Bite Me

More news from Mr. Radek's neighborhood: As we all know by now, Papillon Cafe (250 Josephine Street), Radek Cerny's premier Denver address, has closed its doors for good. This came as quite a surprise to everyone in the biz (including some of Papillon's employees who, allegedly, weren't even told the joint was shutting down until the day it actually did), and while there was some brief buzz that the restaurant might be shuttered for only two weeks, the awful truth is that Papillon est mort. Although last week there was still a sign on the door claiming that Papillon Cafe was just "closing for summer vacation and renovations," one posted right alongside it had the grim finality of an epitaph, saying simply: "Available, fully equipped."

I called the realtor handling the property in hopes of prying out some info about local vultures sniffing around the corpse, but got nothing. All we know for sure at Bite Me World Headquarters is that there's a listing agreement on paper, lots of interest coming from all directions, but no deal yet.

When I asked Cerny himself about Papillon's closing, he said that he was tired. "I was just burned out," he told me, which is understandable in this business. He also said he wanted to throw himself into the kitchen at Le Chantecler -- and, now that I've eaten there (see review), that sounds like a good idea to me.

That same sign claiming that Papillon was closing only temporarily directed heartbroken Cerny fans (and those holding reservations, gift certificates, etc.) to Radex, at 100 East Ninth Avenue (where their certificates would be honored and they'd also be given complimentary glasses of wine for their troubles). The problem here is that Radex (a hip spot that Cerny opened in the late '90s to rave reviews, then subsequently sold to partner Bucky Parker) is also closing. On August 18, Radex will roll up the carpets and dig in for a major renovation, including a remodeling of the interior, an expansion of the bar to accommodate both DJs and live music, and some major changes in the kitchen. When the space reopens (the current date for that is September 4), the new menu will be Japanese/French fusion and "heavy on the sushi," according to one insider. Unofficially, the reincarnated restaurant will be called Opal -- but you didn't hear that from me.

At Opal, Parker will still be in the front office; Mikio Hashimoto (of both Japon and Japango) will be in the kitchen as a chef-partner; Jay Chadrom (owner of the Voodoo Lounge and Sanctuary) will be on board as another partner, and Cerny will be back as a menu consultant. This is a heavy-hitting lineup, although it makes me wonder about Cerny's insistence that he's burned out -- especially since I've been hearing rumors that Cerny may get involved in yet another new venture somewhere in the neighborhood of the ex-Papillon. But the chef isn't talking about that, other than admitting that while there's a deal in the works, the restaurant in question hasn't even begun construction yet.

Broadway melody: The infamous Mr. Bill's, a dark and dingy gay bar at 1027 Broadway that once won a Best of Denver award for its five-cent-spaghetti night, can now be added to the roster of the dearly departed. After a face-lift and a change in ownership (Joe Trujillo's now in charge), the spot reopened July 1 as Broadway's. It's still a gay bar, but now it pumps out the dance music -- and also serves beer in bottles, not the safer cans that were a hallmark of Mr. Bill's service. Also on the former gay-bar beat, there's a new sign up at 255 South Broadway, onetime home of Club Stud, claiming that the renovated building (with windows, even) is now the On Broadway Lounge. The place isn't open yet, although it could be by the end of the week. Weird thing is, no one seems to know what's going on there -- according to her brother, owner Sherry Long is doing her best to sell the place before the August 16 opening date.

Late last year, "Big John" O'Brien, proprietor of Billy Bob's Riverside Saloon (3100 Arkins Court), the home of the notorious Big Ass Burger, made some noise about opening an outpost in this location, but that plan sorta ran out of steam when O'Brien was buried in a landslide of legal actions for doing just about anything one man can do wrong in the restaurant business and still be alive to flee prosecution ("Charbroiled," March 21, 2002). Sherry, if this guy comes knocking, better just pretend you're not at home.

Leftovers: Despite all the restaurateurs looking at the now-shuttered site, the sign on the door of Sacre Bleu (410 East Seventh Avenue) says the place is undergoing some "minor renovations" and will have a grand reopening in September. But people say a lot of things. Hell, I've been telling my wife that I'll clean out the back seat of the car for the last two months now, and I don't know if I'll ever actually get around to it.

