There goes the neighborhood: Even when the restaurant is as good as the Washington Park Grille or Mead St. Station (see review, previous page), some neighbors don't care to send out the Welcome Wagon when a moving van pulls up and starts unloading an eatery in their vicinity. Two issues seem to cause the most friction: liquor licenses and parking.
The parking crunch has created considerable tension in Cherry Creek North with the impending addition of a Brick Oven Beanery at 250 Detroit Street. The original incarnation of this popular home-cooking joint (affectionately referred to as BOB's) was at 1007 East Colfax; it closed last summer after ten years in business. There's another BOB's at 5240 South Wadsworth Boulevard in Littleton--but while that location has plenty of parking, Cherry Creek does not. And restaurateurs have been showing up in force at meetings of the Cherry Creek Business Improvement District's design advisory board to protest the 140-seat BOB's planned for their neighborhood, arguing that the already congested area cannot support another eatery without added parking. Among the protesters: Mel Master from Mel's Bar & Grill, Adde Bjorklund from Bistro Adde Brewster and a contingency from Chinook Tavern.
"The thing is, we're not against the very professional, well-run operation that owns the Beanery or the restaurant itself," Master says. "The bottom line is that Cherry Creek has a horrendous parking problem, and putting in a completely new place is just going to add to that. People are going to get tired of fighting to park, and they're going to start going elsewhere to eat, which is just going to hurt all of us."
Ed Hoagland, president of American Classic Beaneries, the Denver group that owns the Beanery chain, agrees there's a problem but says he and his partners have addressed it as best they can. "First of all, you have to know that we are not required to do anything about parking," Hoagland says. "Under the zoning in effect right now, buildings under 6,200 square feet do not have to have parking. We're coming in at around 5,000 square feet.
"But we want to be a good neighbor," he adds. "So we have signed a temporary lease for 28 parking spaces that will specifically be in the Brick Oven's name." Master acknowledges that this move was a friendly gesture, but he says it's only a Band-Aid fix. To which Hoagland retorts: "Ask Mel about his new venture and where the parking's going to be for that."
Hoagland's referring to Starfish, the seafood cafe Mel and his wife, Janie Master, will open at the end of February in the spot at 300 Fillmore that had been occupied by Cafe Iguana. "That's a sixty-seat restaurant that was already there," Master replies. "They're putting the Beanery in a building that had no food offered whatsoever."
Hoagland maintains--and he's probably right--that many of the customers who'll take advantage of BOB's low prices and down-home food are employed by Cherry Creek businesses, already park in the neighborhood, and can't afford to eat at the higher-end joints that have proliferated in the area. But there's no doubt that other Beanery fans will be driving to the restaurant.
"I don't think anyone's really pointing fingers or trying to blow this up and cause trouble," Master says. "We're not upset with the Beanery; we're upset at the way this area has been developed. This is something that should have been taken care of long before now."
The Denver City Council is considering an ordinance mandating that all new restaurants in Cherry Creek provide one parking space for every 300 square feet of building. But anyone who's tried to find a place to park in Cherry Creek on a Friday evening knows that the measure is too little, too late. "If any more restaurants come in here, we're doomed," Master says. "So this ordinance isn't going to help much. Think the people who live behind us would give up their houses to make one huge parking lot?"
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Doubtful. In fact, Cherry Creek residents recently fought hard to block Hops Grill & Bar, which is scheduled to take over the now-closed Garcia's at 149 Steele sometime in June. When part owner Joe Timberlake, a Steak & Ale and TGIFridays veteran and restaurant consultant for such locals as Bennett's Pit Bar-B-Que, went to finalize the Hops deal with a few former Steak & Ale buddies, he found that microbreweries were on the Business Improvement District's list of no-nos for the area. "They allow adult cinemas," Timberlake notes, "but not microbreweries." Timberlake and company gained a few supporters on city council who were willing to rewrite the wording, but then found themselves confronted by numerous neighborhood groups--including one from the Country Club area--who essentially told the Hops folks to get out of town.
"We had to meet with all of these groups and explain the concept," Timberlake says. "It was a fight to the finish, but we won." In the process, they opened the door for other microbreweries to venture into Cherry Creek North--not that Timberlake thinks that will happen anytime soon. "They're going to have to fight the same fight we did," he says. "And I don't think these organizations will back down for the second one."
Meanwhile, over in Capitol Hill, the owners of the former Ogden Cafe, at 1076 Ogden, have taken steps to ensure that the crowd they attract doesn't offend their neighbors. Jin and Mercy Lee have changed the name to the oddly spelled Barricuda's and reworked the menu to include more higher-end items and fewer burritos. Look for filet mignon and oysters Cassandra, slightly raised prices and a more extensive wine list. "I think the intention was to keep out the riffraff," says one employee. "The burritos and $3 meals were bringing in some unsavory characters, and that was turning our regulars off." It probably wasn't helping waitstaff tips, either.
One of downtown Denver's true neighborhood restaurants, City Spirit Cafe, at 1434 Blake Street, celebrates its tenth anniversary on Valentine's Day. Special lunch and dinner menus will highlight the capabilities of City Spirit's renovated kitchen (including a new pizza oven); there will also be music (cello at lunch, blues singer Cathy Burns upstairs and salsa downstairs during dinner), a fashion show and an auction of City Spirit relics. And everyone who walks in the door February 14 will get a piece of City Spirit--in the form of a funky, specially commissioned tile. Also celebrating its tenth birthday this month: Kokoro, with outlets at 2390 South Colorado Boulevard and 1600 California Street. This purveyor of fast Japanese food continues to bowl over its fans.