The Blue Bonnet will mark its 45th anniversary on July 25. That's a long time for a restaurant to last on the Denver dining scene -- but it's even more remarkable that the Blue Bonnet has been in the same family's hands for all those years. And the Blue Bonnet's history stretches back even further: The original spot opened shortly after Prohibition ended, and its owner had Texas roots, which explains the name -- even though the bar was far from a delicate flower.
When Arlene and Philip Mobell bought the Blue Bonnet in 1968, Gary and Marci Mobell were just kids. The joint was so rough that Marci wasn't even allowed in the place. But as the Mobells turned the Blue Bonnet into more of a restaurant, and then a Mexican restaurant, all that changed. Today Marci runs the restaurant with brother Gary. See also: - No free munch: Blue Bonnet, readers' choice for Best Chips and Salsa - Blue Bonnet expands its patio - Drunk of the Week: Blue Bonnet
There have been plenty of other changes to the Blue Bonnet over the past 45 years. The location, for example: More than two decades ago, it moved down Broadway to its current spot at 457 South Broadway. Gary Mobell says the family was very careful to make the new place look like the old one, with a big bar up front and a family dining area in the back. But the new location had something the old one didn't: a patio.
And that patio keeps expanding, to accommodate fans who like to linger over a long lunch or sit and enjoy a margarita or three during happy hour (there are two a day, from 3 to 6 p.m. and from 9 p.m. to closing, with deals on margs and tacos). The food, too, has gotten some updates. Today there's an extensive list of gluten-free offerings, and the menu has more of an emphasis on lighter and more inventive fare. Who would have imagined forty years ago that the Blue Bonnet would serve an excellent mahi-mahi ceviche?
"People don't eat the same way they did 45 or even thirty years ago," Gary says. "Forty-five years ago, there were no fresh chiles or peppers. Now everything is fresh, fire-roasted in-house."
But even as you step things up a notch, he notes, you have to retain the basics your business was built on. "Things are so much harder today. It's so much more competitive," Mobell says. "I'm very grateful. I work with people who are very talented."
And they cater to customers who are very, very faithful. In honor of the Blue Bonnet's 45th anniversary, the restaurant is serving bottomless chips and salsa for just 45 cents all month.
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Keep reading for more historic photos of the Blue Bonnet.