The best Denver patios for outdoor eating during the coronavirus

A waiter talks to patrons he is serving in the outdoor seating area of Corridor 44 in Larimer Square in downtown Denver on Friday, June 19, 2020. (Rachel Ellis, The Denver Post)

Denver has always had rooftop bars, secret gardens, dog patios and outdoor cafes to enjoy in the summer (and even in the sunny winter). But 2020 has been unlike any other year for outdoor dining.

From restaurants that have always been known for their rooftop bars to other locations that have spilled out onto sidewalks for the first time, the restaurant industry has taken the opportunity to lure back customers for a cocktail and meal outside. As of Monday, Aug. 10, Denver had approved 313 temporary patio permits since mid-May, and a spokesperson for the city said he hadn’t found another major city with such a large outdoor expansion program. Pending state approval, Denver has plans to extend the patio program through Oct. 31, according to a July news release from the city.

So if you don’t know where to start, we’ve compiled a curated list of some cool patios to check out based on reader suggestions and some of our own favorites. We talked to restaurant owners about how they’ve used their space creatively in the virus, with some locations operating patios for the first time and others expanding or shifting their existing space. We’ve also included some retail spots and street closures that are taking patios to the next level for the summer.

Customers enjoy a meal and a drink at Ace Eat Serve’s bright, open patio. (Provided by Ace Eat Serve)

Ace Eat Serve has always had a cool patio, but this summer it’s become its main dining space. With bright orange umbrellas and awnings, plants, misters and fans, marketing director Emily Biederman described it as a cool garden in the city. For fresh summer favorites, the menu features shrimp agua chile, bao buns of all varieties and fresh poke bowls. Biderman also highlighted their piña colada and frosé popsicle for a “perfect patio drink.” The restaurant has live music on Saturdays and an all-day happy hour on Mondays. 501 E. 17th Ave.; Mon.-Sun. 3-10 p.m.; aceeatserve.com 

Annette at Stanley Marketplace has focused on making guests feel like they’re in a dining room on their expanded patio. The owners used stencil walls and planters with tall grasses and honeysuckle to separate tables, and set up a big event tent to be able to seat 44 guests outside. And for summer flavors, their paris-brest has Colorado’s favorite palisade peaches with dulce de leche cream. 2501 Dallas St.; Wed.-Sat. 4:30-9 p.m.; brunch Sat. and Sun. 10 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; annettescratchtotable.com 

Christina Lundell, front, takes takes orders at outdoor patio of Cabana X in Denver on Friday, Aug. 7, 2020. (Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post)

Bar Helix, now known as Cabana X, is the closest you can get to a tropical getaway this summer. It’s a 100% open-air restaurant on Larimer Street with a beachy feel, and every month, the new menu draws inspiration from a different set of destination cities, currently Negril Jamaica, Ibiza, Spain and Mykonos, Greece. Owner Kendra Anderson said customers have gotten into the feel of it, too, coming dressed on the vacation theme. This month, the menu has jerk fried chicken from the Caribbean and a hummus-baba plate from the Mediterranean. And though the restaurant usually opens at 4, Anderson just started #AllDayVacay on Saturdays and Sundays, opening at noon for people longing to party the weekend away on her safe, open patio. 3440 Larimer St.; Wed.-Thurs. 4-10 p.m., Fri. 4-11 p.m., Sat. and Sun. 12-11 p.m.; insidethehelix.com 

Bistro Vendome has a patio tucked away at Larimer Square, almost like you’re transported to France. (Provided by Bistro Vendome)

Bistro Vendome’s secret garden patio is always a surprise to customers who find it in the middle of the bustling city. Hidden behind trees and brick buildings, the courtyard is “like transporting yourself to France,” said Beth Gruitch, founder of the Crafted Concepts restaurant group that includes Bistro Vendome. They’re serving French classics with a twist, as well as a carefully curated wine list. 1420 Larimer St.; Sun.-Thurs., 4-9 p.m., Fri.-Sat., 4-10 p.m., brunch Sat. and Sun. 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; bistrovendome.com 

