Restaurants Continue to Close Even as Outdoor Dining Season Hits

Meadowlark Kitchen's burger is gone for good.
Meadowlark Kitchen's burger is gone for good. Danielle Lirette
A few metro-area towns enacted outdoor expansion policies quickly over the past few weeks to help restaurants increase seating capacity. In Boulder, some streets around the Pearl Street Mall were closed to motor vehicles by the last weekend in May, allowing eateries to spill out onto the sidewalk without endangering pedestrians. This week, Golden, Littleton and Arvada closed off some of their downtown streets for the same reason, creating community spaces for safe shopping, dining and drinking. And Englewood recently eased its open-container rule for the sidewalks of the city's downtown stretch on South Broadway, giving bars like the Englewood Grand and Mick Mullen's Irish Pub one more way to increase revenue.

But in Denver, things have been slower. While there were street closures in some densely populated neighborhoods earlier in the spring, those were to provide more space for pedestrians, not restaurant patios. Possibilities such as closing off Larimer Street between 14th and 15th streets, or East 12th Avenue at Madison Street, for example, have not come to fruition. And very few restaurants have received permission from the city to expand their patios.

As of Friday, June 12, the Denver Department of Excise and Licenses had received more than 500 applications for expanded outdoor seating, but only about 40 (some with liquor licenses, some without) have received approval. It's great to see Coohills setting up tables on the old railway bridge over Cherry Creek (where they've hosted summer music concerts in years past), but the sum total is well short of turning Denver into one big outdoor patio that many business districts and restaurant owners envisioned a month ago, when the application form went online on the City of Denver website.

click to enlarge In previous years, Coohills has packed the railway bridge over Cherry Creek with music fans, but this year patio tables will be spread out for dinner guests. - COOHILLS
In previous years, Coohills has packed the railway bridge over Cherry Creek with music fans, but this year patio tables will be spread out for dinner guests.
Numbers from the Colorado Restaurant Association's most recent member survey, released late June 12, indicate that it may not be enough. Nearly 80 percent of restaurants around Colorado report that they're running at less than 50 percent capacity, even with outdoor seating. And while 90 percent say that their municipalities have offered the opportunity to increase outdoor seating, only 27 percent have actually been able to expand. The May survey found that restaurants need to hit 75 percent capacity in order to survive more than three months, but only 5 percent of those polled say that expanded patios will allow them to reach 75 percent.

This past week alone was a tough one for restaurants, as multiple eateries announced that they wouldn't be reopening at all. Joe and Peggy Romano, owners of the Med, Brasserie Ten Ten and Via Perla in Boulder, announced that they had closed all three of their restaurants; the Med had made it through 27 years of business before the coronavirus pandemic hit. "With the new economic pressures that the hospitality industry is now facing, we simply cannot continue to run and operate our restaurants with the level of quality and service that we are committed to providing, and that our guests have rightly come to expect," they stated.

And Denver lost one of its best burgers when Meadowlark Kitchen called it quits on Larimer Street.

Here's our complete list of closings from the past week:

Restaurants Closing This Week*
Brasserie Ten Ten, 1011 Walnut Street, Boulder
The Cereal Box, 5709 Olde Wadsworth Boulevard, Arvada
Cinna Box, 2145 East 120th Avenue
Costa Vida Fresh Mexican Grill, 7450 West 52nd Avenue, Arvada, and 9135 East Northfield Boulevard
Meadowlark Kitchen, 2705 Larimer Street
The Med, 1002 Walnut Street, Boulder
Nick's Diner, 3743 Federal Boulevard
Punch Bowl Social Stapleton, 3120 Uintah Street
Rubio's Coastal Grill, six metro Denver locations
There..., 3254 Navajo Street
Via Perla, 901 Pearl Street, Boulder

*Or earlier, and not previously reported

Do you know of any other closings that aren't on our list? Let us know in the comments, or send an email to [email protected].
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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