Are stairs a stumbling block to a successful restaurant?

In my next review, I explore a restaurant that's above grade. Despite how that sounds, the term has nothing to do with caliber. "Above grade" is architectural speak for spaces that are above ground. "At grade" is the term for street level and "below grade" is, well, you get it.

All of which got me wondering: How does a flight of stairs impact a restaurant's chances of success?

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For insight, I turned to Denver-based restaurant consultant John Imbergamo. Not being at street level "is a bit of a hindrance to visibility," he explains. What's more, he says, there's "somewhat of a psychological barrier in going downstairs to eat. Unless the physical space has really high ceilings, people feel less comfortable and closed in."

Not that a restaurant above or below street level is doomed to fail. Osteria Marco and Green Russell are both down a flight of stairs, as was the Manhattan Grill, a LoDo standby for many years.

Over in Cherry Creek, the wildly successful Mel's Bar and Grill was down a few stairs, and for years diners at the nearby Egg Shell had to contend with steps -- though when this popular breakfast joint moved to the former Mel's spot on Fillmore Street, it left most of the steps behind. But Cherry Creek's Mici and The Hawt Dog & Sausage Eatery are both above grade.

And it was the view gained from being up not one but four flights of stairs that made the old Fourth Story so special. (Remember the view from those southwest-facing windows?) Malls and hotels have success stories involving stairs, too, but these feel like exceptions, not the norm.

"Location," sums up Imbergamo, "is something that can always be cured by a great restaurant."

Will the above-grade spot I review this week be great enough to do so? Find out just how great it is when the review is posted tomorrow.


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Gretchen Kurtz has worked as a writer for 25 years; during that time she's stomped grapes in Napa, eaten b'stilla in Fez, and baked with Buddy Valastro, aka the Cake Boss. Her work has appeared in publications including Boulevard (Paris), Diversion, the New York Times and Westword. Our restaurant critic since 2012, she loves helping you decide where to eat and drink tonight.
Contact: Gretchen Kurtz