'Tis the season for change, and sure enough, last week came the sad news that we'll soon lose The Biscuit (719 East 17th Street), my pick for Best New Restaurant of 2000 (a choice that drew a lot of flak because the eatery didn't have a full kitchen) and certainly the town's most charming coffee shop, thanks to the hard work of Sean Kelly and his crew.
"For me, it never really happened, you know?" says Kelly, who also owns the always-packed Aubergine Cafe, at 225 East Seventh Avenue. "I knew back in June that it probably wouldn't make it, but we were getting such good reviews, I wanted to see how it went. But I made the decision to close it now so that it doesn't start to have any negative impact on Aubergine."
From the start, the Biscuit felt doomed, Kelly says: "I know it's easy to say that now, with hindsight and all that, but the truth is, I had to put a lot of money into it to get it going. There were all these expensive problems with the plumbing, and then the employees just weren't making money." Kelly hasn't discussed the Biscuit's imminent closing with his landlord yet; if he can't get out of the lease -- slated to run another eighteen months -- he may be forced to put a new concept in the space. "I'd really like to see someone come in here and put in a kitchen, the work for which is half done, and have a little thirty-seater," Kelly adds. "But we'll just have to wait and see. Whatever happens, at least I know that I don't have to get up every morning at quarter to five and try to make it work anymore.
"No money, no love," he says, laughing. "The writing was on the wall."
The coffee-shop fallout also hit the reformed Newsstand Cafe (630 East Sixth Avenue), which had been a source of neighborhood gossip -- and coffee -- for eight years. In early 1999, the Finster brothers, of Finster Bros. Bagel Cafe (5709 East Colfax Avenue) fame, bought the spot; they changed the name to Finster Bros. Sixth Avenue Cafe, hoping that would get rid of the bad taste that the previous owner had left with locals. But that fix wasn't enough, and this fall Kevin Reese took over, changing the name to Vicious Rumors. Reese also owns Petals & Stems, at 1217 East Ninth Avenue, and he now divides his time between that flower shop and the coffeehouse and deli, which still offers sandwiches, soups and salads but no longer stocks magazines and newspapers.
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More surprising closings this past year involved the dream babies of some very talented local chefs and restaurateurs. Chloe's (1201 East Colfax Avenue) made it only three months before chef/owner Jim Begbie gave up, and Rue Cler (5575 East Third Avenue) didn't last a full year before chef/owner Michael Degenhart threw in the kitchen towel. Not as much of a surprise was the fast disappearance of the overly ambitious Ombra (300 Fillmore Street), soon to become Campo de Fiori.
Much longer lived was Chao Praya Thai (5411 Quebec Street in Commerce City), which celebrated its 25th year before its tired owners finally succumbed. Another longtimer, The Normandy, a French restaurant started by Pierre Wolfe back in 1958, also closed this year. The building the Normandy had occupied since 1972, at 1515 Madison Street, now houses Rose's Cafe, which moved out of its longtime home at 731 Quebec Street. The address that could hold the record for the most restaurant tenants, though, is 2527 West 26th Avenue, which was the original home of La Loma. Over the last two decades, that black hole has gobbled up close to a dozen restaurants, most recently La Fabula, an upscale Mexican eatery that shut down a month ago. Gone, too, is a second La Fabula, which had opened just this fall at 1150 East Colfax Avenue. Also along Colfax, the York Street Cafe finally surrendered, with the Bank Bar and Grill taking its place at 2239 East Colfax.
LoDo's seen changes, too. At the start of 2000, Bella Ristorante sold its building at 1920 Market Street, where B-52 Billiards finally opened this month; the 1940s-'50s-themed eatery boasts B-52 Bomber seats and a bar that wraps around the nose of a KC-97. Bella isn't gone, however; it moved into Santino's old spot at 1939 Blake Street, and Santino's moved into the space recently vacated by Canino's Trattoria at 2390 South Downing Street. Bella also moved its second location from Park Meadows to the building that had housed Lamonica's Steak and Chop House (8770 East Arapahoe Road), which swore it would open elsewhere but hasn't been heard from since. Cucina! Cucina! closed its Park Meadows location, too, but it didn't even pretend it would reopen in Denver. (The first Cucina! Cucina!, which occupied a corner of the Ice House, at 1801 Wynkoop Street, closed late in 1999.)
But Cucina!'s failure to take Denver by storm hasn't deterred other chains from coming to town. Look for Gumbo's, a Texas-based company that specializes in Creole, Cajun and French food, to open next June in LoDo's Great Western Sugar Building. And in April, Tamayo will take over the coveted Larimer Square building that was home to Cadillac Ranch (1400 Larimer Street) for eight years; this import claims it will "redefine dining in Denver" by offering modernized Mexican food using French cooking techniques. Lots of luck.