With that in mind, I tracked down Michael Payne (who took over the place when Sacre Bleu's founder, ex-wife Julie Payne, bowed out), who assured me that this much is true: The closure is only temporary. There's a new concept in the works, including a different look and changes both in ownership and staff, but something (although Payne is very sketchy as to exactly what) will be reopening in Sacre Bleu's spot sometime after the first week in September.

And just a block away from Sacre Bleu (or whatever it may or may not be calling itself in the near future), Doug Fleischman and Frank Bonanno of Mizuna (225 East Seventh Avenue) are still negotiating with the owners of China Hill, around the corner from Mizuna at 711 Grant Street, for the purchase of their space. Fleischman and Bonanno are looking to put an Italian restaurant, Luca d'Italia, in that spot -- whose back door is only a few feet from Mizuna's back door, making it easier for the pair to work two restaurants. But the fact of the matter is, an earlier report that this is a done deal may have been a bit premature (at least according to one of the folks behind China Hill), even if Bonanno's already working on a proposed menu. Look for things to start moving forward around the end of the year.

Antonio Race has left Ciao Vino (126 West Mountain Road, Fort Collins) to concentrate on Pulcinella Ristorante (2100 West Drake Road, also in Fort Collins, and a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence winner for several years running). Race recently turned over his shares in Ciao Vino to partners, because running four restaurants (Ciao Vino, Pulcinella and two Pulcinella Pizzerias in Fort Collins and Loveland) was pulling him away from being able to focus on the fine-dining experience that he's so passionate about.

But then, some restaurateurs do manage to make multiple restaurants work: Lola, David Query's new upscale Mexican restaurant, is set to open August 21 in the former home of Micole (1469 South Pearl Street), sneaking in just ahead of what could be a flood of upscale Mex joints filling the landscape not just here, but across the country. And just for the sake of convenience -- so that when I go to hell, it won't be a very long drive -- the Field Development Group (national restaurant and nightclub developers based in Columbus, Ohio) will be opening Margarita Mama's Mexican Grill and Cantina and Banana Joe's Island Party on August 29 in the Denver Pavilions. This monster of a project will cover two floors and 38,000 square feet with officially sanctioned corporate merriment. There'll be a dance club, a martini and cigar bar, themed restaurants, fifty TVs all tuned to sporting events, a cocktail lounge and a Midway Carnival Park with video games, skee-ball and the like so that you can get drunk and blow your whole paycheck to win a 39-cent stuffed monkey for your girlfriend. Trust me, kids: This one's gonna be fun! Satan himself promised me I wouldn't be disappointed.

Booze news: The Denver Wine Connection now has a specialty wine warehouse open at 1190 Yuma Street (that's off I-25 at Eighth Avenue), featuring an extensive collection of grapa divvied up by price range, grape variety and place of origin. This no-frills outlet is also stocking some rare and hard-to-find wines that won't make as bad a dent in your wallet as you'd think, because prices are kept low by the spartan surroundings and low overhead. In an attempt to "de-mystify" the wine-selecting process, owners Bob and Ingrid Grueter (former owners of Aspen Wine and Spirits Co.) have also brought on board Imre Kausz, a second-level master sommelier, as general manager and all-around wine guru, as well as a handpicked staff. The store will soon have Web site where you can place orders and arrange for delivery anywhere in the metro area; in the meantime, call 303-825-8000.

The Fourth Story (2955 East First Avenue) continues its Sunset On Sunday Wine Tasting series with a selection of Old World whites such as pinot gris and white burgundy on Sunday, September 1. It'll run you $35 per person, but that includes the tasting plus matching hors d'oeuvres from a kitchen now under the command of executive chef Tyler Wiard. Reservations are required; call 303-322-1824.

Kevin Taylor and the gang at Nicois (815 17th Street), which marks its one-year birthday this month, have decided that the easiest and most painless way to get through this summer's drought is to drink more wine. To wit, they've introduced their bottomless wineglass promotion where, throughout the month of August, $35 gets you a three-course prix fixe menu and seven bottomless glasses of vino, including a Cambria Katherine's Vineyard Chardonnay, Tepusquet Vineyard Syrah and more. The menu looks fantastic, the wine list quite interesting, and you just can't beat the price.


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