SHIFT into high gear

The Rio is getting bigger and better

If you’re new to Boulder (and at least 7,000 of you moved in just last week), it behooves you to get to know a local institution: The Rio Grande Mexican Restaurant.

The Rio is your home-away-from-home, go-to, can’t-miss source for yummy scratch-made Mexican food, wildly popular margaritas (limit 3), and a raring energy both indoors and out.

Here since 1986, this citywide favorite opened in a tiny space on east Pearl Street. Like me, some of you may have hazy memories of owner Pat McGaughran coming through the dining room with trays of free tequila shots. (He doesn’t do that anymore but some things never change: the Rio was a good time then, and it’s a good time now.)

Expanding through two more Boulder locations, the Rio found its true home at the corner of 11th and Walnut Streets.  And last week, they unveiled a newly renovated, previously hidden space within the building and dubbed it the SHIFT Bar.


This new mezzanine-level hide out is chalk full of character and has a slightly different feel than the rest of the joint. A little mellower, it’s an off-the-beaten path hang out that’s perfect for cocktails, appetizers and conversation.

The idea behind the SHIFT bar can be found in the building’s history. Built at the turn of the 20th century, it was originally a horse livery that was transformed into an auto garage and filling station around 1920. It was operated as such for next 70 years.

The SHIFT bar echoes the auto theme and is inspired by the great American road trip. It’s designed to offer patrons a “shift” from the everyday.

“Everyone has a road trip story—a story about adventure, freedom, camaraderie, expansion and a departure from the daily grind,” said McGaughran.

The SHIFT bar debuted with an invite-only bash last week, and is now open to all.Shift 2

But wait, wait, there’s more:  Soon the Rio will offer an expanded menu of exceedingly tasty appetizers and cocktails. We were privy to a tasting last week, sampling apps with a whole new flavor profile. Items like Tropical Guacamole, Grilled Pork Flautas and Steak Empanadas were fresh and refined; a little fancier than the Rio’s traditional fare.

Cocktails are getting more creative too. The new line up pairs posh tequilas with fresh Shift 3 croppedingredients that offer flavor, color and zing.  We tried the new Paloma with Herradura Silver tequila and fresh grapefruit juice, among other ingredients. We also sampled a stellar new Coin marg. Ain’t nothing like the real thing.

Watch for the Rio Grande’s expanded menu this October. Enjoy the SHIFT Bar’s expanded space now.

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