Dairy Block is a mixed-use pedestrian alley in LoDo that’s also a Denver favorite for outdoor dining and shopping, and it’s been able to expand onto the sidewalk as well with spots like Denver Milk Market and Huckleberry Roasters. For some spots, like Run for the Roses — a cocktail bar located in the basement at Dairy Block– the extra space has provided the first opportunity to expand to the patio this summer with an entirely new menu and outdoor events. Owner Steven Waters said that the ability to expand outside is “a lifeline” for his basement bar, as he can draw in new customers from the alley. Maggie Pryde, marketing manager for Dairy Block, said each restaurant can use its space to reflect its own character, and then the collective also has over $1 million worth of art on display, from murals to pieces on the walls. Dairy Block also started hosting pop-up events like Bring Your Own Vinyl on Fridays with a DJ, and pop up galleries or art activation projects. 1800 Wazee St.; Hours vary for individual vendors; dairyblock.com

BookBar’s outdoor book lounge for people to browse and enjoy wine and hors d’oeuvres. (Provided by Book Bar)

BookBar opened its patio this week, on 43rd Avenue behind its Tennyson Street location. Bar manager Jessica Caouette said she’s brought out tables, comfy chairs and a rolling bookshelf with popular titles and staff recommendations for community members to browse and then sit to chat about books. There’s also a great wine list with glasses you won’t find anywhere else in Denver, Caouette said, as well as small bites to nibble on during book club. 4280 Tennyson St.; Wed.-Fri. 2-8 p.m., Sat 10 a.m.-8 p.m., Sun. 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; bookbardenver.com 

Stoic & Genuine at Union Station has a year-round patio, and the seafood restaurant has expanded this summer to be able to host more guests. With a tent set-up and plenty of tree cover, owner Beth Gruitch (who also owns Bistro Vendome) described the patio as romantic. This summer, it has great oysters, crab legs and plenty of other seafood, fresh out of the water in less than 24 hours. 1701 Wynkoop St.; Sun.-Thurs. 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Fri-Sat. 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; stoicandgenuine.com 

Denver Central Market’s murals and painted picnic tables at their outdoor patio. (Provided by Denve Central Market)

Denver Central Market in the River North Art District now has three outdoor dining areas: the front patio, alley and parking lot. The restaurant is one of 25 locations that have expanded with street closures in the RiNo Arts District, and it’s taken a special approach to welcome local artists and muralists to brighten the building.

The market is home to 10 vendors, and with the patio extension, they can also serve cocktails outside. From fresh, $1 oysters every Tuesday at Tammen’s Fish Market to summer salads at Green Seed, there’s plenty to enjoy in this beautiful outdoor space. 2669 Larimer St.; 8 a.m.-8 p.m. all week; denvercentralmarket.com 

Grandma’s House, a craft brewery on South Broadway, has a massive patio since it’s expanded to the burned-down lot next door. Owner Matthew Fuerst teamed up with Piante Pizzeria from Breckenridge for all-vegan pizzas to go with their brews. He’s also started events again with Tuesday Bingo Night and pottery painting to help people gather safely this summer. 1720 S. Broadway; Tues.-Fri. 2-9 p.m., Sat.-Sun 12-9 p.m.; grandmasbeer.co 

Mister Oso is another RiNo spot, upgrading its existing outdoor space for the summer. The bright, open patio has a wall of vines, extra foliage, tropical print dividers, string lights and an outdoor bar, everything you need to forget you’re in the city.

General manager Chanelle Kawamura said the patio is where customers are most comfortable, with plenty of space to enjoy a meal safely. Her summer menu has plenty of guacamoles, quesos and salsas, and all the tacos you could want. 3163 Larimer St.; Mon.-Thurs. 3-10 p.m., Fri. 3-11 p.m., Sat. 12-11 p.m., Sun 12-10 p.m.; misterosodenver.com 

The 400-foot mural along Larimer Square was created by So-Gnar Creative Division. (Provided by Captain Colorado Photography)

Larimer Square was ahead of the curve with patio extensions in June, working with restaurants and retailers to file for outdoor patios and street closures, including Bistro Vendrome. But the whole block has turned into a pedestrian mall, including a 400-foot mural from So-Gnar Creative Division and Pat Milbery, and street music all week, with local artists who are paid by the property management. 1450 Larimer St.; Hours vary for individual vendors; larimersquare.com 

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