The Bite

I'll drink to that: Surely it was just coincidence that the Pepsi Center and Los Troncos (730 East Sixth Avenue) both found themselves in danger of losing their liquor licenses -- but it certainly was convenient for the budget-priced Los Troncos that the high-priced Pepsi Center's liquor vendor, Levy Premium FoodServices Limited Partnership, had also neglected to tell the Denver Department of Excise and Licenses of a change in ownership.

Levy, like Los Troncos, was nailed by the department last month for failing to notify officials there of an ownership switch. In the case of Los Troncos, that change happened more than two years ago, a gap that caused the filing of a formal complaint against the restaurant. But both Levy and Los Troncos have been issued temporary permits that allow them to sell liquor at least until November.

"The city attorney is trying to settle with Levy informally," says Helen Gonzales, director of Excise and Licenses. "They could possibly end up with a complaint filed against them, but in the meantime, they'd rather try to start by communicating through the problem. The thing is, whether a complaint is filed against Levy or not, the results against both businesses will be the same."

Those results could be fines of between $200 and $5,000, or suspension, which would mean the businesses could not sell alcohol for anywhere between five and 120 days. "Levy is not selling alcohol on a daily basis like Los Troncos is, though," adds Gonzales. "The seriousness of the violation is the same for both of them, but the seriousness of the non-sales impact is different. When considering the sanctions for both, we'll take that into consideration."

Well before the temporary permits expire, the state will make a decision on whether to issue either establishment's new owners permanent liquor licenses. "What we're probably waiting for right now is background checks," Gonzales says. Los Troncos has a hearing scheduled for August 2 regarding its past transgressions, but at a pre-hearing this week, the city attorney may offer some kind of a deal, possibly a fine or a suspension. "Since they haven't had a problem before, they'll probably be fined," Gonzales adds.

Los Troncos's new -- as of two years ago -- owner is Jorge E. Ramirez, who added Bolivian food to the Mexican menu when he took over. He's hopeful that he'll get his new liquor license without too many snags. "We've never had any complaints from the neighborhood or any trouble, and we have a lot of support," he says.

Gonzales agrees. "That's why, in a case like this, we're trying to work with them to get the problem fixed before they lose any more business," she points out. " I feel confident that, in the case of Los Troncos, we're going to have a good outcome. And as for Levy, we treat everyone the same. The rules are the same for everyone."

But at least Levy knows the Pepsi Center isn't going anywhere. Los Troncos faces a bigger potential problem than its liquor-license snafu: The building that houses the restaurant is for sale. And because the eatery is on a month-to-month lease, according to real estate agent Brad Gassman, a new property owner could mean "Adios" for Los Troncos.

Heading in the right direction: For a while I wasn't frequenting one of my former regular breakfast stops, the Southside Cafe (560 South Broadway), because service problems were making a morning meal take long enough to stretch into lunch (The Bite, February 8). Recently, though, the casual spot seems to have gotten it together. A recent meal there found the same server, Duraine Phillips, still working, and not only was she more on the ball, but she could teach the veterans a few things about service. Water arrived as we were seated, our orders were filled to the letter (I'm picky: bacon crisp, rye toast, eggs over easy, Coke, water and coffee), and every need was met. "I've been working with Duraine," says owner Jim Stennes, "trying to get her to understand that she needs to let people know our job in a place like this is to take care of them."

Stennes knows all about places like this. He managed the Butcher Block that stood in the same block of South Broadway for years, and he bought that restaurant in 1989. When the Butcher Block lost its lease six years ago, Stennes reopened at the current site, remodeling the building and even giving his eatery a brand-new name. "This restaurant is me," he says. "It only takes one time for a customer to have a bad experience and not come back." Keep that killer bacon crisp and the coffee coming, and I'll be back for sure.

Open-and-shut cases: Could a German-Mexican-American eatery survive in Colorado? You're darn Teuton! The Sunset Lounge (9770 East Alameda Avenue in Aurora) lasted well over two decades before it played its final polka late last month. But by this spring, the Sunset's future was clearly growing dim. The last time I ventured in, for a business get-together a few months ago, the place was nearly empty; our group grazed on fried items so oily that we knew exactly why energy costs were going up.

But the folks from Alameda East Animal Hospital -- which is expanding onto the land the Sunset had occupied -- have much fonder memories. "I had a hamburger there every day for eighteen years," says comic/veterinarian Kevin Fitzgerald. "Until I had gallbladder surgery. Then I had to have salads. They took a picture of a hamburger and gave it to me."

Fitzgerald recalls the horseshoes every weekend at the Sunset and the polka on Wednesday nights. And the burgers, of course. "It had a Chinese-German-American-Mexican menu, which I always thought was so great, since the cooks were from Thailand. They took the globe and threw darts at it and cooked food from any countries it landed on," he hypothesizes. "It was a real neighborhood place. It wasn't a chain, and it wasn't a typical fern-and-wok bar.

"Now it's gone, and that's sad," he says. "Progress has a price. But people always need a place to polka."

There can never be too many places to eat good Asian food. Last month, Cafe Saigon (9400 West Colfax Avenue in Lakewood) was replaced by Golden Kite; the owners are Lily Baker and Tan Young, who have dumped Vietnamese in favor of Chinese fare. "A little bit of everything," says Baker. "We're not really specializing in one region." But they do offer a $4.25 lunch special every day.

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Kyle Wagner
Contact: Kyle Wagner