A couple are walking around a restaurant and shopping plaza in Denver. They decide to grab some drinks. One of the two wants an IPA beer from a bar, while the other wants a merlot from a nearby winery. They can’t purchase the drinks and sit together outside, so they either have to choose one or wait until the other finishes their drink.
At least, for now.
Denver may soon join a handful of other Colorado cities where bar patrons can take their drinks from one bar or business to another in a designated area. The example above is one often cited by advocates who want Denver to join Aurora and Fort Collins in allowing “common consumption areas.”
In 2011, the Colorado General Assembly passed a law allowing communities to set up special entertainment districts where people can drink alcohol more freely.
Denver City Council’s business committee is studying the possibility of allowing the areas through a five-year pilot program. The committee will hold another hearing on the idea in June.
“We’re taking this very cautiously, but we’re excited about the possibility,” said Department of Excise and Licenses spokesman Eric Escudero.
But Escudero wants to make one thing clear: This would not turn Denver into another Bourbon Street in New Orleans or Las Vegas Strip. Common consumption areas are not the same as open container across the city.
Businesses that are interested in applying would have to comply with certain regulations, Escudero said, including:
- Show evidence of community support before applying and host a public hearing.
- Comply with existing laws and ordinances.
- Close by 2 a.m.
- Provide additional security and cleanup.
- Close roads to traffic if they’re outdoors or have them indoors.
- Restrict event-only common consumption areas to 15 days a year.
Aurora, Fort Collins and Greeley have seen success, which prompted Denver to explore the idea.
“We’ve had people in the community and businesses express an interest in doing this in Denver,” Escudero said. “With strong protections in place for neighborhoods, this new license could be a new amenity for communities who want it in Denver.”
Escudero believes it would benefit not only the restaurants that serve alcohol but other small businesses such as clothing stores and gift shops in the same area if they wanted to allow it.
People would be able to take their drinks out of one bar and sit in common areas or visit a business within the district’s boundaries. They couldn’t take their drinks from one bar to another.
Dairy Block in Denver’s LoDo neighborhood is a mixed-use development that has shops, restaurants, bars and a hotel. When the owners planned the development, they knew they wanted to pursue a common consumption area, general manager Don Cloutier said.
Everyone who leases space in Dairy Block is interested, and if any retailers aren’t, they can opt out, he said. If approved, customers could stroll the shops and a lighted alley outside with drinks in hand.
“It doesn’t change the way liquor is served at all,” Cloutier said. “It really provides guests and visitors the opportunity to enjoy the activated alleyway and the rest of the shops.”
Cloutier believes people will “behave themselves,” and it won’t be a “free-for-all” because of the rules that would be in place.
Other districts that have expressed interest or could be eligible for common consumption areas include the Great Hall at Denver International Airport, The Source, the Santa Fe Arts District, segments of the 16th Street Mall and the Denver Center for Performing Arts.
In the Santa Fe Arts District, it would allow people partaking in First Friday festivities to carry drinks in stores or galleries in the designated area.
But that doesn’t necessarily seem like a good idea to everyone, including Jami Fynboh, owner of mmm…COFFEE! A Paleo Bistro.
“We’re expanding our intoxication to too many levels in the world, and I think we’re obviously losing control of everything,” Fynboh said.
Though some owners feel the common consumption areas will bring more business to the area, Fynboh called First Friday “already an explosion,” and she said oftentimes, people will stagger into her coffee shop while drunk or stoned, particularly homeless people. She encourages people to think of the consequences of implementing these districts.
But others say the environment will be controlled and regulated — it just allows people to move more freely while enjoying their beverages.
Tami Door, president and CEO of the Downtown Denver Partnership, said it’s about having a “centralized square of activity.” She believes common consumption areas increase commerce, reduce crime and enhance visitors’ experiences.
The common consumption areas will be in places with a concentration of restaurants and experiences, Door said, and they will require collaboration between businesses to create the districts.
“A great deal of thought goes into bringing these types of policies to life,” she said. “We, as a city, just need to continue to be innovative and forward-thinking about opportunities for businesses and visitors and residents in how they experience the city.”
That’s the experience the city of Aurora has had with its common consumption areas, according to the city’s tax and licensing manager.
Trevor Vaughn said the community has been appreciative of the opportunities and the ability to drink in the common areas.
Aurora established two common consumption areas in 2017: The Southlands retail center — with 10 liquor-licensed businesses — and the Stanley Marketplace — with 12 liquor-licensed businesses.
“I think the retail centers are far enough away from residential areas that it was a benefit to the retail centers and kind of a benefit to the communities that surrounded them there,” Vaughn said.
With an open dining concept, the common consumption areas add more of a social atmosphere, he said.
In the Southlands retail center in the southeastern suburbs, the special drinking areas are used for events such as a summer concert series where the main street is closed, allowing people to walk around with a drink as if they are at a festival.
State law allows local governments to set the number of entertainment districts, their sizes with some restrictions, and the hours they operate, Escudero said.
Aurora pays close attention to what’s happening in the common consumption areas and meets regularly with the associations in charge, ensuring all laws and regulations are followed, Vaughn said.
So far, most if not all of the feedback has been positive, he said.