Ace Denver: serving up good food and ping pong

Service has a double meaning at  Ace Denver’s trendy eatery. It isn’t just about food, it’s about ping pong. This game that takes me back to summer camp nights and Catskill hotels is making a comeback. Actor, Susan Sarandon and a few partners, have outposts of their upscale ping pong clubs, SPiN Galactic, in New York City, LA, Milwaukee, and Toronto.  While the Sarandon spots attract A-List celebrities, from a quick perusal of the NYC spot’s menu, Ace has way more interesting food.

Ace Denver

Ace, downtown Denver all lit up at night photo/Dave Lehl

The team behind the popular Vesta Dipping Grill and Steuben’s, has come up with another winner. Ace, well, aces it. Its fast paced and fun and the food is delicious. If you’re a fan of authentic Asian cuisine, this may not be the place for you’; they put their own spin on classic dishes. But, if you’re a fan of Asian-influenced food with inspired flavor combos, head on over. You’ll love this as much as we did.

Ace, located in the old Storz Garage in Uptown Denver, is huge (10,000 square feet). Much of the interior was created from used, recycled or repurposed treasures. The result: a BIG space with a hip industrial feel. Our favorite recycled/repurposed feature was the doors from a China Shipping container. Ask your server to tell you what came from where. It’s fascinating.

Ace Denver

The bar at Ace with the recycled Cut Rate Liquors sign, photo/ Taryn Capronika

The place was packed on this Friday night of Thanksgiving weekend. Most of the crowd here is young and they were in groups. Six to eight around a table was not uncommon. The only other folks we spotted in our age bracket were with their kids, but we felt totally comfortable and not at all out of place.

Ace Denver

Ace’s Pong Hall, photo/Dave Lehl

Start your meal with one of the interesting sounding cocktails they’ve designed for Ace. There is also a good selection of draft and Asian beers (in cans and bottles). Sadly, I’m not drinking these days- the cocktail menu made my mouth water. The drinks looked great as they went by our table.

Our first suggestion is bring a crowd. Except for a few of the appetizers, portions are large and there are so many tempting items on the menu, you want to taste as many as you can. We were lucky. We were guests of the management and they brought us a procession of dishes they wanted us to sample and we chose a few of our own.  I’m a big fan of Asian-style buns, these puffy pillows filled with a bit of meat. The buns here are Vietnamese-style Bao Buns. Our favorite was the braised short rib with kim chi. The Chive and Pork Shumai are succulent and flavorful. An order of flash-fried Brussel Sprouts was laced with shishito peppers and VERY HOT. The cooling Five Green Salad with Miso Ginger Vinaigrette helped put out the fire in my burning mouth. We were so full, we almost cancelled the Whole Crispy Snapper in a coconut milk and lemongrass sauce with scallion pancakes on the side. Luckily, our fab server talked us out of cancelling. The crisply crusted fish arrived, tail in mouth. It was one of the highlights of a great dinner. I recommend ordering a side of Jasmine rice with it. It was the perfect accompaniment cutting the sauce’s sweet flavor a bit. Plus, you need something to sop up that tangy sauce.

Ace Denver

Here come a killer serve, photo/Steve Collins

Full to the brim, we went to take our turn at ping pong. There are 10 tables in all. Eight are in the main game room, one is in a private area to the side that can be closed off by a recycled container car doors and two year-round tables are out on the patio. Tables are rented by the hour. While they will reserve a limited  number of tables in advance, it’s mostly first come, first served. Put your name on the list and have a drink or a bite to eat while you wait. Tip: at lunchtime you can get a half-hour of free ping pong with your meal. It’s a great deal! Luckily, the table in the private room became vacant as our turn came up.  We didn’t have to embarrass ourselves publicly. Each of us was given a bucket of balls. It’s great not having to retrieve the ones that got by us. We made it through one game. We were out of practice. We probably hadn’t played in about 20 years. It’s a bit like riding a bike, it does come back to you.  Sated with food and ping pong, we headed back into the cold night knowing that next time we come back to Denver, it will be Ace’s for us.


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