Glendale CitySet restaurants say the city has welcomed them with open arms

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The current Westword cover story, "Fantasy Island," tells of Glendale's quest to build a riverwalk along Cherry Creek full of restaurants, theaters and bars serving booze in to-go cups. To make this dream project a reality, Glendale officials have made a series of smaller civic improvements -- which, in turn, have led to more private development.

That development includes CitySet, described in a glowing press release by its design company as "the state's first blended 'urban gastronomic urban village' and hotel district."

See also: -First Look: Big Smoke Burger opens Monday in Glendale -World of Beer opens in Glendale CitySet with sixty brews on tap -Photos: Jax in LoDo reopens with a new look...and a new menu

No matter what you call it, CitySet has attracted several high-profile restaurants, including Cuba Cuba Sandwicheria, Jax Fish House and Udi's. We caught up with some of the folks behind these restaurants to talk about doing business in today's Glendale.

Kristy Socarras Bigelow says she and her husband decided to open the second outpost of Cuba Cuba Sandwicheria in Glendale (the first is in Boulder; the family also owns the original Cuba Cuba in Denver) because "We thought this whole area was kind of a fresh, new area to put some cool food." But she admits she wasn't always sold on the idea.

"When (my husband) came to me and said, 'Glendale,' I was like, 'Really?'" she recalls. "And then I started going up and down Colorado Boulevard and meeting people in the area and I was like, 'This is prime.' We looked at four different developments up and down Colorado but we thought CitySet was the coolest concept."

That concept, according to the aforementioned press release, is a seven-acre development complete with a "strazza" -- a street/plaza, in designer-speak -- that connects the eleven restaurants that will ultimately be located there, as well as CitySet's two hotels. The restaurants include those mentioned above, plus another link in a local chain, Garbanzo Mediterranean Grill, as well as outposts of national chains Cafe Rio Mexican Grill, Panera Bread and Big Smoke Burger (which is actually out of Canada). This fall Native Foods Cafe and another as-yet unnamed restaurant will open in the complex, according to Danny Craig, spokesman for the designer. The lineup will be complete when a Glendale version of The Kitchen [Next Door] opens in December.

Continue for more about Jax Fish House and Udi's.

A new Jax Fish House with a rooftop patio opened in CitySet in June. Says executive manager Adam Reed, "We saw Glendale as a spectacular location. The free parking that comes with the CitySet development was a real attraction to us. We know now better than ever that LoDo (where the Denver Jax is located) can be a pain to get to."

He says Glendale has been incredibly welcoming: "It has this small-town feel and a tremendous amount of pride and expectation. They're really wanting to create that identity. It's been really good for us to embrace that."

The restaurant's liquor license hearing -- usually a stressful experience that "can be like meeting the firing squad," Reed says -- was a breeze. "It wasn't, 'Be careful. Don't blow this,'" he explains. "It was, 'We're so glad you're here. We're so glad you've chosen Glendale.'"

That's the same feeling that Angie Hoagland, director of planned development for Udi's, reports getting. A third Udi's Cafe, Pizza and Bar opened in CitySet just last month. "They're very helpful and it's a very community-oriented city and we're very happy to be there," Hoagland says of Glendale. "We have a wonderful lunch crowd."

Another selling point for Glendale is the option to turn CitySet into a "common consumption area," which would allow diners and drinkers to hop from bar to bar and restaurant to restaurant with a drink in their hands. City officials pushed for the law allowing common consumption areas in 2011. Greeley was the first municipality to actually create one and Denver is exploring the idea, too.

Glendale Mayor Mike Dunafon also reports that the city is considering allowing its bars to stay open past 2 a.m., which Glendale can do because it's a home-rule municipality, he says.

Hoagland, Reed and Socarras Bigelow say they're excited about the riverwalk, though it's not the primary reason any of them chose to locate in Glendale. Instead, Reed says, it's "a big, thick, sweet and rich icing on the cake."

"It's kind of a revitalization of Glendale," Hoagland adds.

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