With their indoor capacity limited, many restaurants and bars are taking advantage of relaxed city and state rules regarding outdoor seating areas, creating bigger and better patios. Some neighborhoods and municipalities have even blocked off streets in order to give guests room to spread out. As a result, this doesn't have to be a stay-at-home summer, not as long as you seek out businesses doing things right.
Here are ten restaurants, bars and outdoor dining and drinking zones in metro Denver where you can enjoy the best of Colorado's summer days.
Bar Helix3440 Larimer Street
Kendra Anderson reinvented her two-year-old RiNo wine and cocktail bar to offer something special for lounge lovers who want to get back to a little nightlife while social distancing. Although Bar Helix was built for intimacy and mingling, its summer incarnation, Cabana X, moves the entire scene outdoors on the bar's expanded patio. The theme is international beach destinations, so you can partake of food and cocktail menus that will change regularly all summer in order to transport you to a number of exotic locales — think Tulum, Palm Beach, Ibiza and Phuket. Reserve seats at barhelix.com, then choose from prix fixe menus of small plates and matching cocktails, or order à la carte so you can indulge in an Aperol spritz shave-ice alongside tacos al pastor with Campari-soaked pineapple. Be part of the jet set without ever leaving Denver.
Blackbelly1606 Conestoga Street, Boulder
Boulder chef/restaurateur Hosea Rosenberg understands that grilling out is one of the best ways to experience Colorado-raised meats. So he's set up a swanky dining tent in the parking lot outside his flagship restaurant, Blackbelly, to turn dinner into a backyard-style gathering. Reserve a table for dinner at blackbelly.com, or just stop by for a takeout lunch (a host will be happy to seat you outside based on available space). Most of the cooking is still happening inside Blackbelly's well-appointed kitchen, but Rosenberg is also hosting Sunday barbecues with smoky meats perfuming the air outside the restaurant. His other Boulder eatery, Santo, at 1265 Alpine Avenue, now has a dining tent, too, so you can dig into enchiladas, carne adovada tacos and other Southwestern fare while staying cool in the evening air. Call 303-442-6100 or visit santoboulder.com for reservations.
Brewery Bar II150 Kalamath Street
One of Denver's oldest Mexican restaurants has spilled out onto its parking lot, marking a first in its storied history: outdoor dining. Brewery Bar II's entire lot is now roped off into one giant urban oasis, with an atmospheric view of the old Rio Grande grain elevators on one side, the traffic along Kalamath on the other, and a great mural in between. A typical Brewery Bar experience isn't complete without tongue-searing green chile, a "Tiny" 24-ounce draft beer and a room full of sports fans cheering on the home team. You can still get two out of three, but you'll just have to go without the game for now. Instead, score a seat on the patio.
Cerebral Brewing1477 Monroe Street
This five-year-old brewery has converted its entire off-Colfax parking lot into a spacious beer garden, complete with an outdoor host station and tented tables for added shade. You can't belly up to the bar inside; instead, let Cerebral bring the beer to you. Make sure to ask about the perfect pairings to go with offerings from a parade of food trucks, including Miss B's Vietnamese, Rumichaka Eats (some of the best Peruvian food in town), Clamato Time and Saba's Ethiopian. Visit cerebralbrewing.com for a food truck schedule.
Downtown EnglewoodSouth Broadway from East Hampden Avenue to Eastman Avenue
Englewood has relaxed its open-container rules so that bars and restaurants in the designated zone (which also includes Acoma Street to the west and Lincoln Street to the east) can sell alcoholic beverages in plastic or paper to-go cups, and you can sip while you stroll. Better yet, park yourself at one of the zone's newly expanded decks, whether at One Barrel Bistro, Zomo or Englewood Grand, which now has a back-alley patio to go with its Broadway outdoor seating. Just remember that if you want to carry your drink around, you'll have to buy it from one of the vendors within the designated area — so leave your bathtub gin at home and support Englewood's bars.
Pearl Street, Boulder
Several stretches of street around Boulder's Pearl Street Mall have been closed to vehicle traffic, allowing pedestrians to wander safely while also letting bars and restaurants expand their patio seating. So far, street closures include Pearl Street west of the pedestrian mall between Ninth and Eleventh streets, and a half-block of Tenth Street between Pearl and Morrison Alley. Many restaurants, cafes and bars have widened their patios for outdoor seating, including the Kitchen, Salt, Pasta Jay's and Zoe Ma Ma on the west end, and Foolish Craig's, Frasca Food and Wine and Leaf on the east end. The pedestrian mall itself has always been full of great patios, and several of the establishments there have also expanded their outdoor seating. Throughout Boulder, the city has designated other temporary pedestrian-only zones; see the business recovery information at bouldercolorado.gov for a current map.
The Source Hotel & Market Hall3330 Brighton Boulevard
The old brick warehouse and modern hotel that comprise the Source house several restaurants, so the market hall has converted its Brighton Boulevard-facing parking pad into Out Source, a collection of well-spaced geodesic domes intended for sheltered outdoor dining every Saturday and Sunday this summer. Guests are seated by a host and can then order food and drinks from Acorn, Reunion Bread, Grabowski's Pizza, Safta or Smok. Visit the individual restaurants' websites for reservation policies and menu details. Smok has also expanded its own outdoor seating onto the grassy area near the market hall's walkway to provide open-air service with "a human connection."
Spuntino2639 West 32nd Avenue
One of Denver's best Italian restaurants has created Spuntino All'Aperto, a sumptuous dining tent next door to the Highland eatery. Reservations must be booked and pre-paid on OpenTable, and the opening weeks will see a five-course tasting menu with or without wine pairings. But owners Elliot Strathmann and Cindhura Reddy (who was nominated for a James Beard award this year) will expand the offerings as summer continues. Look forward to handmade pasta, El Regalo Ranch goat, Rocky Mountain elk and an array of always-delicious Italian appetizers and desserts. Visit spuntinodenver.com for the most up-to-date menus and details.
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Stanley Marketplace2501 Dallas Street, Aurora
This Aurora indoor shopping center and dining destination has moved outdoors with Backyard at Stanley, an expansive tented seating area spread out on the west lawn. Circles have been marked on the grass to serve as safely distanced picnic areas, so you can order food at one of the many restaurants and food counters inside and then spread out for your own open-air lunch or dinner. There are also tables in case you prefer more elevated dining; just be sure to check in with the outdoor host first. Visit stanleymarketplace.com for hours, details and rules.
Union Station1701 Wynkoop Street
There's plenty of open space around Union Station, and several of the restaurants inside the train station/shopping center have increased their outdoor dining square footage to give diners safe and breezy options. Next Door American Eatery, Mercantile Dining & Provisions, Snooze, Stoic & Genuine, Terminal Bar and Ultreia are all seating outside and have either expanded or are working on adding more space. Check with the restaurant of your choice before visiting in person, as many strongly recommend reservations.