Standing in front of a vibrant mural depicting famous Black residents of Denver, Ryan Cobbins describes his vision for the future of a small strip of Clarkson Street between 26th Avenue and 28th Street, at the heart of Five Points.
"This street is the perfect street," says Cobbins, a restaurateur who owns Coffee at the Point and is hoping to set up what would be Denver's first common consumption area for liquor. "Now when you’re looking at taking four, five, six of your friends out, each of them can enjoy whatever they like and then be able to sit in a safe space."
Cobbins and other business owners in the area are joining forces to temporarily close off that strip of Clarkson and set up a place where patrons of different businesses can eat and drink together. They'll be some of the first in line for the City of Denver's Liquor Common Consumption program, which is launching next month.
In November 2019, Denver City Council approved the establishment of a five-year pilot program for common consumption areas, which allow bar and restaurant patrons within a set vicinity to mingle with each other in a common space while holding drinks purchased at establishments within the area, rather than being limited to consuming them inside. The Denver Department of Excise and Licenses had planned to roll out the program in 2020, but the pandemic sidetracked those plans, and the department recently finalized the rules.
"I think we're going to see a lot of applications on June 1, and my best guess is we'll see the first common consumption areas pop up early fall," says Eric Escudero, a spokesperson for Excise and Licenses.
The Five Points common consumption area would include Spangalang Brewery, Welton Street Cafe, Rosenberg's Bagels and Delicatessen, 715 Club, Mimosas, Sherry's Soda Shoppe, and a sandwich shop and tequila and taco restaurant that are opening soon.
Cobbins already has the green light from the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure to close this strip of Clarkson in ninety-day spans through Denver's temporary outdoor patio expansion program, which the city set up during COVID and has extended through October 2022. The restaurants plan to set up chairs and tables and string up lights along the stretch.
"I don't think we're considering this as a permanent closure at this time," says Nancy Kuhn, a spokesperson for DOTI. "But if they're successful, it could be a possibility."
But Cobbins is confident that Five Points will be first. "I think we've got our ducks in a row," he says.
Denver is late to the game. In 2011, with Glendale officials leading the charge, the Colorado Legislature passed a bill that authorized municipalities to allow common consumption areas. In the decade since, cities such as Greeley, Black Hawk, Edgewater and Salida, among others, have enacted common consumption area regulations.
While Denver has taken its time coming up with a plan, officials stress that the city's common consumption program will not allow for the type of debauchery that can be seen in Las Vegas and Bourbon Street. Patrons will only be allowed to carry their drinks within the confines of the common consumption areas, and won't be able to stroll the streets of Denver with booze in hand.
Businesses interested in forming such areas in Denver must team up to form a promotional association and then apply for both a common consumption area license and an entertainment district designation. Under state law, an entertainment district is capped at 100 acres and must contain no fewer than 20,000 square feet of liquor-licensed establishments. While Excise and Licenses will handle the actual licensing of common consumption areas, Denver City Council will be in charge of approving entertainment district applications.
In addition to offering licenses for regular common consumption areas, which will last for a year and can be renewed annually, the city will also issue licenses for event common consumption areas, which will be good for fifteen days. These licenses will allow people attending an event to walk through the area and buy drinks from existing establishments rather than have to purchase alcohol from outside vendors, which is what Denver currently requires.