Gather's liquor license is a lesson in smart city planning

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Subway may have run into trouble by shorting the measurements of its footlong sandwiches, but the Denver Department of Excise and Licenses has gotten nothing but kudos for the rule change it made late last summer, allowing "bona fide restaurants" within 500 feet of a school to apply for a hotel and restaurant liquor license, when before they would have been prohibited from doing so. This new rule does not apply to bars, and restaurants must jump through some hoops to pass muster with the city. But this change will allow restaurants to open downtown in areas also being eyed for schools, and it's already been used successfully by Mici Handcrafted Italian, which opened last October at 2373 Central Park Boulevard, within 500 feet of a Montessori school in Stapleton. See also: - Photos: Molecularly engineered water has New York-style bagels on the rise at Gather - For its new rule on liquor licenses near schools, Denver deserves extra credit - Chef and Tell with Lon Symensma

DJ's Berkeley Cafe, at 3838 Tennyson Street, Zaza's Pizzeria, at 2041 South University, and Udi's on Colfax (in the former Encore space, at 2550 East Colfax Avenue) have all applied (and been approved) under this rule. So did Gather, the gathering place/bar/restaurant/coffee shop that opened early this month in Galvanize 1.0, the entrepreneurial think tank that took over the old Rocky Mountain Bank Note building at 1062 Delaware Street. (Decades ago, this space held the Monastery, a wine bar where the servers wore monk's outfits — but skinny jeans and thick glasses are more the norm here today.)

Gather was granted a liquor license two weeks ago, after a hearing on December 21 at which numerous neighbors testified on behalf of the application; the principal of West High School, which is within 500 feet of Galvanize, also supported the effort, and wrote: "Galvanize/Gather has proven to be an excellent community partner thus far. Galvanize/Gather has provided additional learning opportunities for our students, staff and community. We have also solidified an ongoing partnership that will extend our learning beyond the classroom and into the real world and 21st century."

And in the meantime, Gather is extending its own offerings. Chef Lon Symensma, who partnered with Galvanize's Jim Deters on ChoLon Modern Asian Bistro downtown, is creating the menu, adding new dishes every week; the kitchen serves breakfast, lunch and late-afternoon snacks. And before the place opens at 7 a.m., baker Joshua Pollack makes dozens of bagels that could give the authentic New York model a run for its money. He uses molecularly engineered water to do it.

But the real liquid asset at Gather is the bar, which features cocktails named after the think-tank's tenants as well as Colorado craft beers, making it a real gathering place.

The city is planning to do a six-month review of its 500-foot rule in February. But it already looks like a lesson in smart civic planning. A version of this story appeared in Cafe Bites, our electronic newsletter devoted to Denver's drinking and dining scene that appears in e-mail inboxes every Wednesday. Find out how to subscribe here.

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