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'Chicken' soup for the soul: All-vegan Burrowing Owl charms a carnivore




All bars offer some level of respite from the sharp edges of the world, but few confront the spiritual aspects like the Burrowing Owl. The two-month-old lounge at the edge of Ivywild can lay it on a little thick — as when its successful $18,000 Indiegogo campaign offered "a choice at hand that will change the way we live our lives now and forever" — but there's definitely something admirable happening here.

First, there's the all-vegan menu, maybe the first in the Springs, which is also almost entirely organic, non-GMO, and gluten-free. "The concept behind the food is to actually be attractive to meat-eaters, first and foremost," says 38-year-old Tyler Schiedel, formerly of Nosh, who co-owns the venture with his partner Cody Rilo, and Aspen and Mike Nipp. Generally, that means a tight bar-food menu full of nachos, tacos and variations of sloppy joes, all made with an organic textured soy protein that easily satisfied this carnivore (though you might get hungry again sooner).

The Owl's oozing, delicious "queso" is a splendid concoction of cashews, almond milk, apple-cider vinegar, miso and other shape-shifting ingredients. The Slopper rocks, its messy, meaty insides topped with King's Chef green chile, queso, mayo, red onions and, in a brilliant touch, pickle relish, hitting all flavor high points. The Serious Nachos keep the meat and queso and add tomatoes, green onions and some biting jalapeños. These, or the similar Crunchy Tortilla Pie are probably the easiest order for the questioning eater. Or turn to the dips, served with local bread from Sourdough Boulangerie: kale-walnut, spicy peanut, or white bean and rosemary, all stellar.

On the down side, the goo unsettlingly separated in the otherwise great Cheesy Burrito; the Ranch Salad was drowned in dressing and the Spicy House Tacos aren't especially great on dry corn tortillas. But otherwise food was on point, never causing a vegan disconnect.

The TV-free space itself is the kind of relaxed, knick-knacky assortment of themed finds that demands exploration, and the little touches abound: vintage liquor signs; succulents growing on dining tables made of local maple wood next to benches made of reclaimed Black Forest Fire wood; jars of mismatched silverware; herbs growing on the delightful one-table patio; and an encouragement on your receipt to take a #burrowingowlselfie in the whimsically painted bathrooms. It's all centered on a custom U-shaped bar made of one 120-year-old Black Forest log previously kept by Aspen's uncle Pat.

An impressive 60-can beer list ranges from PBR to Reg Leg's Blue Nose Brown to DESTIHL Brewery's Wild Sour: Counter ClockWeisse. But the cocktails steal the show. They're insanely and deliberately cheap, served in chunky rocks glasses for $5 or $6. They also beautifully balance the alcohol against vinegars, vermouths, fresh juices, bitters and teas. I could pick six favorites, but the Red Bush compellingly combines Benchmark Old No. 8 bourbon, Dolin Rouge vermouth, rooibos tea and rhubarb bitters, while the Coconut Sap is summer at its simplest: Cruzan rum, coconut vinegar and pineapple juice.

And then there's the spirituality aspect, as seen on the receipt, where personal favorite Alan Watts drops his Western Zen at the bottom. But it's also on display in the ownership's approach.

"I think most people have been pushed a little too far, and they're looking for something to change," Schiedel says of modern life, adding: "There does seem to be some kind of social connection here and that was really important."

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