By Jamie Swinnerton
By Mark Antonation
By Lori Midson
By Jonathan Shikes
By Amber Taufen
By Cafe Society
By Juliet Wittman
By Jonathan Shikes
Denver lost another restaurant when Nine75 went dark on Sunday, following a weekend full of parties to mark the imminent demise of a place that had already cheated death once before. When Nine75 opened four years ago under the umbrella of the then-burgeoning Sullivan Restaurant Group, it quickly made a splash as a hip spot to eat jumped-up comfort food that carried the distinct imprint of chef Troy Guard, who just happened to be Jim Sullivan's son-in-law. But the unusually shaped space — essentially a front dining room with a bottleneck hallway leading to an isolated back bar with a view of the Westword parking lot — at 975 Lincoln Street, tucked into the beleaguered Beauvallon development, was a bitch. It had already swallowed Moda with barely a whimper. And at Nine75, Guard struggled to maximize counts. He finally gave up two years ago, moving on to ultimately start his own place, TAG, which opened this spring at 1441 Larimer Street.
And last fall Sullivan finally gave up, too — shuttering Nine75 amid a flurry of surprise closures that signaled the end of SRG. But Nine75 was dead on the table for only a few hours before it was picked up and revived by the guys from Jet Entertainment Group, who were on a serious buying jag right around the time SRG was folding and the economy was going into the toilet. They reopened the place in what seemed like fifteen minutes, continuing to operate it under its original name and keeping the basic focus. And for a while, everything seemed to be going well.
Until, of course, everything wasn't anymore. First they dumped lunches (which is always — always — a sign of bad things happening behind the scenes), then they announced a storm of deals and special promotions. Finally, early last week I got a call from Jet's George Eder with the bad news: "Nine75 is going to be shutting down."
I made some empathetic noises, but honestly? This was not a surprise. The Beauvallon is a restaurateur's death trap right now, taking down not just Moda and Nine75, but a string of other restaurants. Aqua had moved into the southern corner of the project as kind of a satellite expansion of Jay Chadrom's Opal across the street; it died, and the space has been vacant for-freakin'-ever. La Dolce Vita tried hard but couldn't make it. Marni's lasted for maybe two minutes, to be replaced by Mr. Coco's, which closed a couple of months ago. Brandon's Pub locked its doors last month, promising to reopen by July 4, but it's still closed. The Beauvallon has also swallowed a couple of sandwich joints, a bagel deli. The only vaguely foodish operation still up and running there is Aviano Coffee.
Still, every single closure is highly personal for the people involved, and even though Eder is part of a group that owns several properties around the city, he was still feeling the burn of shutting down Nine75. After all, he'd been the Sullivan Group's COO before jumping ship for Jet. His history didn't make the decision to close Nine75 any easier. "This was one of the hardest fucking decisions I ever had to make," Eder told me. "It's like killing your kid, man. It's hard."
Business at Pizza Republica, which Jet opened a few months ago in the Landmark project in Greenwood Village, is phenomenal, Eder told me. And even though XO — Jet's high-concept noodle bar in the Jet Hotel, at 1612 Wazee Street — is having a little trouble finding traction, it's growing slowly, too. But frankly, at a time like this, even slow growth is better than the slide so many other operators are seeing.
Leftovers: In all this bad news, a silver lining for consumers. Okay, more of a red lining. Because with all the stockbrokers and investment bankers out on the street (and therefore not out at some ridiculously expensive steakhouse celebrating their further debasement of the American economy with enormous lobster tails and buckets of single-malt scotch), guess what's suddenly become really fucking cheap?
Lobster. According to recent stories published everywhere from The Atlantic to the Daily Beast to the Fisherman's Voice Monthly Newspaper (what, you don't subscribe?), the lobster market is in a total tailspin. The result is cheap lobsters all over the Northeast, with prices beginning to drop precipitously elsewhere. The reason? Lobsters are expensive (or were expensive, anyway) and continue to be thought of as a luxury indulgence, and because no one has any money anymore, eating cold Dinty Moore out of the can while crouching around a fire made from stock certificates, sock garters and back issues of Fat, Rich Bastard Monthly has suddenly become a much more economically viable option.
There are reports of $5-per-pound lobster offers starting to crop up around the country. And while prices haven't dropped so low here, they have certainly dropped. For example, Cherry Crest Seafood (5909 South University Boulevard in Littleton), has always had some of the best, cheapest crustaceans in town. Last year, their big Maine lobsters were around $19.95 a pound; last week, they were $15.95. And Pacific Ocean Market (2200 West Alameda, long a half-secret spot for budget-minded gastronauts) has "small ones" — which I assume means Australian — for just $9.99 per pound and "big ones" (probably Maine) for a buck more.