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Houston's, we have a problem

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An hour after getting all the appropriate permits, the long-awaited Houston's finally opened this past weekend at 303 Josephine Street. This sibling of the Cherry Creek Grill and other restaurants in the Hillstone chain has an expansive, sleek dining room and an inexplicable eleven seats at the bar. Eleven seats? With all the barflies in Cherry Creek? It also has a no-cell-phone rule in the dining room, and on Sunday night, when we popped in after dinner at Little Ollie's, we spotted an off-duty, uniformed Denver cop patrolling the place, making sure there were no infractions.

When we returned Tuesday, there was no cop in sight -- and Houston's could have used him for crowd control. The joint was jumping, with dozens of people lined up by the bar and just about every table in the vast dining area full. (This spot on Third Avenue once held Ristorante Amore, a much loved neighborhood restaurant until onwer Greg Goldfogel lost the space and moved on to Alto in Lodo -- but Houston's occupies an entirely new building, which makes the design with those eleven stools and a weird service-alley route to the bathroom even stranger.)

But the Tuesday night crowd was not thinking about design. Or quiet conversation. Houston's is not the place to have an intimate drink -- not right now, at least. (And not if you want certain kinds of beer or liquor -- the bar still isn't fully stocked.) We spotted restaurateurs (Tyler Wiard, of the nearby Elway's; Bill Ward, of Below and the soon-to-open Minibar that's going into the basement of the nearby Village Inn, restaurant consultant John Imbergamo), music mavens (Frank Schultz of the Soiled Dove, Mel Gibson of so many projects),media types (Bill Husted and Penny Parker) and realtors -- including Nancy Levine, who's written about Houston's for this week's Drink of the Week column.

Recession? What recession? And the scene inspired another question: Where had all those people been eating and drinking the day before?

And where will they be eating and drinking tomorrow?

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