The Blue Bonnet is about to celebrate its fiftieth anniversary. That's a long time for a restaurant to last on the Denver dining scene, much less stay in the same family's hands for all those years. But the Blue Bonnet's history stretches back even further: The original spot on South Broadway opened shortly after Prohibition ended, and its owner had Texas roots, which explains the name — even though the bar was far from a delicate flower.
When Arlene and Philip Mobell bought the Blue Bonnet in July 1968, the joint was so rough that "my father wouldn't let me come in," remembers daughter Marci Rosenberg. But as the Mobells turned the Blue Bonnet into more of a restaurant, and then a Mexican restaurant, all that changed. When her parents retired, Marci and her brother Gary started running the place, with plenty of help from general manager Chris Becker and longtime employees. Marci counts four staff romances that blossomed into marriages; at one point, three generations of one family were working in the kitchen.
There have been plenty of other changes at the Blue Bonnet over the past fifty years. The location, for example: In 1994, it moved from its original spot next to the long-gone Montgomery Ward building to its current home at 457 South Broadway, where the Mobells could own the building. They were careful to make the new place look like the old one, but this spot had something the original didn't: a patio.
That patio has become a popular place to hang out on a sunny spring day in Denver (or a snowy one, for that matter, when the cover is up) over a house margarita. Make that a Phil House Margarita, since the recipe was created by the late Philip Mobell, though it's been altered a bit to focus on all-fresh ingredients. And you can also now order a flight of margaritas, in flavors that range from prickly pear to jalapeño.
The menu has gotten updates, too. Head chef Luis Galvez, who started at the Blue Bonnet 24 years ago as a dishwasher, has spearheaded the creation of a gluten-free menu, and also added newer items like street tacos, some of them inspired by his mother's own cooking in Mexico. But many of the old favorites remain; the regulars want their chimis, Marci points out.
And they can get them at a bargain price next week. From April 16 through April 22, the Blue Bonnet will be celebrating its fiftieth anniversary by offering a series of entrees for half price. On Monday, April 16, the carne asada burrito is just $7. On April 17, street tacos are $2 all day (try the tongue). On April 18, the chile relleno dinner will set you back just $7; ditto for the carnitas plate on April 19 and the stuffed poblanos on April 20. And, yes, there are deals on chimis next weekend: steak on April 21, chicken on April 22, each just $6.50.
While the anniversary highlights old favorites, the Blue Bonnet isn't standing still. That patio will soon add a lounge area; the private dining area that was once a pool area has added more space for events. With so much happening in Denver's restaurant scene, notes Marci, "You have to keep up."
And keep on keeping on. Stop by and raise a glass (preferably filled with a Phil's marg) to the Blue Bonnet at fifty.
The Blue Bonnet isn't the only Mexican mainstay in Denver that's made it to fifty; we're compiling a list of these landmarks. Know of one? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or post a comment.