The Landmark development in Greenwood Village is a strange kind of place, a "European-style village," according to its website, springing from the ground like a weird, sci-fi bubble-city in the middle of what used to be a strip-mall-and-office-park nowhere. But not springing up too fast; the project has undergone numerous delays over the past few years, and several restaurants that were supposed to go into Landmark are seriously behind schedule.
Charlie Huang's luxe Chinese spot Jing was one of the first to get up and running. Since it opened last December, it's been a serious cougar-ville where I've listened to music-industry guys talking about beating up members of the press and eaten some nice apps at the ever-crowded bar. The Landmark theater has been doing some trade, too, although the food makes me long for the grub once dished up by Neighborhood Flix. A Hapa Sushi outpost opened on August 4 and is reportedly doing very well — its bottom line helped, no doubt, by sushi deliveries to Landmark residents. There's also a Ted's Montana Grill that always looks empty and a knock-off Irish pub called Slattery's that I wouldn't go in on a bet. But most of the rest of the U-shaped retail stretch comes off like a Potemkin Village with, instead of actual retail and restaurant properties, just the promise of those properties: storefronts closed and locked, their windows covered with pictures of happy people and al fresco dining, and the names of the businesses that will eventually occupy these spaces hung over doorways or sketched onto windows.
That, though, is supposed to be changing soon. Everest Development Co., which is behind the $160 million project, has finally completed the first phase of construction, which included the condo towers and the "retail village" portions of the fifteen-acre complex. And so Curt Sims has scheduled the opening of the Landmark Lime, third in his chain, for November 14. The decision to wait it out was a mutual one between him and the developer, Sims told me. "Based on the development, we tried to figure out the best time to benefit us both."
And the best time was once the towers were actually finished and many of the condos in them occupied (at anything from $600K to $2.5 million), giving businesses in Landmark a base of customers. "It's just common sense," Sims said, adding that even the October 10 opening of Comedy Works South was a nice bump, "driving a couple thousand people on the weekends" and filling up those sidewalks that, until this past month, had always seemed creepily devoid of life. "Now that it's done, there'll be traffic," he concluded. "It's all going to be good."
At least, that's the hope. But Comedy Works owner Wende Curtis included two restaurants with her club — the Southern-inflected Lucy, named after her French bulldog, and Lila B, the house bar, lounge and small-plates spot — precisely in hopes that she could keep those people in her place a little longer and the money in-house. She brought in chef Jeff Stoneking (who worked under Michael Mina in L.A.) to design Lucy's menu, and exec sous Frank Mnuk (who did time at the French Laundry) to cook it, the two of them offering not just a glancing take on Southern grub, but a serious (and high-tone) exploration that quickly devolves into a pasta-and-fusion board. There's grits with andouille sausage and tasso ham, pork belly with black-eyed peas and pickled mustard seed, then tuna with yuzu vin, duck confit with spaetzle and Tabasco-spiked short ribs with sweet onion jus. Lila B goes sorta the same way: beignets and sliders, lobster cappuccino, lobster corn dogs, confit spring rolls, and foie with port gastrique-braised cherries and chocolate mole — which scared me when I read it, but I will withhold judgment until I get a taste.
The partners from Jet Entertainment Group have dibs on a Landmark slot for their eleventy-seventh recent concept, Pizza Republica, with a January date on the books. And even Markus and Clemens Georg, the brothers behind Chinook (which left its longtime Cherry Creek location prematurely), are looking at opening soon, though they haven't yet set a date. So some day in the not-so-distant future, the question will turn from when Landmark will start to get some life into these storefronts into how it will find enough bodies to fill the dozen or so restaurants crammed in side by side. Because seriously? I've been there on Wednesday and Thursday nights (when places like Hapa stay open until midnight in anticipation of late-night trade) and have seen completely vacant sidewalks at 8 p.m.
According to Sims, that shouldn't be the case much longer. He's seeing move-ins every day as the condos start to fill, he told me. And every one of those move-ins is another captive customer who everyone involved hopes will never want to leave his little, imaginary European-style village for anything.
Leftovers: In the very real LoDo, Pizzeria Mundo (1312 17th Street) has had a run of bad luck. Most recently, the pizza joint has been rendered more or less invisible by construction scaffolding and tarps. I got manager and partner Josh Mason on the blower last week, and he told me that the mess has cut their business in "half, maybe more." And as if that weren't bad enough, it doesn't look like the work is going to be done until February or March, at the earliest.
The owners heard about the impending construction just three days after they'd signed the lease on their space. "A couple of days before, we saw people walking around taking pictures," Mason said, and when they asked what these shutterbugs were doing, they were told it was nothing — that maybe a prospective buyer had been found for the property or that space was being measured for putting in dumpsters. Instead, it was a major construction project — so major that Mundo had to close for a week at the end of September so that its windows could be redone.
What's really sad is that Mundo has been steadily improving its board, adding daily slices inspired by Pizzeria Bianco in Arizona (where Patrick Pool, brother of original owner John Pool, worked before coming to Denver to save Mundo) and a long menu of sandwiches made with super-local ingredients (most of the greenery taken directly from Denver Urban Gardens). Want to help the partners hang on? Head down to Mundo for a slice and a beer. Or better yet, six or eight whole pies and forty beers.
Things might be looking gloomy for Mundo — but they're downright black over at Via (1801 Wynkoop Street). The beautiful, upscale Italian restaurant in the Ice House served its last meal over the weekend and then closed its doors — just as Brasserie Rouge, Anita's Crab Shack and Cucina Cucina had done before in this space. By Tuesday, the phone was disconnected and even the website pulled down.
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I called owners Venanzio and Anthony Momo at their other restaurant, Cucina Colore in Cherry Creek, and while I couldn't raise either of them, I did get manager Jeff Johnson, who gave this brief explanation: "It was just the normal thing. Tough economic times."
While business at Via had been rockin' on the weekends, the place just wasn't filling Monday through Thursday. And that made the decision to close a foregone conclusion. But at least it's good news for patrons of Cucina Colore, since the Momos' executive chef, James Mazzio, will be there a lot more often now that he no longer has Via (or the above-mentioned Neighborhood Flix) to distract him. "I'd say you'll be seeing more of him around the kitchen now," Johnson told me.
Finally, it's not quite as bad as taking his $50,000 and running, but still, I added insult to injury in last week's Bite Me when I got Thanos Lemonidis's name completely wrong. In writing about his lawsuit against Chuck Cattaneo, who'd made a deal to sell him the downtown Brix and then sold it to someone else entirely, I referred to him as Stanos Christou. "It's okay," Lemonidis told me, saying that because Regas Christou is his uncle, "people make that mistake all the time."
But it's not okay. My apologies.