Old Spaghetti Factory gets a new lease on life

After forty years, the Old Spaghetti Factory at 1215 18th Street has gotten a facelift.

"Coming soon in Denver our new look!," promises the website of the chain that got its start in 1969, and today numbers forty restaurants across this country. "We will be remodeling this location. Please excuse our mess during the transition."

And excuse the fact that Monday and yesterday, the restaurant was closed entirely -- for the first time in its history. But it will definitely reopen at 5 p.m. today, promises Bob Martin, who was the opening department manager when Denver's Old Spaghetti Factory debuted back in 1972, and came in from the corporate office in Portland to oversee this renovation.

The reason for the upgrade? The company had signed a new lease, in the process giving up a back-corner banquet room, which meant the dining room area had to be redesigned. "And once we resigned the lease, it justified an expenditure of this magnitude," Martin says.

"We've redone the entrance, added new doors," he explains. "We put in new flooring. We have done a lot of work upgrading the furniture and the seating, put in quite a few light fixtures and reconfigured the bar area, which is much more conducive to dining."

Not including the bar area, the restaurant can still seat 360 people, but it has "a more intimate feeling," he says. "It's a better layout, better for us to operate."

They also brought in antiques from a company warehouse in Portland, and took much of what was already in the restaurant back to Portland for what Martin calls "recycling."

The next project: better signage -- not just for the restaurant (they're talking to the city about that), but for the 20,000 square feet of office space upstairs. A huge "for lease" sign on the outside of the building used to confuse would-be diners. "We fought that and fought that," Martin says. "I can't tell you how many people think we've been closed."

The renovation did not extend to the Old Spaghetti Factory's menu, and the massive bar wasn't touched, either. "It's a great old bar, with lots of history," Martin notes.

And the building it's in has a great history, dating back to 1889. But the noble structure that once housed Denver's power plant and cable car system was a candidate for the wrecking ball by 1970. "That was part of the Denver Urban Renewal District, and the plan was to tear down every single building in that district," recalls Joel Judd, now a state representative. "Dad, through no fault of his own, happened to president of Historic Denver at the time."

And when someone said he wanted to put a restaurant in the building, which had most recently been an automobile garage, "My dad went and looked at that building, and came to the conclusion that it was a perfectly good building," Joel Judd recalls. "He went to DURA to buy it, and they turned him down flat."

After his father threatened to hold a press conference in front of their door, DURA relented, and he went in with another member of Historic Denver to buy the building. Joel Judd spent the summer of 1971 driving a dump truck, hauling rubble away from the decrepit structure.

The Old Spaghetti Factory opened the next year. "The weekend of the grand opening, lightning hit the smokestack and knocked them out of commission," recalls Judd, whose family sold the building three years ago. But other than that early snafu, the restaurant was never closed -- until this week.

But that ends at five o'clock today. "We are on track," Martin promises. Which is all you can ask for a 121-year-old former cable car building.

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