinks for two are about $50.
Open Monday - Sunday 11 a.m.-10 p.m.