The past two years have seen unprecedented growth in Denver's restaurant scene, but with growth and change comes the painful loss of the old and familiar. This year saw several longtime favorites shutter after decades of delighting guests, but a few shining new stars also called it quits, leaving us after just a few brilliant bites. Here's a list, in alphabetical order, of the ten places that have closed (so far) in 2015 that we'll miss the most — and what's coming to fill their shoes.
Bang was a forerunner in the upscale comfort-food movement.
3472 West 32nd Avenue
When Bang opened in 1996, meatloaf, roast chicken and other comfort-food classics weren't the territory of intimate, neighborhood restaurants, and the boundary between fine dining and casual fare was still clearly delineated. The menu at the tiny, minimalist eatery featured ripe, seasonal tomatoes, house-made ketchup and real whipped cream on the desserts, putting the kitchen nearly a decade ahead of now-ubiqutious locavore and DIY trends. But what is innovative one year in a fast-moving restaurant scene gets taken for granted the next; Bang closed this past summer after serving lovingly made eats to the West Highland neighborhood for nearly twenty years. As of now, the space has not been leased and remains vacant.
The Cork House Broker brought together several threads of Denver restaurant history.
9) Cork House Broker
4900 East Colfax Avenue
The Cork House Broker wasn't a longstanding name on East Colfax; the building held that moniker for less than four years before it closed last March. But before that, Tante Louise had served French and European cuisine as far back as the early 1970s, before Ed Novak, owner of the Broker downtown, bought the place and renamed it the Cork House in 2005, in honor of original owner Corky Douglass. There was a continuum of talented chefs and upscale dining that transitioned from French to wine-bar fare to beefier steakhouse selections over the decades, but it was always recognized as a posh destination on an otherwise gritty stretch of Colfax. The restaurant, two conjoined buildings that were once single-family homes, was purchased by Vail acoustic-rock fixture Phil Long shorty after the Cork House closed. Long transformed the space into Red Octave, a combination Italian eatery, sports bar and shrine to the owner and his guitar-strumming buddies, which opened in September.
Elitch Lanes was a cornerstone of the Berkeley neighborhood.
8) Elitch Lanes
3825 Tennyson Street
Northwest Denver — the Northside to longtime residents — lost another favorite joint when this bar and bowling alley closed in May after more than sixty years in business. Even for those not from the neighborhood, Elitch Lanes was part of the experience of growing up in Denver, a cheap way to spend the evening with friends — and maybe sneak a first beer between frames. The building was sold to Natural Grocers, which will open another in the company's growing number of health-food markets on December 15. So the only lanes you'll see there are grocery aisles packed with organic foods and supplements. Turkey bowling, anyone?
Old-school burgers are getting harder and harder to find.
7) Griff's Burgers
742 South Broadway
Griff's was part of a chain of classic burger joints founded in 1960 in Wichita, Kansas. The company still runs a smattering of drive-through joints in Texas, New Mexico and Louisiana, but the Denver Griff's (and its sibling in Arvada that also shuttered) wasn't a part of long-term corporate plans. Value-based burger stands are becoming a thing of the past as beef eaters turn to more upscale alternatives, so while Griff's wasn't at the king of the burger hill in Denver, we'll miss the no-frills, budget meals and the starry-eyed clown on the bag. The red-roofed building on South Broadway is currently vacant.
Le Central serves thousands of first-date meals over the decades.
6) Le Central
112 East Eighth Avenue
Le Central served countless bowls of brothy mussels and bargain-priced lobster in its 34-year history. But owner Robert Tournier bid adieu in September, leaving fans of the rambling bistro — who formed lines down the block in the restaurant's last few days — to look for new Gallic haunts. Tournier retired and the building has been sold and could become another restaurant if the site is not redeveloped.
5) Lower48 Kitchen
2020 Lawrence Street
Lower48 Kitchen opened two years ago and became an immediate favorite, earning our Best New Restaurant award in 2014 for an innovative menu of small plates that featured technical wizardry while still highlighting the flavors and textures of top-quality ingredients. But on the fringe of hopping restaurant scenes in the Ballpark and RiNo neighborhoods, Lower48's small but loyal following wasn't enough to sustain it and the place closed in early November. While a permanent new tenant has not been announced, Spanish-inflected mobile burger kitchen El Toro the Tot has taken up residence, serving street-food-themed lunch and dinner through the end of the year.
4) Rosa Linda's Mexican Cafe
2005 West 33rd Avenue
We bestowed the Best Burrito award on Rosa Linda's in 1985, the year the place opened, and the family-owned Highland cantina continued to do us proud, serving those burritos — and other classic Mexican-American fare — for another thirty years. But the place was as well- known for the Aguirre family's annual Thanksgiving feast for the needy as it was for the grub, so it was sad to see the place close in October, just a few weeks away from another Turkey Day. Fortunately, the team at the Squeaky Bean took over where Virgil and Rosa Linda Aguirre left off, serving a holiday feast for 3,000 just a couple of miles away. While the Squeaky Bean's original home at the corner of 33rd Avenue and Tejon Street is now occupied by Jezebel's Southern Bistro & Bar, no plans have been announced for the Rosa Linda's space that occupies the rest of the building.
3) Rustic Tavern
5126 West 29th Avenue
The Rustic was one of the city's longest-standing bars at 58 years, and high on our list of the best dive bars in Denver. But octogenarian owner JoAnn Turner was ready to retire and sold the building last spring. After an extensive overhaul (especially to the bathrooms), the Rustic was transformed into the new home of Rise & Shine Biscuit Kitchen, which opened for breakfast and lunch on November 1.
2) Tom's Home Cookin'
800 East 26th Avenue
Tom Unterwagner and Steve Jankousky took a chance on a Five Points property in 1999 and opened Tom's Home Cookin' in a neighborhood ready for Southern cooking served with a side of good cheer. But what was once cheap real estate grew in value as Five Points slowly became a desirable part of town. The two sold the building and just last week closed the immensely popular kitchen that always featured lines out the door for every weekday lunch. There's no word yet on what will become of the building, but it's reportedly been purchased by the chef/owner of other eateries, so there's a good chance it will remain a restaurant.
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2134 Larimer Street
Chef/owner Ryan Leinonen's spare but nevertheless beckoning Scandinavian eatery closed in September after four years battling for business on Larimer Street. “I was living my dream, and I had a ton of fun doing it," Leinonen said at the time of closing. We still miss his pickled lake perch and smoked steelhead trout with sips of aquavit at the bar, so we look forward to what the chef has planned for after his sabbatical. The hot Ballpark property wasn't vacant long; the owners of Boulder's Aloy Thai are currently working on opening Aloy Modern Thai, a contemporary take on their more traditional original, in the space.