Back in the days before Lower Downtown was LoDo, the Wazee Supper Club was a bright spot in a very dark culinary landscape. But that was decades ago, and today, of course, this neighborhood is home to some of the hottest restaurants in town. And you can experience many of them at LoDo Bites, which invites you to "sip, sample and stroll" through the area from 5 to 9 p.m. on Tuesday, June 25. "This year's restaurant tour will feature twenty of LoDo's finest establishments, with a mix of high-end, chef-inspired creations and gourmet eateries to tempt the palates of all those who live, work or play in our vibrant neighborhood," says Holly Barrett, executive director of the LoDo District. "We are happy to be the unofficial entertainment district of downtown Denver, and our wide variety of interesting places to eat and drink has something for everyone, from the gourmand to the pickiest child." See also: - Union Station: The Kitchen Next Door, Snooze and a new restaurant from Alex Seidel - Wazee Supper Club lands LoDo Legacy award - Chef and Tell with Tom Coohill of Coohills
And next year at this time, LoDo will have several more noteworthy restaurants in the renovated Union Station, which has already signed on The Kitchen [Next Door], an outpost of Snooze, and a European market/eatery concept coming from Alex Seidel, chef/owner of Fruition. The Union Station Alliance, which is redeveloping the facility (slated to reopen in summer 2014), is planning a strong revival of this once-bustling spot. Thirty years ago, the only refreshment options at Union Station were a soda fountain in the lobby, the classic Caboose Lounge, and, for two glorious years, the Union Station Restaurant, a Cajun/Creole place run by Sarah and Bill Morgan, who also managed the bar and a sparkly venue behind the Caboose, the site of some legendary events. But when the restaurant closed, the Caboose derailed and the party space was turned into sober offices.
In the early '90s, as the construction of Coors Field brought a spate of new restaurants to LoDo and the future Ballpark neighborhood, some of that enthusiasm spilled into the wings of Union Station. On the side above 17th Street was Flat Pennies, followed by Walker's Sports Grill, A Bar and Citrus. On the other, there was a T.G.I. Friday's, which was replaced by Redfish Seafood Kitchen, then Lotus. But that spot poured its last drink years ago, and any business ventures inside the station dried up entirely early in 2012, when the building was closed in anticipation of becoming the hub of a multi-modal system that is transforming the Platte Valley.
Dana Crawford, the original developer of Larimer Square, is part of Union Station Alliance; she still has fond memories of the Union Station Restaurant, and occasionally has Sarah Morgan cook up some gumbo. Walter Isenberg, whose Sage Hospitality runs the nearby Oxford Hotel as well as the JW Marriott in Cherry Creek and properties across the country, is another partner; the second floor of the station will be a boutique hotel. And Joe Vostrejs, COO of Larimer Associates, which revitalized Larimer Square, is responsible for the retail/restaurant mix in the station. Look for several more businesses to be announced in the coming months.
In the meantime, get a good taste of LoDo during LoDo Bites. Tickets are $35 in advance and $45 at the door; get yours at lodo.org.
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A version of this story originally appeared in Cafe Bites, weekly newsletter on the Denver drinking and dining scene that appears in e-mail inboxes every Wednesday. Find out how to subscribe to Cafe Bites here.