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The view from the patio of the now-closed Campus Lounge.
The view from the patio of the now-closed Campus Lounge.
Brian Flynn

Reader: Everything Is Caught in a Changing Denver

The oft-repeated statistic is that one-third of all restaurants close in their first year; given that, half of the eateries currently open in the 700 South block of University display remarkable longevity: The Bonnie Brae Tavern and Saucy Noodle boast a combined 140 years of history; Bonnie Brae Ice Cream is 33.

But in rapidly changing Denver, there are no guarantees. The Campus Lounge, which Jim Wiste sold in 1976 after a successful forty-year run, just closed for the third time in as many years. And while a former restaurateur on this stretch calls it "the block that time forgot," current business owners worry that Denver residents are now forgetting about the block, too.

Readers have plenty to say about this block at the heart of the Bonnie Brae neighborhood. Says Monica:

 Sad. Bonnie Brae is such a landmark.

Explains Brandon: 

I personally avoid that area specifically because the parking situation is atrocious.

Replies India: 

Same here. Unfortunately, no parking = no business.

Notes  Chris: 

You can't sell enough Ice cream and pizza to offset the money being offered for the properties.

Comments Joe: 

There's no story here, must be a really slow news day. If you provide a good product and have a solid business plan, you'll attract customers and make money. If you don't provide a good product or have a solid business plan, you won't attract customers and you won't make money. That's how the free market works. There are hundreds of sports bars and Italian joints in the Denver metropolitan area. As the poor ones die out, we'll eventually be left with mostly good ones. That's evolution, that's progress, and it's a good thing.

Adds Teresa: 

Bonnie Brae Ice Cream is always packed because they deliver quality. Good food and a place to park are key. People will find a place to park if they love your product. There are just too many places to eat and drink in Denver these days. You have to deliver a high-quality experience.

Says Danielle: 

I grew up on the other side of Wash Park, but my school was just down the street. So many memories of eating at the Saucy Noodle and Bonnie Brae Tavern or going to the library and getting some ice cream on the way back. The Campus Lounge was one of the first bars I went to. Sad to see Denver changing so quickly; it doesn't see how special this block is. Support local family-run businesses as much as you can!

Concludes Jeff: 

Everything is caught in a changing Denver.

Brian Flynn talked to many of the restaurateurs still on the street. "We're not thriving," admits Saucy Noodle co-owner Erin Markham, who now runs the restaurant her father founded 55 years ago with her husband and business partner, Nathan Markham. "How do we bring back the old Bonnie Brae?"

There's a new restaurant right across the street: Brightmarten opened in the former home of 730 South in April 2018. "The fact that businesses have endured for so long on this block gives us incredible hope that we can one day become a staple of the community as well," co-owner Jared Riggs says, but he's taking a realistic view. "Denver is booming right now. It's challenging to be seen and heard in an environment that is constantly vying for the attention of the public."

What do you think about the restaurants on the 700 South block of University Boulevard? The changing Denver restaurant scene? Post a comment or email editorial@westword.com.

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