One of downtown's most ambitious construction projects in years is nearing completion: McGregor Square will open this spring, with hundreds of thousands of square feet of new retail, hotel, office and condo space right across the street from Coors Field. But despite the development's forward-thinking approach to urban design, several of the food and drink attractions are coming from surprisingly familiar names in the Denver dining scene.
Among the planned openings over the next month or two are a boutique hotel from Denver company Sage Hospitality Group, a new concept from Smashburger founder Tom Ryan, and a second location for family-style Italian eatery Carmine's on Penn.
McGregor Square is named after late Colorado Rockies president Keli McGregor, who passed away in 2010, and takes over the former West Lot on Wazee Street between 19th and 20th streets, along with a portion of Wynkoop Plaza, known for its commemorative bricks, its bridge connecting to the E gate at Coors Field, and artist Lonnie Hanzon's "Evolution of the Ball" sculpture. (Most of the bricks, which were originally sold to raise money for art installations at the ballpark, have been relocated, while "Evolution of the Ball" remains in storage.)
Appropriate to the area, Ryan and business partners Brooks and Rick Schaden (Rick is better known for his controversial involvement in Quiznos than his deals with Ryan) are opening a sports bar called Tom's Watch Bar. "We're morphing our Tom's Urban concepts," Ryan explains, noting that the new bars are being rolled out at locations near "destination-based sports and entertainment venues."
While other Tom's Urban addresses around the country have been or will soon be converted to Tom's Watch Bars, this is the first new build for the concept. It will boast a 360-degree viewing room with more than 100 screens, a giant stadium screen, and customizable options for guests to experience televised sports of every kind all day. Outdoor screens will also take the viewing experience to the bar's patio overlooking McGregor Square's main plaza, as well as onto a second-floor deck. While indoor seating will be limited for now by COVID-based restrictions, there will be well over 200 seats outdoors. Customers will be able to download an app that lets them listen to whichever sports broadcast they want, so they don't have to put up with noise from a game they're not watching.
Each Tom's Watch Bar will have a menu designed for its region, Ryan says; in Denver, you can expect boneless Nashville hot chicken served on corn pancakes with maple-pecan butter, a prime rib sandwich on a brioche bun, deep-dish nachos, and s'mores served with cookie dough.
Considering Ryan's experience building national and international restaurant brands, Tom's Watch Bar seems like a safe bet for McGregor Square (even if Tom's Urban 24 didn't work out too well eight blocks away in Larimer Square). But how will a classic neighborhood Italian eatery translate to a new setting? Brad Ritter, owner of the 26-year-old Carmine's on Penn since 2006, says his customers have long been asking for another location — and he'll start satisfying that demand on or around May 1. "From the beginning, we were open to the idea of expansion," he notes, "and then I got a tap on the shoulder."
Colorado Rockies owner, chairman and CEO Dick Monfort is the developer behind McGregor Square, and Ritter says the organization reached out to him about opening a new Carmine's in the project. "To tell you the truth, I think I almost talked them out of it," Ritter jokes. "It has been a pleasure to work with the team; they've been very patient with me during a very difficult time."
Ritter says he's been "standing on my head for the past year" trying to keep his restaurant open through changing restrictions and threat levels during the pandemic, but the opportunity to bring Carmine's to a new audience proved to be a great way to focus on the future.
Carmine's on McGregor Square will be similar in size to the original restaurant at 92 South Pennsylvania Street. "We have subdivided it somewhat into separate dining areas to help with the noise level," he says, adding that there will also be "quite a bit of glass facing the plaza" and a patio with about 25 seats.
The food won't stray too far from the successful formula that has made Carmine's a popular neighborhood joint for people all over Denver. "Family-style Italian is what we're known for and what the developers wanted," Ritter notes. "We've been working with our chefs on new ideas, but mostly it will be very familiar."
One new aspect will be lunch, which will include smaller servings, sandwiches (if you've been to Little Carmine's next door to Carmine's on Penn, you'll know about these) and other dishes designed to get people in and out quickly, or even to take to a Rockies game.
McGregor Square won't be just for locals and baseball fans, though; Sage Hospitality's Rally Hotel will open on March 25 with 176 rooms, a rooftop pool and several restaurant options, including the Rally Bar and the Grandstand. A third dining concept has yet to be revealed. Sage already runs several other boutique hotels in town with top-notch bars and restaurants (operated by Sage Restaurant Concepts), including Urban Farmer and the Cruise Room at the Oxford Hotel, Poka Lola Social Club and Kachina at the Maven, and the recently closed Hearth & Dram (a COVID casualty) at the Hotel Indigo.
McGregor Square will also host a new Tattered Cover Bookstore (which is relocating from its timeworn but cozy home at 1628 16th Street), as well a yet-to-be-named food hall and fine-dining restaurant.
The crack of the bat will soon echo across the thick turf of Coors Field, and someday, purple-clad crowds will return to the ballpark and its surrounding blocks. But things will be a little quieter this spring — making for a great time to get the lay of the land at McGregor Square.