Out in the wild, burrowing owls are a little different from their wide-eyed, nocturnal relatives thanks to their preference for repurposing dens abandoned by small mammals, such as prairie dogs, and living in colonies. In town, the birds have inspired an eponymous new restaurant. The Burrowing Owl aims for sustainable community and is setting itself apart as Colorado Springs’ first vegan dive bar.
The purposefully dark joint is furnished with repurposed wood from the Black Forest fire—hand milled and built into the bar, tables and benches by co-owner Mike Nipp and his wife’s uncle, Pat Mabrey The aesthetic matches the sustainable ethos of the Burrowing Owl: a simple menu of canned beers, boxed wine, and a short list of creative drinks made with organic produce, such as the Watermelon Situation made with fresh watermelon juice, Campari, whisky, homemade syrup and fresh ground black pepper. The deceptively delectable vegan bites also appeal to everyone: sloppy Joes, tacos and potato soup. Yet kale walnut dip is a sly reminder that plants rule the kitchen.
The walls boast vegetable taxidermy instead of televisions. The lights and music are low to allow for the pulse of conversation and promote the idea that everyone is welcome. On any given night, you might find Uncle Pat—the same that built the bar—next to a visiting vegan-Denverite talking with a neighborhood mom. And in the early morning hours, there is usually a table filled with staff from another bar that just closed.
Talk about Community: The Burrowing Owl’s massive food challenge, The Howard, draws its name from Grew Howard, owner of McCabe’s Tavern. After eating his first messy sloppy joe, he jested that he could have had two. Five minutes later, Cody slid a double-decker and a knife his way. The rest is history.
Wait, the competition is filling the joint? “I don’t consider others competition. We’re in competition with ourselves,” co-owner Tyler Schiedel says. “Other restaurants and bars push us to do better. And we want to be wowed by whatever opens next.”
The cooperative spirit stems from its ownership. Both couples are veterans of the local restaurant industry. But while Schiedel and partner Cody Rilo are vegan, Mike and Aspen Nipp are not. Together they’ve built a warm environment where drinks are the name of the game, anyone can eat the food and a conversation with a stranger is a sure thing—though no one seems to leave this dive bar feeling like a stranger.
by JL Fields