Calhoun: Wake-Up Call

What's Disappeared From Denver While You Stayed at Home?

You won't see crowds at Red Rocks for the foreseeable future...or even be allowed in.
You won't see crowds at Red Rocks for the foreseeable future...or even be allowed in. Nathan Thrift
As Denver reopens and slowly returns to normal...or whatever passes for normal while we’re still fighting coronavirus fever...will we recognize the city around us?

Today, May 5, Mayor Michael Hancock will reveal the rules that will guide Denver as the stay-at-home order is lifted at the end of May 8.

But we already know some of the sad realities. Civic Center Park is closed not just to Cinco de Mayo celebrations, but is off limits entirely for the foreseeable future, as is Red Rocks. Many of the familiar sights and sounds of summer will not reappear in town this year. No City Park Jazz, no Cherry Creek Arts Festival, no PrideFest (except a virtual version). To remind us of what we're missing, Visit Denver has launched #LoveThisCityDenver, a virtual celebration of the city. But is everything we love about this city still out there?

Some old standbys are already gone for good. After 74 years, the owners of the 20th Street Cafe decided to turn off the grills and retire, closing not only a great greasy spoon, but a chapter of Denver history, the post-World War II period when many Japanese Americans settled in this part of downtown. Eight blocks away, the Market has also shuttered; owner Mark Greenberg decided that this was a good time to retire, too. When Dana Crawford opened the shop back in 1978, Larimer Square was only a dozen years old and the Magic Pan on the corner did a sizzling business; in the four decades since then, this landmark block has become a true dining destination. But the Market’s departure isn’t the first recent loss, and it won’t be the last at Larimer Square, which was ending leases as it reimagined its future even before the pandemic hit.

The Market and the 20th Street Cafe won’t be the only restaurants wiped off the metro Denver map, either. Although their owners were able to plan their exits, other restaurateurs won’t be so lucky. Even assuming they can survive until eateries are allowed to reopen for dine-in customers, they won’t find it easy to comply with whatever safety regulations the city and state put in place and still cover their costs as consumers slowly return.

Other independent businesses that add so much to this city but already faced significant challenges are likely to find it tough going, too. The Tattered Cover will survive the pandemic, but faced with rising rents and wages, it decided to leave its longtime home on the 16th Street Mall for the new McGregor Square by Coors Field. You’ll still be able to buy a book in downtown Denver, but the experience simply won’t be the same as when you could grab a volume and a cup of coffee, then spend hours in the cozy confines of the Morey-Mercantile building, where the store opened a year before the Colorado Rockies moved into their new ballpark.

This city was already changing fast before COVID-19 hit, and although it feels like we’ve almost been in a state of suspended animation for the past seven weeks, not everyone has been sleeping. You might emerge into a Denver you barely recognize.

Consider this your wake-up call.

What are the classic spots you’d miss in this city? Let me know at
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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun