CHINESE FOOD SERVED WITH A RINO DISTRICT VIBE
Hop Alley is one of the many new restaurants in Denver’s Rino district that, from the outside, blends in with the 100-year-old liquor store next door, but upon entering looks like something from an episode of Girls.
With sexy red lighting, almost-too loud hip-hop, rich and decadent concept food, and lavish cocktails, Hop Alley is certainly the place to go if it’s possible to forget about one’s starving-college-student status for a night and indulge the senses.
Named after Denver’s once-existing Chinatown, Hop Alley features Asian-inspired cuisine such as char siu pork belly with braised mustard greens ($15), Shanghai rice cakes with ground pork and oyster sauce ($15), and hakka fish soup with hand-torn noodles ($25).
While the concept is Asian, the staff certainly carries an all-American vibe, sporting long beards, leather Vans, and plaid button-ups. These staffers are more than willing to give customers friendly suggestions, like when to give up on chopsticks and settle for a spoon, or how exactly to roll the salt and pepper soft shell crab into lush bibb lettuce cups of lime mayo for the most satisfying result.
While the bar area of Hop Alley provides a slightly quieter atmosphere, with rows of shimmering liqueur bottles that offer a sense of tranquility, the dining area is filled with a rhythmic liveliness comparable to a classy version of a high school cafeteria.
The open kitchen area, which is visible to customers, lends itself to this active energy, as rising steam, concentrating chefs, and clattering dishes dominate the space.
The communal tables running parallel to one another through the dining room offer a shared experience between customers, which creates an almost celebratory atmosphere.
On weekdays, this party-esque atmosphere reaches a peak around 6:30 p.m., when Hop Alley fills with work-ridden business men and women, shuffling in from downtown office jobs with baggy eyes and loosened ties, in need of pricey cocktails and soft lighting.
Lulled by the sound of new Kanye and old Nas slipping through the speakers, the chatter of friends on third cocktails, and the smells of wood grilled suan ni pork chops, it becomes difficult to experience Hop Alley with anything less than five senses.
Wooden chopsticks break in half with a snap. Clean white spoons clank against clean white bowls. The chilled tofu ($8) features cold cucumbers that crunch against warm rice. The salt and pepper soft shell crab ($23) juxtaposes spicy grilled jalapenos with crisp lettuce wraps to cool them down and pickled onions for even more flavor and texture.
Of course, this type of sensory experience comes at a price; ramen-dependent college students beware. A couple could easily drop $100 on food and drinks in one sitting. However, for those with deeper pockets looking to gush over cocktails like a true Girls character, Hop Alley is worth a visit.
Above: Hop Alley is named after Denver’s once-existing China Town.
photo: Alex Tomme • CU Denver Sentry