RIP Cliff Young, Who Refined Fine Dining in Denver in the ’80s

RIP Cliff Young, Who Refined Fine Dining in Denver in the ’80sEXPAND
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It's the end of an era: Restaurateur Cliff Young passed away at the start of the Memorial Day weekend.

In the ’80s, Cliff Young was synonymous with fine dining in Denver. But it was a new kind of fine dining for this city, where you couldn't get fresh fish or a cappuccino in town at the time, Young once pointed out. That changed when he opened the eponymous Cliff Young's in 1984, and it quickly became one of the hottest restaurants in town — a beautiful space at 700 East 17th Avenue that was full of beautiful people eating beautiful food.

The elegant, articulate Young was born in Fruita, went to Grand Junction High, then Colorado College; while there, he worked as a busboy at the legendary Penrose Room at the Broadmoor, then as a waiter. After graduate studies in Virginia, he returned to Colorado and restaurants. He worked at Le Profil, another legendary restaurant, for a decade, and did a few more stints at downtown Denver eateries, including Hudson's, before opening Cliff Young's.

When that run ended in '93, Young opened a few more eateries, including Napa Cafe on East Colfax Avenue and Bibelot, in the Larimer Square spot that once held Le Profile. But he ultimately wound up following his nose — for fine wine — to France, where he bought an old manor house in Beaune that he turned into a restaurant and residence club, as well as the base for his wine-importing business.

But in 2009 he returned to  Denver, the town where Cliff Young's had revolutionized the dining scene 25 years before, to be close to family and transform the steakhouse attached to the Diamond Cabaret into CY Steak — with a fleur de lis between Young's initials to signify what a little French flair can do for a steakhouse connected to a strip club.

"I missed Denver; I missed the United States; I missed the energy of America," he explained. "In France, I'd never have the opportunity I do at the Diamond."

After close to a decade, Young left CY Steak, but he continued to consult with other restaurateurs — including his son, Zach, who opened Bar Red around the corner at 437 West Colfax Avenue — and think about bringing another French restaurant to Denver. Something special, like everything else he gave this city. He thought it might work on Broadway. And he was also exploring the possibilities of cooking with cannabis, and had ideas for a series of dinners at the Metlo.

During a 2013 interview, Bill Husted asked Young what he wanted on his tombstone.

"Keep moving," he replied.

But the pandemic put a halt to all of those plans,  and Cliff Young passed away at the age of 75.

Au revoir.

We'll share more memories of Cliff Young tomorrow. Feel free to offer yours in a comment or via cafe@westword.com.

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