Dan Landes and his partners had just closed on their purchase of the Campus Lounge on September 28, and Landes was ready for a beer. But first, he had to make something clear: The Campus Lounge, a seventy-year-old watering hole at 701 South University Boulevard, will not go vegetarian, much less vegan.
This despite the fact that Landes has found great success as the owner of vegetarian restaurants, starting with WaterCourse Foods, which he founded almost twenty years ago (it has since moved to East 17th Avenue and was sold to an employee last year), then City, O' City, which now occupies the original home of WaterCourse at 206 East 13th Avenue and has become a major gathering place for Capitol Hill.
The renovated Campus Lounge will be a neighborhood place, too — but one designed for a different neighborhood, one geared to the residents of Bonnie Brae, Washington Park and nearby areas. "The goal is the same at City, 'O City," Landes says. "We're going to be a place where people gather."
To help draw them in, Landes is planning to introduce a bistro-style concept with “incredible food – but in a dive bar,” Landes says. To-go meals will be emphasized — think fried chicken with three sides — and they're considering delivery. And meat will definitely be on the menu — but customers will know that the meat has been sourced right, since Landes's team will work closely with ranchers and other producers. “That's not greenwash," he says. "That's just what we do.”
Brendan Doyle, the former exec chef at City, O' City, will be coming back from New York City to take over the kitchen; he shares Landes's vision for the Campus Lounge. So do their partners in the venture, who chose Landes as the right operator for the place.
“Dan and his partner share our passion to serve communities and understand neighboring spaces,” says Charlie Woolley, one of the “good” developers featured in “Developing Community,” our August 25 cover story, and founding principal and president of St. Charles Town Company, which put together the deal. “It's both an honor and a big responsibility to take on a project like the Campus Lounge. We want to restore the building, which has a past that precedes the Campus, and preserve the legacy that is the Campus.”
That past started in 1946, when the corner space opened as the Bel-Aire. Three years later, it turned into the Campus Lounge; Jim Wiste, a graduate of the University of Denver and former NHL player, purchased the building from Bill and Joe White in 1976. He closed the deal with Woolley, Landes and company on September 28, three days after the bar closed with a final blowout. “I'm ready to just be a customer,” says Wiste.
And when Wiste is ready to be a customer at his former watering hole, he'll find that Landes and Woolley have kept that big, U-shaped bar (though there may be a few high chairs next to the bar stools, at least until 8 p.m., for families who want to drop by), along with the convivial, low-key atmosphere. "We're not breaking down any walls," Landes says, although they are planning to update the bathrooms, put on some new paint, maybe even restore the big glass windows that used to front the Bel-Aire.
Other changes they'll determine as they go along, and collect suggestions from the neighbors. "This isn't for me to define, this is for you," Landes says. "I'll have the cold beer and the hot food...you do the rest."
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The partners are hoping to have the place open before Thanksgiving weekend — the ideal time for people who grew up in Denver, like Landes and Doyle, to congregate and toast a revived landmark. (Landes says he's already hearing from old friends excited about the purchase.)
"We'll prove ourselves one plate at a time," Landes promises. Oh, and one more thing he wants to make clear: They're keeping the Campus Lounge name — and the neon sign out front.
Now about that beer: Cheers to the Campus Lounge!