Happy hour will not be very happy today at El Diablo and Sketch tonight. The restaurants remain closed, after the city slapped the building in which they're housed, the First Avenue Hotel, with a notice to vacate very early on Tuesday, July 10. According to the city, the structure is unsafe. According to owner Jesse Morreale, it's as safe as it was when the city allowed the restaurants to open two years ago.
Morreale bought the decrepit, circa 1905 building four years ago with a grand plan to resurrect it into a focal point on Broadway. The Denver Office of Economic Development gave him two loans to help realize his plans, which involved a major renovation of the main floor into two restaurant spaces, as well as retail areas; Morreale put his office on the second floor. Fixing up the building's upper floors -- which had been unoccupied for decades, except by pigeons, rats and bums -- were left for a later time.
Both Sketch and El Diablo opened under a temporary occupancy permit, and Morreale and Dan Roberts, then the director of Development Services for the Denver Department of Community Planning and Neighborhood Services, came up with a plan to allow continued occupancy of 101 Broadway. That plan went through several revisions, with the most recent iteration (that I can find, at least), dated August 2011, and calling for certain "work to be performed within 18 months of restaurant opening in order to prevent designation as UNSAFE." But Roberts did not stay with the city long after Michael Hancock became mayor, and at some point, according to Andrea Burns, spokeswoman for Community Planning, after a "long history of the city and the owner working together to figure things out," Morreale "didn't keep to the plan."
After that long history of working together, the city didn't contact him about any concerns, Morreale says -- until he found his building plastered with the notices to vacate on Tuesday morning.
There's been plenty of communication since then, however. Morreale met with Denver officials on Wednesday morning and again on Thursday afternoon, and his lawyer, former city attorney David Fine, has continued to push the city to find a way to allow the restaurants to reopen this weekend, creating tax revenues for the city...and paychecks for employees. "Why not put the parties back in and work out any issues while the businesses operate?" he asks.
But the restaurants remain dark. And this weekend, Morreale posted a notice on El Diablo and Sketch:
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DUE TO CIRCUMSTANCES BEYOND OUR CONTROL, AND THROUGH NO FAULT OF OUR OWN, THE RESTAURANTS WILL BE CLOSED THIS WEEKEND - JULY 13TH THROUGH JULY 15TH, 2012. WE APOLOGIZE FOR ANY INCONVENIENCE AND LOOK FORWARD TO YOUR RETURN ONCE THE RESTAURANTS ARE REOPENED FOR BUSINESS AND OUR DEDICATED STAFF IS ALLOWED TO RETURN BACK TO THEIR JOBS. HELP US SAVE THE RESTAURANTS, PLEASE GO TO WWW.SAVEELDIABLOANDSKETCH.COM