Denver’s El Five: The place you should take your next visitors or Tinder date

If you put your ear up to your cocktail orchid — like you listen to a conch shell for the sound of the ocean — you’ll hear a voice whisper-shout, “YOLO.”

El Five, 2930 Umatilla St. (Ashley Dean/Denverite)
El Five, 2930 Umatilla St. (Ashley Dean/Denverite)
El Five, 2930 Umatilla St. (Ashley Dean/Denverite)

It’s been a little more than a month since El Five opened atop the hill in Highland, and I’m a little mad that it took me even that long to get there.

Whatever reason it is that you’ve been waiting — forget it.

First of all: I strongly recommend making a reservation. They were slammed when I arrived without one at 7:30 p.m. and, presumably because people were lingering for the beautiful sunset, the 20-minute wait the hostess predicted was closer to 45. (We waited it out and the relatively quiet bar of Low Country around the the corner.)

But even if you have to wait, it’s worth it when you get up there to the fifth floor. There’s… a lot going on with the design.

But you’re not going to be looking at that anyway.

El Five, 2930 Umatilla St. (Ashley Dean/Denverite)
El Five, 2930 Umatilla St. (Ashley Dean/Denverite)

You’re going to be looking at this.

El Five, 2930 Umatilla St. (Ashley Dean/Denverite)
El Five, 2930 Umatilla St. (Ashley Dean/Denverite)

My phone does not do it justice, but you get the idea.

Can you think of a better restaurant view in Denver? I’m genuinely asking. Please tell me if you can.

El Five, 2930 Umatilla St. (Ashley Dean/Denverite)
El Five, 2930 Umatilla St. (Ashley Dean/Denverite)

OK, there was one place that sort had this view. Tough break.

With the view, it’s a natural choice for dinner with your friends from out of town or that date you’re really trying to impress. (Or you could just treat yourselves for no reason. Do it.)

El Five could be totally mediocre and survive on that view alone, but it did better, with a fun cocktail program and a tapas menu that’ll make you wish you could eat it all in one sitting.

Here’s what two people managed to consume:

El Five, 2930 Umatilla St. (Ashley Dean/Denverite)
El Five, 2930 Umatilla St. (Ashley Dean/Denverite)

They must go through an outrageous amount of tiny clothes pins at El Five.

That’s the Femme Fatale ($12) on the left, made with gin, manzanilla, lavender-infused St. Germain, grapefruit oil and, yes, an edible orchid. The flower kept hitting me in the face, but I’m willing to accept that as an intentional experience. (It probably isn’t.)

On the right: the Spanish Scaffa ($13), made with blended Scotch, Spanish brandy, Pedro Ximénez sherry, bitters and lemon oil.

El Five, 2930 Umatilla St. (Ashley Dean/Denverite)
El Five, 2930 Umatilla St. (Ashley Dean/Denverite)

That’s the Moroccan lamb sausage, with hummus, feta cheese, fava beans. pea tendrils, lemon and mint. ($14)

El Five, 2930 Umatilla St. (Ashley Dean/Denverite)
El Five, 2930 Umatilla St. (Ashley Dean/Denverite)

I was so eager for these goat cheese croquettes that I messed up the plating and scarfed one down before remembering I needed a picture. It was worth it. ($10)

El Five, 2930 Umatilla St. (Ashley Dean/Denverite)
El Five, 2930 Umatilla St. (Ashley Dean/Denverite)

The matzo ball soup dumplings — with mirepoix, chicken bouillon, schmaltz, lemon olive oil and dill — might have been my favorite. Just be careful biting in. ($12)

El Five, 2930 Umatilla St. (Ashley Dean/Denverite)
El Five, 2930 Umatilla St. (Ashley Dean/Denverite)

And these little skewers are holding the Diablos — Serrano ham, prunes, Valdeón blue cheese and piquillo pepper-feta fondue. ($12)

All told, that’s a pretty decadent meal in price and quantity. But if you’ve got occasion for it — friends in from out of town, a date you’re really trying to impress — it’s absolutely worth it.

Or you could just treat yourselves for no reason.

If you put your ear up to your cocktail orchid — like you listen to a conch shell for the sound of the ocean — you’ll hear a voice whisper-shout, “YOLO.”

El Five, 2930 Umatilla St. (Ashley Dean/Denverite)
El Five, 2930 Umatilla St. (Ashley Dean/Denverite)

Ashley Dean

Author: Ashley Dean

Ashley Dean covers culture and other odds and ends. She previously covered music and did some copy editing for the Denver Post, the Colorado Daily and the Daily Camera. She's from New York, likes her bourbon straight and has strong opinions about Kanye West. She can be reached at adean@denverite.com, 303-502-2804 or @AshleyDean.