Before the year ended, it was name change number three for what was initially Zuma, then Z-Teca, and now...Qdoba. The locally grown big-burrito chain, which today comprises 49 corporate-owned and franchised sites across the country (remember when it was just three locations in Denver a few years back?), decided to switch again because the owners were tired of being confused with other restaurants, such as Z'Tejas. Now customers will just be...confused, since the new name -- pronounced Q-Dough-Ba -- is a rather "empty" one, as an employee at the Grant Street store puts it. Whatever, the moniker takes effect next week. "We wanted a name that would be unique," says marketing type Kelly Green. "We didn't want to be associated with other similar-sounding places. We just felt like it was time to be our own place."
But, hey, at least they still have a place. This past year saw many old favorites -- along with a few we can definitely live without -- call it quits. Chives American Bistro, at 1120 East Sixth Avenue, which any longtime Denver restaurant employee remembers fondly as the best place to get a late-night burger after a long day of demanding customers and crappy tips, is now the South American Piscos. And even before Mark Chaffee closed Chives, a relatively recent acquisition, he'd shuttered The Moondance, his original eatery at 1626 Market Street, because of "exorbitant rent." That's been a common complaint among restaurateurs this year, as all of the popular areas in town -- LoDo, Cherry Creek North, Pavilions, Park Meadows -- found stiff competition for space (not to mention customers). But the chains had no problem getting in: in LoDo, Buca di Beppo (1400 Market Street) is giving local family-style Italian eateries a run for their money, and the Colorado-based Rio Grande (1525 Blake Street) took over where the Firehouse Bar & Grill fizzled out. The former home of Sostanza (1701 Wynkoop) is set to become a Señorita's Cantina, which hails from Texas. And while Hi Ricky wasn't able to make it work at 1318 15th Street (it was competing with other Asian eateries nearby: P.F. Chang's, at 1415 15th Street and Busara at 1435 Market Street), its replacement, the Texas-based Sambuca Jazz Café, seems to have found its niche by serving jazz on the side. Meanwhile, Café Odyssey (500 16th Street) and other goofball concepts such as the Hard Rock Cafe are still going strong at the Denver Pavilions.
Was it pressure from such spots that forced the Larimer Group to close Champion Brewing Co. (1442 Larimer Square) and Mexicali (1453 Larimer Square)? No one's saying what the eight-year-old brewpub will turn into, but Mexicali is slated to become Del Mar, a grilled-seafood eatery whose owner hails from California. And miles away from the Larimer Square home base, the Larimer Group also shut down its Starlight Cantina and Pizzeria, at 4100 East Mexico Avenue; the spot is now a Lazy Dog Sports Bar, sister to the three-year-old Dog in Boulder.
Other local heavy hitters were able to make some headway, though. Kevin Taylor keeps trying: His two Hotel Teatro offerings (Restaurant Kevin Taylor and Jou Jou, both at 1106 14th Street) are doing well enough, and even if Brasserie Z (815 17th Street) didn't make it, Taylor made the right move by replacing it with a revamped Zenith. And after Radek Cerny opened Radex (100 East Ninth Avenue) to rave reviews here -- we gave it the Best New Restaurant award -- he then confounded the locals by opening another place, Le Chantecler, in Niwot (at 210 Franklin Street), of all places.
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Who else did we lose? La Coupole (2191 Arapahoe Street) finally gave it up, as did the also French (that hurts, 'cause we don't have many to begin with) Pour la France!, at 730 South University (the space is now 730 South). And Bali Island (2637 West 26th Avenue), our only Indonesian eatery, moved out with promises of reopening somewhere else -- but so far, the owners haven't found a site they can afford.
Two longtime Denver places couldn't be kept down: While Trail Dust Steakhouse at 7101 South Clinton in Englewood burned, it will be back; La Casa de Manuel got burned by the landlord (after forty years, it was shoved out of its storefront at 2010 Larimer Street), but it's up and running down the street at 3158 Larimer.
The survival of one last spot remains a mystery. So let's start the new year right: E-mail me (firstname.lastname@example.org) your prediction of how long the lame Dante Bichette's Sports Bar and Grill, at 700 East 17th Avenue, is going to last with its namesake now living in Cincinnati. If your answer is correct (down to the date of closure), I'm buying you dinner.
That's a win-win, don't ya think?