City Closes Sam's No. 3 Over Outdoor Seating Violation

Sam's No. 3 is temporarily closed by the city.
Sam's No. 3 is temporarily closed by the city. Danielle Lirette
These have been difficult weeks for restaurants, as owners scramble to replace revenue lost when dining rooms were closed to comply with Colorado's Level Red restrictions on November 20. Many establishments have been erecting temporary outdoor seating areas or bolstering their existing patios to keep customers out of the elements while attempting to adhere to state regulations on what's considered indoors or outdoors.

Sam's No. 3, at 1500 Curtis Street downtown, one of Denver's most celebrated diners and one of our 100 Eat Here picks for 2021, has been shut down over what it says was confusion over air circulation rules on its partially enclosed patio. On Thursday, December 10, a Public Notice of Order to Close from the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment was posted on the front door of the diner stating that the facility is "not compliant with Colorado's Safer at Home public health order issued on April 26, 2020."
click to enlarge
A notice from the City and County of Denver states that Sam's No. 3 is closed until further notice.
Courtesy of Sam's No. 3

DPHE media relations manager Tammy Vigil provided this explanation for the closure: "They were allowing patrons to dine in an area classified as indoor. The structure is permanent so they were not able to come into compliance with the public health order, with two non-adjacent sides open for proper air flow. If a business is closed based on non-compliance, the business must submit a mitigation plan to be reviewed by the department in order to reopen."

While Sam's remains closed, the Armatas family, who founded Sam's in 1927, added their own note below the city's placard, reading:

To our Sam's No. 3 Fans!

The City and County of Denver has shut us down for serving four tables in our temporary revocable permitted patio due to, in their opinion, improper air flow, on our patio. To be clear — Sam's had sought guidance in regards to proper air flow. (We've actually been pretty good about seeking guidance and trying to be ahead of the curve during the entire pandemic. We take your safety seriously.)

The City and County stated that the air flow was not compliant with the state's definition. So — rather than guide us through the correct way — they shut us down. No warnings. No further guidance. Just a ticket and "Hey — you have to shut down."

Sam's would like to thank you for so many great years downtown. We hope that one day we may be able to open up again and continue our family's legacy.

In the meantime — be kind to one another. Be safe. And if you have a minute to do so —

Call the Governor's office. 303-866-2471
Call the Mayor of Denver. 720-865-9000 or 720-865-9090

Tell them how these unjust policies and off the cuff shut-downs are destroying, not only this industry, but people's ability to pay bills and survive.
Sam Armatas, grandson of the Sam in the diner's name, doesn't believe his restaurant did anything wrong, and says that the outdoor structure is considered temporary (he pays annual fees on it). "We did have non-adjacent doors open; we had airflow," he adds. Armatas is hoping to have the notice reversed rather than go through a hearing; he says that he's waiting to hear back from the city about that possibility. All told, Sam's No. 3 currently has only four tables with fourteen total seats outside, so even when allowed to operate these, it's only a fraction of the restaurant's normal indoor capacity.

The Armatas family also operates Sam's No. 3 locations at 435 South Cherry Street in Glendale and 2580 South Havana Street in Aurora, both of which are currently open for to-go and outside eating. Sam Armatas opened his diner on Curtis Street 93 years ago, and while that building is long gone, his son, Spero, and his grandsons, Alex, Patrick and Sam, re-launched the business in Aurora in 1998 and then returned to Curtis Street with the current Sam's No. 3 location in 2003.

So far this year, the Department of Public Health and Environment has issued 15,670 COVID-related warnings to businesses (not just restaurants and bars), 2,440 of which were mask-related only. Just under 250 citations have been issued, and 21 placards announcing closures have been posted; fourteen of the cited businesses have already reopened.

Along with Sam's No. 3, South Broadway Country Club, Pho & Bar, La Jaula Sports Bar, What the Pho and Horizon Bar were also recently placarded and closed for serving "indoors" (or in enclosed outdoor areas considered to be indoors by inspectors) in the wake of the November 20 dining room closures, although What the Pho has since reopened.
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Mark Antonation is the former Westword Food & Drink Editor. In 2018, he was named Outstanding Media Professional by the Colorado Restaurant Association; he's now with the Colorado Restaurant Foundation.
Contact: Mark Antonation