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The owners agreed, and Vostrejs began courting new tenants for the block. "We were looking for things that were outside the market, but not too many chains," he explains. "Also, we realized how important it would be to have owner-operators, places where the owners are in the building every night. So we went from a kind of Soviet style of management -- strong head, weak satellite states -- to the owner-operator style. And sometimes to get what you want, you have to be willing to put your money where your mouth is." Which is how deals were made on Larimer Street during the first years of this revitalization. Hermanson and his partners bought into several of the new places that were opening, with "the partners putting up equity to get owners over the hump," according to Vostrejs. "You know, sometimes they come in and they don't have quite enough money to make it work, to do the kind of things that they want to do."
This happened with the Samba Room -- the first restaurant Vostrejs loved up and brought to town -- as well as Tamayo, which replaced the old Cadillac Ranch. It happened with Bistro Vendome, although Hermanson later sold much of his share in the restaurant to Scott Tallman, who bought in, became GM and now works as floor man and foil to chef/owner Eric Roeder. And Vostrejs himself recently got into the act, putting up a chunk of change for the Tom Tom Room, which replaced Tommy Tsunami's on the back side of the block on Market Street. "I really believed in the robata concept," he says. "And eventually it just became one of those things where people were saying, 'Yeah? You like this so much? Why don't you put up the money?'"
1401 Larimer St.
Denver, CO 80202
Region: Downtown Denver
1450 Larimer St.
Denver, CO 80202
Region: Downtown Denver
So he did. "Really, it was like a dare," Vostrejs recalls. "I'm not a restaurant guy, though. And I don't know what I was thinking."
The changes just keep coming. "We've traded out almost all the old tenants on Larimer," Vostrejs says. "We only kept the best ones." And to make a place for the Capital Grille, Larimer's owners had to fill in the last bit of open space on the block. "I received more than a little criticism for choosing to do a steakhouse, of all things, on that site," he adds. "But David kept raving about it, so we went to Dallas to check it out." They were so impressed that they did the deal almost immediately.
With Ted's, it was a matter of Larimer Square not having a space that really catered to families, and with Bistro Vendome, Vostrejs's sudden realization that it didn't have a French restaurant. "I couldn't believe there wasn't already one," he says. "Someplace like the little bistros in Europe. I must've called every French bistro in the country, and none of them were interested in Denver." Finding a hometown guy like Roeder, who'd recently sold his award-winning Micole (that space on South Pearl Street is now filled by Lola), was luck -- and good timing.
"Look," says Vostrejs. "We're opportunistic down here, and I've bragged and said that I challenge anyone to come up with another block that has such a good mix of retail, of food and beverage. I've been relentless. It's a no-holds-barred approach to creating not just one of the best blocks in Denver, but the best block in the country. And believe it or not, there's a whole bunch of stuff still coming."
One thing that's coming is Jennifer Jasinski's new restaurant. Formerly the chef at Panzano, Jasinski will put an eatery at 1431 Larimer, taking over all of the old Looms building, as well as expanding into part of, yes, Josephina's -- still holding on from its glory days in the '70s. "I've always thought that Josephina's was just awful," Vostrejs says. "And I think there's a couple reviews out there that will back me up. But Josephina's is an institution, it has a lot of regulars at the bar, and it still does some pretty good business, so how do you change it without just killing the place? Well, for one thing, Josephina's has way more space than it needs. So that's taken care of. Next, we'll have to figure out what the concept is. Figure out exactly what to do. But Jennifer's coming here adds a huge amount of credibility to the restaurant scene."
Vostrejs promises "another significant restaurant deal" within six months, but won't spill more details. He'll also be announcing a deal for the old Champion Brewing spot, another for a "food and beverage concept" that'll appeal to the late-night crowds still crawling the Square when most of its restaurants have closed. The Martini Ranch out of Scottsdale is moving into the old home of Soapy Smith's on 14th Street, and a new nightclub is being planned for the Lucky Starspace once that lease comes to a close.
And though Neal and Jack would never recognize the place today, that's five new bars that'll be opening in the next six months, so I think the boys would like it just fine.
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