Late last week, the City of Denver closed off Larimer Street between 14th and 15th streets as well as Glenarm Place between 15th and 17th streets to allow restaurants to expand their patios to make up for lost dining-room seating when coronavirus restrictions were put in place by the state. In Larimer Square, eateries have begun extending their patios onto the sidewalk and street, though each one is keeping its tables separate, remaining more or less in line with their facades.
But things are different on Glenarm Place, since most of the businesses don't face the street, but rather are part of the Denver Pavilions shopping center. So the Denver Excise and Licenses department has approved the first permit in a new program called outdoor communal dining areas, which allows several restaurants to serve customers all in one space. The new area, located at 500 16th Street, is called Glenarm Patio, and the participating restaurants include Lime, Maggiano’s Little Italy, 5280 Burger Bar and the Hard Rock Cafe.
"We're on the third floor, and there's nothing happening up there," says Lime owner Curt Sims. "So we hadn't reopened; we were just waiting."
With the new street-level patio, though, Sims says it gives his cantina exposure to let potential customers know that the Lime kitchen is back open, and he's also seating in the restaurant. "We're pretty big; we've got a patio and a big dining room, so we can spread people out. The best thing has been working with the other restaurants. Everybody got together and said we've got to make this work."
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The communal outdoor dining areas do come with rules, most notably that once seated, customers can't order food and drinks from more than one establishment — so you won't be able to make your own hybrid burger/lasagna construction. This rule doesn't come from the city, which is just following state regulations in this case. The patio must also be located no farther than 1,000 feet from the entrances to all participating restaurants. It's also not a free-for-all like a food court dining area; guests are seated and provided with a menu from the restaurant of their choice.
The city first announced its plan to expedite expanded outdoor seating on May 18, adding an application form to denvergov.org. And while the approval process was slower than initially anticipated (in part because of the number of different agencies involved and in part because of the overwhelming number of applications submitted), more and more individual restaurant plans have been approved. According to Excise and Licenses, 227 completed applications have been received, and 146 of those have been approved.
"Normally we do about 100 of these [approvals] a year," explains Excise and Licenses Executive Director Ashley Kilroy, "but we've already done more than 140 this month, because it's so important to maintain the vitality of our restaurant industry."
In addition, the department has set up an email account at firstname.lastname@example.org for groups of restaurants to submit communal dining requests similar to that of Glenarm Patio. But they're not just waiting around for applications. "We've affirmatively reached out to groups who we know might be interested," Kilroy notes, so you may see more patio dining in the near future.