On main streets from Littleton to Louisville and Golden to Arvada, city blocks are closing to thru-traffic.
Tables are set, candles are lit and restaurant owners are closely watching the weather, praying that Colorado’s summer will save them — at least for another few months — from financial disaster.
“I’m going to leave it all on the table,” said Kendra Anderson, who runs Bar Helix, a cocktail lounge on Larimer Street that has moved entirely outdoors for the season.
“We’ve gone all in on this,” wrote owners Cindhura Reddy and Elliot Strathmann on their restaurant Spuntino’s social media pages. “We’ve bet the farm. We are so hopeful.”
In the Highland neighborhood, Spuntino’s owners erected a tent over the restaurant’s parking lot, complete with hanging lanterns and greenery. Their new summer version is called “All’ Aperto,” or open-air in Italian.
Anderson’s RiNo bar, meanwhile, has switched to an alter-ego called Cabana X, which feels like an umbrella-shaded beach vacation via drinks and dinner.
This past weekend, Larimer Square closed down to cars as pedestrians walked the roadway and diners spread out in the street underneath string lights and rainbow Pride flags.
“Small businesses have been hit hard by everything that’s happened the past few months, especially our restaurants,” said Jon Buerge, chief development officer for Larimer Square developer Urban Villages. “We’ve been so impressed by the grit and creativity they’ve shown. Opening the Square is one way we can support them.”
As Larimer Square last week became one of the first Denver streets to get approved for pedestrian-only use this summer, Glenarm Place by the Denver Pavilions was also approved and around 85 restaurants, bars and breweries had received permits for expanded outdoor patios.
RELATED: Denver bars and restaurants with expanded summer patios
That number had doubled from the week prior, when the city reported around 80% of applicants for expanded outdoor seating were still stuck somewhere along the application process. The Colorado Restaurant Association earlier this month said that 27% of surveyed members were able to take advantage of expanded patio space already.
The Association also reported only 5% of restaurants had been able to reach 75% capacity with their outdoor seating arrangements. Most restaurants need to reach at least 75% to “have a chance at medium-term survival,” according to the CRA.
“There’s an expense to expanding” explained Juan Padro, who owns multiple Denver restaurants including the Tap & Burger bars, Bar Dough, Señor Bear and others. He estimated that each of his restaurants cost between $8,000 and $10,000 to reopen this month. Following the city’s application process, it took about a month to be able to expand into one of his own parking lots, for example.
“Right now, the optics are they are throwing tables and chairs out(side) because the cities are desperate for the tax revenue,” Padro said. But he thinks cities should look at restaurants’ reopening in another way, entirely: “This is something that I think they should encourage and promote as part of the healing process for Denver.”
Restaurateur Andy Ganick, who owns The Pig & The Sprout by Union Station, said he waited four weeks to receive a permit to add five tables, or around 24 seats, to the other side of his existing patio space.
“I just think it would’ve been great if the intention of the governor and of the mayor was really taken to heart by all the different (licensing) departments,” Ganick said of the process he and others have undergone. “I mean, this is the business we’re in, we all are experts in liquor licenses, controlling (crowds) and keeping people safe.”
Upon opening reservations last week for their All’ Aperto experience, Sputino’s Reddy and Strathmann wrote how proud they were to have figured out a safe and enjoyable way to welcome back diners.
“We have worked so hard with the vision of reopening in a way that is right by our people (our staff and our guests) and right by our passions,” they said.
Bar Helix’s Anderson said she was similarly hopeful in starting something entirely new for a season, however long that can sustain her.
Prior to buying thousands of dollars of new patio furniture, she had been operating on 10% of her normal revenue. And she was able to buy folding tables, chairs and umbrellas just in time before stores ran out or else prices skyrocketed from demand around town.
“It’s honestly like a tragic comedy at this point,” she said. “I just hope to God people will come.”
A reminder about open consumption
While you might be seeing more cans and to-go drinks in hand as you walk around Denver these balmy evenings, know that open-container laws haven’t really changed.
“Open consumption of alcohol outside of licensed premises is not legal,” wrote Conor Cahill, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis’ press secretary. “But with the Governor’s most recent Executive Order on this topic, localities may expand their licensed premises to allow for consumption on select sidewalks/parks/etc… subject to approval by the state and local licensing authorities,” he said.
However, anyone purchasing alcohol to-go from a restaurant, bar or other licensed retailer still needs to consume it on private property. Those containers are served sealed for a reason, folks.
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