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There's been rejoicing in the Westwordhood this week over the news that the Minturn Saloon will reopen on February 17 in the storied space at 846 Broadway (just a block from this office) that had previously been home to the original Parlour restaurant, Basil Ristorante and the Parlour, version 2.0. In the summer of 2003, a Denver branch of the Minturn Saloon that occupies a 104-year-old building in the mountain town of the same name took on the doomed address, and local grubniks and gambling types were betting on how long the place would last -- with most wagers running toward months rather than years.
The Minturn didn't help its chances by falling somewhere in that big, soft middle ground between bar and restaurant. By name, it was a saloon -- yet it had a menu full of Mexican food, steaks, duck breasts and all-you-can-eat quail specials. It seemed like it was trying to be all things to all people -- or at least enough things to lasso both the big-drinking dollars on Friday and Saturday nights and neighbors who just wanted a simple weeknight dinner.
But the Minturn was also hobbled by its architecture. With a bar on the first floor near the front door, a dining room behind it and a second floor peeled back during the initial remodel into a sort of balcony/loft dining area hanging right over the bar below, the owners decided the entire place would have to be non-smoking, lest the foul vapors of the degenerate nicotine freaks slouching at the bar choke out the swells trying to enjoy their quail upstairs.
The decision to go smoke-free was a choice driven by circumstance, and it might have been a good one had the original business model worked. Unfortunately, the restaurant portion of the bar-and-restaurant formula never panned out. At Minturn's Minturn, the registers ring with a sixty-forty split, food to booze. Here in Denver, things were running thirty-seventy -- with seven out of every ten bucks going straight to the bar. That meant it was time for a change, and on New Year's Eve, the Minturn went dark in order to do just that.
So two weeks hence, we'll have the Minturn Saloon, round two. Same place, same space, but now a saloon in full. "Before, we were a restaurant that wanted a lively bar crowd," says Minturn partner Mike Walks. "Now we're going to be a bar that serves a good lunch and dinner menu. We're embracing the bar side of it."
No more fence-sitting, and thank God for that.
"What we're doing is trying to apply some of the lessons we've learned over the last eighteen months," Walks continues. The first lesson? That Denver is a very different place from Minturn. "In Minturn, you know, we're just the Saloon," he says. "It's been there since 1901. Everyone knows about the place. We have good food, a raucous crowd, a good mix of locals and tourists. Everyone tells their friends, 'Hey, you gotta check this place out.' It's a destination."
But in Denver, the Minturn was just another bar with a dinner menu, another half-Mexican joint in an area that already had a lot of Mexican joints. And no one was telling anyone they had to check it out. "We thought the menu would translate really well here, but it just didn't," says Walks. "The neighborhood never warmed to that kind of menu. And now we understand that we're the new kid on the block. We're not a destination here."
The wicked learning curve resulted in a drastically reduced menu that focuses on reasonably priced Mexican bar food, along with burgers and a couple of sandwiches. The more high-tone dinner entrees have been kicked back to the specials board and will be offered only on nights when the house thinks it can actually move a few steaks or a brace of quail.
And at the new, improved Minturn, customers will be able to light up, too. "We learned that Denver is a smoking-and-drinking kind of town," says Walks. "People walked in, found out it was non-smoking and just walked out. It was a small portion of the people, but still..."
But still, when you're fighting for every nickel, you can't afford to lose a single customer. To that end, the Minturn picked up a big ol' Smokeeter air-filtration system and turned the second-floor dining area that drove the original smoke-free policy into a game room with pool tables, couches, a couple of video games and plenty of ashtrays.
I'll be filling one soon.
Butt out: Denver may be a smoking-and-drinking kind of town, but business is so good at Racinesthat eight months after it opened in its new home at 650 Sherman Street (just a hop, skip and a stagger from the Minturn), the owners have decided to make all the tables smoke-free. Initially, Racines had set aside a small dining room for smokers, but the place is so popular that it no longer makes sense to have a line at the door while tables go empty in the smoking area. A small, five-stool stretch of the bar and part of the outdoor patio will remain smoker-friendly...for now.