Shift Drinks: Meeting with Samira Ardaly, manager of Ni Tuyo, at EastFax Tap


It’s June 26 and the Colorado Avalanche have just won the Stanley Cup, which Samira Ardaly and I are only vaguely aware of, considering everyone at Is FaxTap is already as drunk as possible. When you’re a passenger in a car going 120 miles an hour, you don’t notice when you hit 130. “Sportsball!” she exclaims unenthusiastically before we start guessing how much our respective Ubers are going to cost.

After all, she has a bar to open in about a week: she is the manager of the Ni Tuyothe new molcajete-focused restaurant from the family behind Adelitas (which ended up successfully debuting at 703 South University Avenue on July 7).

Like Avs goaltender Darcy Kuemper, Ardaly hardly seems fazed by shot after shot. Four hours earlier, we met on the indoor/outdoor dive deck on what looks like the edge of America’s longest street. “When you’re in the industry, you go to places and they pour you half a drink [of liquor] and you’re screwed in a second,” Ardaly explained three hours earlier. “People always laugh at me, ‘You only drink half a glass.’ I’m like, ‘I’m going to drink as much as you do by the end of the night, but I’m going to throw you in a car, and I’m going to relax.’ »

She was right, that’s how my evening ended.

Ardaly is usually right, giving the 32-year-old as much confidence as dismay. The only child of her Ethiopian mother and her West African father, she was a force of nature from an early age. “They knew they couldn’t tell me what to do,” she laughs. When Mom gave her cookies, she would return them to other kids for favors instead of, you know, eating them like most of us did. “When I was young, I was an opportunist,” she adds.

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EastFax Tap, a bright beacon for cheap drinks.

Jake Browne

The typical “do it all” high schooler, Ardaly balanced student council and prom committee with multiple sports before blasting it all out with a credit to go. The reason? She couldn’t leave campus for lunch. “I was young and I was a kid,” she says. As someone who is several hard seltzers – and who gave up my senior year to move to Italy – I nod furiously and imagine the corrupt administration she fought against in Smoky Hill.

Ardaly went to Los Angeles for film school and crashed with an uncle as she got up, getting her first gig at a Red Lobster in Santa Clarita (the service industry origin stories are rarely filled with glory). She hadn’t planned to launch Cheddar Bay cookies, but her then-CEO saw that her talents were wasted at the hospitality stand. “I said, ‘I don’t want to serve; I’m clumsy as shit and [my manager] said, ‘I don’t care,'” Ardaly recalled. “And the next week I was on the service program.”

Working in front of Magic Mountain; poolside bartender at the Hilton next to Universal Studios; Hard Rock Hollywood on Hollywood Boulevard: Ardaly’s early resume sounds like your high school acquaintance’s food blog with all the kids, but his Colorado comeback was centered where all my friends from college wanted to party: at downtown. Like many of her industry peers, she has a love/hate relationship with the region: Come for the volume, leave for your own sanity. This is how Ardaly found EastFax Tap.

“A friend of mine that I worked with at Ghost Donkey, she lives down the street,” Ardaly recalled. “Some days she would say, ‘Let’s not go downtown,’ and we’d come here.” If the Instagram ability of RiNo bars with faux ivy and neon slogan signs had a polar opposite, it’s the seedy, not-so-chic EastFax Tap. The patio looks like the beneficiary of Denver’s big trash amnesty days, with the decor of your pal firmly in his thirties as you roast mercilessly for bringing home a couch he found in an alley that’s ” always good”.

Click to enlarge Shift Drinks: Ni Tuyo's Samira Ardaly Talks Codeswitching and Mayhem at EastFax Tap

EastFax Tap patio.

Jake Browne

“I love that no one is really in your face,” she says, a sentiment echoed by the neighborhood after the former occupant of the space, the Hangar Bar, was 86’d by the city . Being declared a public nuisance is a dive bar badge of honor. EastFax Tap took over in 2019, retaining some of the aesthetic. “Every once in a while there are creepy guys who sit here and say weird things,” Ardaly says.

