One of the new restaurants opening in Denver this year has old roots that stretch deep in the local dining scene. Chester Stephen Morey was a veteran of the Civil War who came to Colorado in 1872; he started a cattle business, then established the Denver sales headquarters of the Chicago-based wholesale grocery business Sprague, Warner & Company. In 1884, Morey founded what became one of the largest wholesale mercantile businesses in the West, and in 1896 he built the Morey Mercantile Building on 16th Street for $75,000 to house that business. In 1907, he acquired the Lee Building across the alley, building a second-floor passage between the two structures. On the first floor of his new acquisition, he installed sales offices for his Solitaire brand of food products; the second floor housed the cooks who tested recipes later published in the popular Solitaire High Altitude Cookbook. In 1928, the "Solitaire Cowboys" premiered on KOA radio to promote the company's products. There's more, lots more to the story -- and you can read it at solitairerestaurant.com, the website for Solitairethe restaurant moving into the former Highland's Garden Cafe spot.
Morey's great-great-grandson, Vail chef Mark A. Ferguson, is opening the restaurant with his wife, Andrea, and decided to honor the history of his family by naming it Solitaire.
You can still see some of that history downtown: The Tattered Cover has occupied the Morey Mercantile Building for two decades, and the second-story link to the Lee building next door is still there. That structure at 16th and Wazee streets today holds Lucky Pie Pizza and Blue Sushi Sake Grill. But for nearly fifteen years, the space was occupied by Dixons Downtown Grill, until it finally closed in 2011. And all the while, it had historic -- and inexplicable -- Solitaire signs etched in several windows.
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The Dixons legacy lives on at Racines, the sole surviving -- but thriving -- member of a homegrown group of restaurants that just celebrated its thirtieth anniversary. Read more about that here. A version of this story originally appeared in Cafe Bites, our weekly e-mail newsletter on Denver's drinking and dining scene. Find out how to subscribe here.