Food News

Improper City Brings Rayback Collective Style to RiNo

Improper City is the second project from the founders of Boulder's Rayback Collective.
Improper City is the second project from the founders of Boulder's Rayback Collective. Mark Antonation
Improper City, opening to the public at 3201 Walnut Street on Friday, July 13, rolls all the elements of a bar, coffeehouse, music venue, food-truck corral and work space into one sprawling collective inside a former HVAC fabrication factory.

Those who have been to the Rayback Collective in Boulder will recognize the concept: Justin Riley and Hank Grant are the founders behind both, and with Improper City, they've stuck fairly close to their original model, only on a larger scale. Inside, there's a 75-foot bar backed by a row of 36 beer and cider taps (with an additional eight handles for batched cocktails and four for wine), widely spaced tables and seating areas, a stage for live entertainment, private areas for gatherings and meetings, a mezzanine built for up to 75 people and a coffee bar to fuel things during the day.

click to enlarge There's plenty of room inside Improper City. - MARK ANTONATION
There's plenty of room inside Improper City.
Mark Antonation
This is not a co-working space where you'll be charged for time spent there, but Riley and Grant have done everything possible to encourage guests to hang out and get comfortable. There's plenty of room between tables and chairs, and each seat has easy access to USB and electrical outlets. Riley notes that he's not concerned with turning tables but would rather have customers feel welcome for as long as they want. Improper City shares the building with Movement Climbing & Fitness, so the owners of both businesses are hoping for plenty of crossover.

Designed by Oz Architecture and built by PG Arnold Construction, Improper City incorporates elements like wood-and-steel tables by Wheelhouse Design that were manufactured by Holtz Custom Wood & Metal. Riley and Grant's reliance on local businesses — some within view of Improper City — show a dedication to Colorado entrepreneurs. Most of the beers and other beverages will also be Colorado-sourced, though Riley points out that they look for quality products from outside the state too.

click to enlarge A wall mural behind what will be a stage for live entertainment. - MARK ANTONATION
A wall mural behind what will be a stage for live entertainment.
Mark Antonation
While the interior space at the venue will be fully functioning and ready for guests come Friday the 13th (which the owners intentionally picked because it's "improper"), the pièce de résistance — a 12,000-square-foot outdoor beer garden and food truck pad — will debut later this year. Riley and Grant worked with the city for nearly a year to come up with a plan that would allow up to six mobile food vendors on site at once (Denver's maximum is generally only one per property), and that would also give them ownership of the alley that separates the beer garden from the main building. Improper City will upgrade and maintain the alley as part of its property while still allowing access for emergency vehicles. The result is that guests will be able to buy a beer or cocktail at the bar inside and then carry it across the alley onto the expansive patio.

Because the project is so big, Riley says it will also function as a community gathering place, with smaller areas that can be rented for private events or with the entire space available for buyouts. A stage area, backed by a floor-to-ceiling mural, has been wired for sound and will host music, comedy and other entertainment.

The RiNo Art District's logo depicts a rhinoceros with a small bird on its back. Improper City chose the bird, rather than the rhino, as its mascot, so you'll see avian imagery throughout the space, including on the sign out front and in the bird tracks that wend their way across the balcony rail on the second floor. Riley explains that the bird and the rhino have a symbiotic relationship, so he wanted to give the smaller animal its due.

The grand opening takes place on July 13, and then Improper City will be open from 7 a.m. to midnight Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to midnight on Saturday, and 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Sunday. Visit the venue's website for more details.
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Mark Antonation is the former Westword Food & Drink Editor. In 2018, he was named Outstanding Media Professional by the Colorado Restaurant Association; he's now with the Colorado Restaurant Foundation.
Contact: Mark Antonation