Denver is home to a ton of beautifully designed coffee shops—Huckleberry’s Larimer Street cafe is an elegant mix of wood and concrete; Black Black has gone modern with a wide open, industrial feel; Amethyst—the new kid on the block—is all light woods and whites, shapes and textures. But no list of beautiful shops—in Denver, in Colorado, hell, in the whole United States—is complete without Little Owl Coffee, the small but in-your-face gorgeous cafe in the historic Lower Downtown District, or just “LoDo” if you’re hip with it. With an eye toward high design, Little Owl is delivering a coffee experience like none other in the city.
The 380-square-foot shop resides in the first floor of the SugarCube Building, a collection of high-end apartments and condos designed by famed architect Bruce Kuwabara. Little Owl sits adjacent to the condos’ main entrance, which could double as an art gallery (and actually did during my visit). Even with its small size, the shop feels much larger thanks to the natural light from the entryway’s floor-to-ceiling windows. Accentuating the effect even further is a roomful of hyperclean whites; the northwestern and southeastern walls are stark white, framing the white Calcutta marble wall greeting customers upon entry.
To soften the overall feel, rich woodgrains have been implemented throughout, most notably in the planed walnut slabs comprising the middle of the store and in the countertop overlooking the coffee bar. The warmer touches are finished off with succulents from Ironwood, a local plant and oddities shop (some would go as far as to call it a “mystic shop”).
The coffee bar is a continuation of the hyperclean motif. All-white countertops are home to a white two-group La Marzocco Strada MP used in tandem with a black Mahlkönig K30 TWIN grinder—the only dark piece of machinery, hidden behind a walnut casing, of course. In keeping with the theme, espressos are served in white notNeutral porcelain and presented on walnut serving trays. For the brew bar, a white Mahlkönig EK 43 pairs with white Acaia Pearl scales and the La Marzocco Über Boiler, the minimalist, under-counter water heating system.
The design is intentional throughout, and owner Seanna Forey states that she wanted to elevate the customer’s experience with Little Owl. “We wanted to create something that people hadn’t experienced in Denver coffee before, one that not only included customer service on a higher level, but also the general feeling people get when they walk in the shop. A huge part of that was the aesthetic and design. We also wanted to create a beautiful and positive space where baristas are proud to say they work and where they feel comfortable, organized, and above all, happy.”
Even with the incredible attention to aesthetics, coffee remains a primary focus for Little Owl thanks to its unique relationship with its roaster, MiddleState. Get out your pen and paper; this one may get complicated. Little Owl was started by Forey. MiddleState is Jay DeRose and Dustin Pace, Denver coffee lifers from big-name local shops Crema and Happy (RIP), respectively. On top of their roles in the roasting company, DeRose acts as one of the main players at Little Owl and Pace co-owns Steadbrook, the very excellent menswear store/coffee shop that is home to MiddleState’s roasting operation. Little Owl began toying with the idea of roasting and MiddleState was considering a storefront. Given each party’s desire for future expansion, the combining of forces became the obvious decision.
“MiddleState was starting to get some traction, and Seanna approached Dustin and me to get our coffee in Little Owl, kind of joking about joining forces,” DeRose explains of the relationship’s origins. “Little Owl was an amazing and successful coffee bar already, and we were a new roasting company. Seanna, Dustin, and I were really close friends and had similar goals and visions for the future; the synergetic relationship was kind of already there.”
Convoluted genealogies notwithstanding, Little Owl is one of the leaders in the new Denver specialty coffee movement. They have set the benchmark for what a cafe can look like, showing that there can be as much artistry in the creation of a space as there is in the drinks made within it. And thanks to their relationship with MiddleState, they are setting a high bar for coffee preparation as well.
Zac Cadwalader is a Sprudge.com staff writer based in Dallas, Texas. Read more Zac Cadwalader on Sprudge.
Photos by Caitlin Fairly.