The set-up at Ace Eat Serve is slightly different than normal, but the atmosphere isn’t any less enticing.

The sound of ping pong balls bouncing off paddles and table-tops fills the air, mixed in with bubbling chatter from lively tables and, on Saturday evenings, live music plays on the patio outside. It’s a refreshing taste of the pre-pandemic world, with all the post-pandemic safety measures — a self-styled ‘Après party’ for downtown Denver.

“It almost feels like normal, again,” says co-owner Josh Wolkon, cautiously.

Image courtesy of Ace Eat Serve.

I stopped in to check out their live music on Saturday, which Wolkon tells me, they’ve been doing every weekend since the summer. He says it’s been a great way to get people into the restaurant, while at the same time supporting local artists who are hungry for places to perform.

“The musicians have all been really excited to come in and play,” Wolkon says. “We’ve gotten some really good acts in here so far.”

In the background, as we spoke, Kory Montgomery played bluesy, folksy songs; serenading the restaurant with renditions of Tyler Childers, Alice in Chains and his own originals. The “stage” is strategically situated in a corner of the patio, which offers good views from almost any angle and optimal restaurant acoustics.

For the late fall and winter-time Ace’s fire pits are roaring. There are gas heaters scattered all around, and they’re even offering plastic igloos for group-rental. The igloos not only provide familiar après shelter and warmth, but they’re also perfect for social distancing. It’s like renting a private dining room, for just $25 (on Ace's website).

Image courtesy of Ace Eat Serve.

Whether you rent an igloo or not, though, guests need to reserve tables beforehand on at OpenTable. Which makes things easy when you get there — there’s no wait, and you have a spot waiting for you. Similarly, if you’re trying to play some ping pong (which has only recently returned!) call ahead and reserve a table.

Music on Saturdays plays from 3:30-6:30, almost perfectly coinciding with Ace’s happy hour. Not only do they have incredible cocktails for just $8, but they also offer specials on beer, cheap apps, and huge, delicious bowls of Ramen.

The Catch Me If You Can cocktail was my first (and personally, my favorite) – it’s a spicy take on a margarita, with mango-infused tequila, blended with agave, lime juice, cilantro and chilis. The Mt. Fuji was also really good, but totally different, with nigori sake, green tea infused gin and coconut juice.

The "Catch Me If You Can" – image courtesy of Will Brendza. 

I also ordered two of the “chef’s specials” (a 16-ounce Montucky Cold Snack, with a shot of Evan Williams bourbon, and a kim-chi back) because, why not? I was having fun, the vibes were bright, the food was really spectacular and everyone was riding high on the live music flowing out of Kory Montgomery.

This weekend (Saturday the 14th), Shawn Eckels, guitarist and vocalist for Andy Frasco & The UN, brings his screamin’ bluesy electric guitar to Ace. The next weekend (Saturday the 21st) it’s Dave Tucker and His Imaginary Band, a full ensemble rolled into a single musician with a knack for using loop-pedals.

Even if you don’t manage to swing by for the live music, the food at Ace is always fantastic. The Spicy Pork Ramen is totally spectacular, piquant, fresh and very filling; and the pork shoulder pot stickers come with a Chinese ginger mustard that is on another level of delicious; and then they’ve got dim sum, side pieces and bao buns to boot. (Not to mention a chocolate lava cake, drizzled in toki whisky caramel… *shivers*)

Reserve your table online at OpenTable, or your igloo on Ace's website. And, to play some pong, simply call ahead (303.800.7705) to reserve a time-slot and a table.  It’s an Après party that’s going to rolling all winter long.