There was a time when restaurants were simply places where people went to eat. There was no fanfare, no celebration of celebrity chefs, and no hot new dishes. But these days, food is news, whether it's the next big restaurant opening, a TV appearance from one of our favorite cooks, or a search for the best ramen, pizza or tacos.
The people behind the restaurants are as interesting as the food itself; their personalities flow through established Denver institutions and pop up in new places, too. Which bright new chef will change the scene with bold new dishes? Who will take over our favorite dive bar when the owner retires? We've looked for the answers to these questions and more throughout the year. Here are the ten biggest food stories in Denver listed in chronological order, from the sale of a downtown bar that's part of the city's history to the evolution of the still-young craft-brewing scene.
1. My Brother's Bar has new owners.
My Brother's Bar changed hands for the first time since 1970.
My Brother's had operated continuously (other than during Prohibition) under different names since 1873 before it was taken over by Jim and Angelo Karagas in 1970. Danny Newman and his mother, Paula, who has worked at My Brother's Bar for more than thirty years, bought the place
in January and have changed very little since. You can still enjoy your JCB or Johnny Burger along with classical music in a cozy bar with no TVs and plenty of familiar faces.
2. Top Chef films season fifteen in Colorado.
In March, Bravo announced that it would be filming the fifteenth season of Top Chef in Colorado
, highlighting the restaurants, chefs and cuisine of Denver, Boulder and Telluride, among other locales. Filming began in June, and the first episode aired on December 7. And Colorado can claim two of the chef-testants as our own: Carrie Baird of Bar Dough, and Brother Luck of Four by Brother Luck in Colorado Springs. The nationwide popularity of the reality show is sure to draw more attention and visitors to our beautiful state.
3. Stapleton and Aurora experience a restaurant surge.
The Stanley Marketplace is one of the biggest food destinations to ever hit Aurora.
In April, Cattivella
became the first restaurant to open in the new Eastbridge shopping center on the eastern frontier of the Stapleton neighborhood. The Italian eatery from chef Elise Wiggins was soon followed by Concourse Restaurant Moderne
, Next Door American Eatery, Los Chingones and HashTAG. Meanwhile, Stanley Marketplace, a mall-ish development less than a mile from Eastbridge (on the Aurora side of the line), began filling up. Stanley Beer Hall, Comida, Denver Biscuit Co., Annette
, Rosenberg's Bagels & Deli, Sazza and Yellowbelly Chicken are among a multitude of full-service restaurants, fast-casual counters, bars and retail outlets that have added an unprecedented number of options for the neighborhood. Three of these east-side additions — Annette, Concourse and Cattivella — made it onto our list of the best new restaurants of 2017.
4. Stella's on 16th closes after only seven months.
Stella's vacated the Triangle building downtown after only seven months.
Stella's on 16th showed so much promise when it opened in a brand-new building downtown at the beginning of 2017, offering breakfast, lunch and dinner in a sleek market-cafe setting with its own bakery and a range of dishes from homestyle pancakes to elegantly presented entrees. Our restaurant critic, Gretchen Kurtz, said Stella's was on its way to "creating a spot that’s as integral to the fabric of the growing neighborhood
as a grocery store, bank or gym" in July. But just a month later the place was closed, with nothing but a note on the door to explain the closing to customers and employees. Big money has been sunk into a number of restaurants in the blocks behind Union Station — Tavernetta, Citizen Rail, Hearth & Dram and Tupelo Honey, to name a few — and Stella's certainly seemed as ambitious as those. With so much at stake, it was a real surprise to see the place open and close in the same year.
5. High-end hotel restaurants invade Denver.
The rising value of Denver real estate has resulted in much of the prime square footage going to businesses with deep pockets. A number of new hotels sprang up last year, and with them came lavish restaurants from Denver and from out of state. The Kimpton Hotel Born opened in August with Citizen Rail as its main bar and restaurant, with Tavernetta (from the founders of Frasca Food and Wine) joining the fun shortly thereafter. Across the street, Hearth & Dram began serving at the Hotel Indigo, while Urban Farmer moved into the venerable Oxford Hotel on the other side of Union Station. Nearby, Sage Hospitality unveiled the Maven, a hotel above Sage Restaurant Group's Kachina Southwestern Grill and Poka Lola Social Club. Le Méridian, a new hotel in the heart of the downtown business district, houses Corinne and a stunning rooftop bar called 54Thirty.