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Menu Talk with Pat and Bret

Justin Cucci previews his ‘gastro-brothel’ opening in Denver

The former musician also discusses his approach to picking the music for his other restaurants


New York City native Justin Cucci has spent the past couple of decades in Denver, where he operates four restaurants — Root Down, Linger, Vital Root and El Five — and also has licensed a Root Down to the operators of Denver International Airport.

He’s about to reopen his fifth restaurant, Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox, an entertainment venue that shut down at the start of the pandemic.

Cucci and his team have dubbed Ophelia’s a “gastro-brothel,” which of course it’s not really (many things in Denver are legal, but prostitution is not) because it’s in a historic building that once was a brothel and later a sex shop.

Cucci likes to honor the heritage of the buildings where he opens restaurants — Root Down was a gas station and Linger was a mortuary — so at Ophelia’s he is creating a “sex-positive” vibe with early, almost G-rated pornography posters from decades ago. It’s all very tasteful, though, said Cucci, who himself has two daughters and doesn’t want to make anyone feel uncomfortable.

He’s currently booking musicians to perform at the venue while rejiggering the menu to fit the current times, with simpler dishes that are easier to execute.

Cucci discussed that process with Restaurant Hospitality, as well as his approach to reworking the menus at his other restaurants.

A musician himself — he plays the guitar and harmonica — Cucci has curated the music that’s played at all of his restaurants, and he discussed that process, too.


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