More than 250 restaurants and bars opened in metro Denver last year, some of them taking over vacancies caused by the closures of other establishments. But empty dining rooms and dark kitchens with stoves gone cold still dot the culinary landscape of the city, serving as a reminder that the food-service business is a tough one and that hard times can come at almost any time. Here are ten closed establishments still looking for new tenants.
2449 Larimer Street
There weren’t very many restaurant options on Larimer Street when Americatus opened more than five years ago; in fact, Denver’s snarky set was just beginning to show its annoyance for the RiNo moniker that was starting to give the neighborhood a new persona. The restaurant showed a dedication to handmade pasta and sausage up to the very end when it closed last June, despite the growing competition. A new restaurant — or even a bar — will have to be exceptional to stand out among its neighbors, with Super Mega Bien and Death & Co. moving into the new Ramble Hotel across the street this spring.
Black Eye Coffee Capitol Hill
800 Sherman Street
There’s a quiet zone in the Capitol Hill neighborhood north of Governor’s Park and the restaurants packed in around Seventh Avenue and Grant Street. Black Eye’s second location seemed like the perfect place for a coffee shop for neighbors, pedestrians and even commuters coming into downtown (if they could find a parking spot). The young and hip certainly filled the bar stools and plush booths at the two-year-old joint before it closed in October, but were they spending money or just whiling away the time on their mobile devices? Dinner at alter ego White Lies never really caught on, but the neighborhood is still in need of a casual hangout for a good cup of joe and inexpensive eats.
Brik on York
2223 East Colfax Avenue
A wood-fired pizza place with a well-rounded wine list and local live music seemed like a perfect fit for the eclectic stretch of East Colfax Avenue where Brik on York opened in July 2015. But things didn’t work out in the space that had once housed a watch repair shop and a matinee movie theater. Still, Colfax is booming, and neighbors like the Three Lions and Tacos Tequila Whiskey have shown staying power, so the block isn’t exactly a dead zone.
Chow Urban Grill
3570 East Colfax Avenue
Not too much farther east on Colfax from Brik on York, Chow Urban Grill moved into a renovated former garage called the Galaxie building that drew enough attention to win a Mayor’s Design Award in 2016. But a splashy facade was not enough to save the restaurant, and it closed in August after little more than a year in business. With the Humble Pie Store next door and Cerebral Brewing right behind it on Monroe Street, there’s still a niche there for a quality eatery to complement beer and pie.
112 East Eighth Avenue
Moving into the space previously occupied by a neighborhood restaurant for nearly 35 years is no easy task, but that’s what Clyde faced when it opened in 2016 after Le Central French Bistro closed there the previous year. The owners of Clyde did a good job of renovating the sprawling restaurant space with its many nooks and crannies, but Le Central fans were still in mourning, and nothing else would do in the space. Time heals all wounds, though, and perhaps someplace new can make a go of it — if the ghosts of a thousand French lobsters don’t drive away the business.
DJ’s 9th Avenue Cafe
DJ’s Berkeley Cafe
875 Lincoln Street
3838 Tennyson Street
Breakfast restaurants are big business in Denver, so it was a surprise (and a shame) to see both DJ’s locations close at the end of last year (a third outpost, on East Colfax, opened and closed within a year). But the vacancies both seem like prime locations for something new to move into. The smaller Tennyson Street space could be transformed into any number of concepts (counter service, cozy bar, intimate fine dining, for example), but the bright, sunny corner spot at Ninth and Lincoln cries out for a new breakfast and brunch destination for Capitol Hill and Golden Triangle residents.
2229 Blake Street
Latigo made a go of it right next to Coors Field for a year, serving Mexican cuisine that was a cut above standard combo plates and burritos smothered in green chile. But like Crave (which also closed last year) across the street from the Colorado Convention Center, restaurants in the shadow of the home of the Colorado Rockies must deal with up-and-down business — and the long lull between October and April when the ballpark goes dark. Cheap drinks and food served quickly are a must for the summer months, and deep pockets are probably needed to make it through the winter here. Unfortunately, a national chain seems like the most likely candidate to take over.
700 East 17th Avenue
Those who have frequented the 17th Avenue corridor over the decades will remember some of the poshest eateries in Denver: Strings at Humboldt Street and 17th, and Cliff Young’s on the corner of Washington Street, holding court in what was then an elegant space with a months-long wait list. Then former ballplayer Dante Bichette took over for a brief time before Hamburger Mary’s came in from San Francisco with a racy burger and gay-bar theme. M Uptown was the second incarnation of Hamburger Mary’s — an attempt to go indie from its franchise roots. M Uptown lasted from December 2015 to January 2017, and the owners didn’t preclude a comeback in the same space. But it’s now been vacant for a year and could use a little TLC to bring the dining room back to its former glory.
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The Squeaky Bean
1500 Wynkoop Street
The Squeaky Bean was one of the most important drivers of the Denver restaurant renaissance this decade, proving at once elegant and witty, avant-garde and comforting, timeless and of-the-moment. But those that burn brightest often burn out quickly, even while lighting the way for others. What will come next to the downtown space located between LoDo and the 16th Street Mall, just far enough from the hot Union Station district to be somewhat out of sight, out of mind? Nothing can replace the joy that was dinner at the Squeaky Bean in its prime, but any newcomer will almost certainly have to be a destination dining spot to draw customers toward the somewhat isolated corner.
Stella’s on 16th
1550 Wewatta Street
Stella’s tried immediately to be all things to all people — a cafe, marketplace, bakery and restaurant for breakfast, lunch and dinner — in the gleaming new Triangle building downtown. But the layout of the triangular space was a little awkward and lacked adequate seating for the square footage, and the restaurant’s location in a neighborhood so new the construction dust hadn’t even settled meant a quick demise: Stella’s only lasted from January to July last year. But there’s no reason another enterprise couldn’t make things work there, with a simplified plan and a better use of the interior space.
Have you spotted any signs of activity at any of these locations? Let us know at email@example.com.