During our visit, we are looked after by Jeff, whose long salt-and-pepper locks and Mr. Peanutbutter’s general affability give him great “mom’s new boyfriend” energy. It’s the psychedelic mushroom that grows in humidity, and none of us can bear to ask what that smell is. “They ran out of everything, so I went with Estrella,” Ardaly says, away from the bar. “It’s actually my favorite Spanish beer.”

A stale Spanish speaker (his primary languages ​​are English and his native Amharic), Ardaly has found a calling with the spirits south of the border. To date, she’s sampled more than 580 tequilas and 150 mezcals, tossing me obscure brand names and tasting notes with an authority that intimidated past patrons. “I’m still undermined,” says Ardaly. “I’m a black woman in America who works in a bar: everyone always thinks I don’t know what I’m talking about.” She’s tired of being typecast as the angry black woman instead of the confident scholar she appears day after day.

“It’s so awkward to be, like, a white dude right now, but it’s not hard,” I say with the clumsy incompetence of a white guy on tequila shot number four.

“It’s not embarrassing,” she corrects me. “Some whites do too much. People will bring up the fact that they went to a protest the other day out of nowhere. That’s one thing I learned as a black woman is that people are going to say certain things to make me like them. As the wave of gentrification in downtown Denver makes it increasingly white, the stories she shares about people leaking their Biden vote or giving a “Hey, girl!” are as common as they are grumpy.

Click to enlarge Shift Drinks: Ni Tuyo's Samira Ardaly Talks Codeswitching and Mayhem at EastFax Tap

Samira Ardaly knows tequila and mezcal well.

Jake Browne

“As a black person, you have to switch codes,” she says. “Like, you have to, in any atmosphere. When I go out and drink, sometimes I get a little sassy and I’m like, “Oh, look at that n—-a,” and I joke around. But when I work, I don’t talk like that, because people think a certain way.

At Ni Tuyo, which has a bar program focused on tequila and mezcal, she’s happy — or as happy as it gets right before a restaurant launches. As messy as Denver’s restaurant culture or race may be, she’s in control within those walls. In her job as floor manager, she also trains a young team. “The worst thing that’s going to happen is you’re going to have a nightmare forgetting to drop off the ranch at table 31,” Ardaly says of his advice to rookies. It’s a nightmare I still have, a decade away from the industry. “That’s all I’ve learned from every bar I’ve worked at,” she says of her fifth opening.

I can’t help but wonder, if left to her own devices, what would her bar look like?

“I want it to be a low-key little hole in the wall, but when you walk into it, it’s just fun from the moment you walk in,” Ardaly says. “Who knows? You can sit down and someone throws a little hat over your head and then they go away and you don’t know who it is.

Too often we are given consistency rather than chaos. Bars want to comfort us instead of creating moments when our brain hemispheres are inflamed by subverted expectations. When you live and die by Yelp, you cater to your loudest, least ambitious guests.

Ardaly isn’t afraid to tease your sensibility or create a bit of chaos. Wherever she goes, I’ll be there. Maybe with someone else’s hat.

Click to enlarge Shift Drinks: Ni Tuyo's Samira Ardaly Talks Codeswitching and Mayhem at EastFax Tap

Cheesesteak served on nachos from the Good Eatz truck outside EastFax.

Jake Browne

Chaser: Q&A with Samira Ardaly

What makes a good dive bar?
Customers and offers.

What’s on your jukebox?
Heartbreak music, one or two songs that get you in the mood, hype-me-up music, then one or two gangster songs.

What is the best bar game?

I like to play “Let’s try to read what they’re talking about.”

What’s the best bar snack?
Chips and salsa. Fucking peanuts.

Best thing to have on a bar TV?

I like weird things like Dr Phil Where Broken.

Best shot?

Milagro. If they don’t have Milagro, Jim Beam.

The best local beer?
Miller.

Favorite drink to make?
Naked and famous.

Your favorite drinking city other than Denver?

Austin.

Good brunch or good late night menu?
Late night menu.

The most overrated cocktail trend?
Tito’s and three lime soda.

What’s the best move?
Kamikaze Raspberry Tequila

Why are you a bartender?
People keep it interesting.

Do you know anyone who should go have a drink with Jake Browne? E-mail [email protected].


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