"Biker Jim" Pittenger is packing up the last of the perishable food at his internationally renowned eatery, Biker Jim's Gourmet Dogs, at 2148 Larimer Street in the Ballpark neighborhood. The hot dog joint, which normally draws crowds until the wee hours of the night, is closing up shop for the winter because of the City and County of Denver's move to Level Red COVID-19 restrictions, which, among other things, mandates no indoor dining. "We rely on large crowds and lots of sales to make money," Pittenger says, adding that it's hard to make money selling just takeout hot dogs.
Pittenger followed a similar path last March, when he made the choice to close completely after statewide dining room shutdowns. Biker Jim's reopened after the restriction was lifted at the beginning of summer, and this time around, he's of the same mindset: Takeout and patio dining aren't enough.
"I'm going to conserve what resources we have so that we can come back when conditions improve," Pittenger says, adding that he's also concerned for his employees and wants to keep them safe and make sure they can start receiving unemployment payments as soon as possible. Those perishables were offered to employees to take home, and Pittenger notes that the rest will go to a nearby homeless shelter.
The story is similar at many other restaurants and bars around Denver, which are choosing to hibernate and cut their losses rather than limp through the coming months with minimal sales while putting their employees at risk.
Englewood Grand, a bar with no food service of its own, made the decision to close for the holidays on November 17. The bar, at 3435 South Broadway, gamely stayed afloat with a minimal staff, expanded patio seating, takeout booze and menus from nearby restaurants to satisfy food-service requirements. But with colder weather and stricter regulations, relying on outdoor seating for revenue has become tougher — and with neighboring restaurants struggling, Englewood Grand's owners can't count on those eateries to provide the regular food service that allows bars to continue operating under restaurant guidelines.
In some cases, restaurants are closing for good. Julep, which has served traditional and creative takes on Southern cuisine for the past two and a half years at 3258 Larimer Street, has permanently shuttered. Owners Kyle and Katy Foster say that it was becoming increasingly difficult to make money as customers dwindled and restrictions became tighter. "At 25 percent capacity and with colder weather, things were really difficult," Katy explains. "It wasn't sustainable to try and make it on takeout business."
The couple was able to terminate their lease early, so now they're shifting their focus. "We wanted to stop losing money, because we want to do something in the future," Kyle adds, noting that his goal is still to be the chef/owner of a restaurant, but it will likely be something smaller.
Katy also owns Stir Cooking School, at 3215 Zuni Street, so the Fosters will be hosting regular Julep fried chicken pop-ups, as well as sandwich pop-ups offering Kyle's Pirate Alley Po' Boy specialties. Katy has owned the building where Stir is located for the past decade, and she says that makes it easier to abide by COVID-related restrictions and roll with the punches while still staying focused on long-term business.
Just a block away from Julep, Bar Helix has also permanently closed — at least at that location. Founder Kendra Anderson released a video on November 19 explaining that capacity restrictions over the last eight months made it impossible to keep up with rent for the months that the bar couldn't keep its expanded patio full. Because of missed rent payments in the spring, when the bar could do nothing but sell drinks to go, Anderson says her lease was terminated and she was given until November 26 to vacate the space. "Hopefully we'll be back taking care of you in some form or fashion much sooner than later," she noted in the video, giving hope that Bar Helix will return in a new location next year.
Even those restaurants that are staying open face more layoffs, as business will almost certainly slow down for the majority of establishments when they can only offer outdoor dining, to-go and delivery — and this time around, there's not the promise of federal relief money to help businesses and workers.
Here are other places that have decided to close, at least temporarily, as metro Denver moves into Level Red and tightened COVID restrictions:
Bacon Social House, 2434 West 44th Avenue and 2100 West Littleton Boulevard: Bacon posted this note on its social media: "Both our Sunnyside and Littleton locations will be temporarily closed starting Saturday, November 21. We look forward to spending Thanksgiving with those in our own households, and we encourage you to do the same so we can get back to making bacon and serving smiles as soon as possible. Keep an eye on our social media feeds for details on our reopening date, and we'll see you back at brunch soon!"
Bellota, 3300 Brighton Boulevard: Bellota, which just opened in place of Acorn at the Source last month, is closing until dining-room restrictions ease. "We SO appreciate the support and enthusiasm for our brand new restaurant and want to assure you that we WILL reopen safely and fully to serve you, our valued guests and friends, the very best from Chef Manny and our entire team as soon as we can do so safely," the restaurant says.
Brass Tacks, 1526 Blake Street: Brass Tacks offered free food with the purchase of a draft cocktail on Wednesday and Thursday before closing temporarily on November 20.
ChoLon Modern Asian, 1515 Blake Street: ChoLon is temporarily closing downtown, but its east Denver location, at 10195 East 29th Place, will remain open for takeout and delivery.
Izakaya Den, 1487A Pearl Street, and Ototo, 1501 South Pearl Street: These two Den Corner eateries will pause for now but plan to reopen once they can reopen their dining areas, while Sushi Den, at 1487 South Pearl Street, will remain open for takeout and delivery.
Dandy Lion Coffee (inside Zeppelin Station), 3501 Wazee Street: The coffee shop announced on social media that it would use this time to "give our team the upcoming holiday off."
Flagstaff House, 1138 Flagstaff Road, Boulder: The Flagstaff House announced that it will be closed until indoor dining restrictions are lifted in Boulder County.
Rita's Law, 2209 Welton Street: "With new regulations, we cannot morally or legally stay open at this time," Rita's Law posted on its social media accounts. "Our staff is working hard to come up with a better to-go drink and food menu that we will roll out soon." Keep an eye on Facebook for news of a reopening date.
Run for the Roses, 1801 Blake Street: The subterranean bar had planned on running a themed project called The Tourist through the winter, but with indoor seating off limits, Run for the Roses will not be offering cocktails to go as it had last spring. However, retail sales of RftR merchandise are available on the bar's online store.
Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org know if you know of any other temporary or permanent closures, or leave a note in the comments.
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