Now the building's getting a major facelift, courtesy of new owner Thomas Nesler, who studied entrepreneurship in business school and did marketing for Internet companies before he decided to get into the restaurant business. "We're right in the middle of the remodel, adding new windows," he says of the gutted structure into which he's already put new wiring, plumbing and floors.
Despite the massive scope of the project, Nesler says he's looking at late August as a target date for opening his "cafe/bar," which will be called Forest Room No. 5, a name that harks back to both the building's origins as a firehouse and the disappeared street that once ran behind it.
Not content with stripping the building to its studs and changing its name, Nesler is changing its orientation, too. His new place will be "art-centered, with local artists showing on the walls and emphasizing art in all its forms -- performances, music, independent films," Nesler says. "Hopefully, we'll include an art studio in the old carriage house in back. We want this to be as dynamic as possible."
Ditto for the food, which Nesler plans to serve from 11 a.m. until at least midnight seven days a week. "We'll start with Spanish, Italian, Mediterranean, Moroccan, pasta salads, tapas, a lot of seafood," he explains. "We'll keep it relatively light and simple." He's in the process of interviewing potential chefs.
But Nesler's already cleared other major hurdles. He obtained a liquor license with little difficulty, and any surprises uncovered in construction -- "things are a little bit out of square," he says -- are almost fixed. The furniture and light fixtures have been ordered -- he's going for a "modern look" -- as has the restaurant equipment. And the budget has doubled, of course -- but it's still a lot less than a similar venture would have cost in LoDo.
Nesler's also going for a different feel than that of your average LoDo bar. "This will be a meeting place, a place for people to exchange ideas," he says. "Hopefully, this area will have a really strong reputation for independent people, not the corporate types."
Enhancing that reputation could be a nearby project proposed by Wally Hultin, developer of the Overlook, a residential project just across 15th Street from Nesler's saloon. Hultin has an option to purchase the landmark Olinger Mortuary Chapel (2800 16th Street) at the start of Highland, which he'd sell or lease to a local restaurant while developing townhouses to the side of the structure.
Meanwhile, two miles away, in the heart of Capitol Hill, food fans are bemoaning the loss of janleone (1509 Marion Street), Jan Leone's namesake restaurant that was never a great fit with this corner of Colfax Avenue. Daughter Mara may do better with Lounge, a more casual place that she's put in the same space. Open Tuesday through Saturday, Lounge will have a limited food menu -- and unlimited beverage possibilities.
Copping a plea: Doesn't Denver Chief of Police Gerry Whitman have better things to do than participate in charity stunts? (Like, say, attend to Denver's escalating crime rate?) Still, two weeks ago, there was the chief, stuffing his face during the Two-Fisted Burger Eating Contest at the Supreme Court in the Adam's Mark Hotel (1550 Court Place). But at least that caper didn't take a big hunk out of Whitman's workday, since he consumed the monster two-fisted burger in a record three minutes and 35 seconds, demonstrating that "he was either very hungry or very talented," according to Detective Virginia Lopez, DPD spokeswoman.
And the stunt did raise $1,500 for the Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund. When Whitman got hauled into Sprint's Big Talker campaign a few weeks earlier, which put cell phones in the hands of a few of this city's movers and shakers to see who could blab the most, his designated charity got squat.
While Whitman apparently got over that defeat (the contest was won by radio personality Rashke, whose charity, Dani's Foundation, received $3,000 from Big Cheapskate Sprint, which raked in tens of thousands of dollars' worth of free publicity), Rocky Mountain News columnist Penny Parker is still steamed that she didn't win -- because that meant that her designated charity, Work Options for Women, a worthy cause that gives low-income women the chance to gain culinary skills and employment in the food-service industry, was out several thousand bucks.
So Parker's putting her money where her big mouth was by hosting a Big Loser benefit for Work Options for Women from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Thursday, July 18, at the Elephant Corral, 1440 Wazee Street. A fifty-buck donation buys fajitas from Dixons, all the margaritas you can handle from the Boulder Beverage Co., beer from Flying Dog Brewery -- and even music from Andrew Hudson, Mayor Wellington Webb's press secretary, who was another Big Talker loser and whose band, Le Jazz Machine, will play. For reservations, call 720-944-1917.
Tante Louise (4900 East Colfax Avenue) has earmarked four charities as beneficiaries of a year-long thirtieth-anniversary celebration that owner Corky Douglass has dubbed "Merci Denver." The activities kick off with a French country picnic and wine tasting on July 12, where new executive chef Marlo Hix will get a chance to strut her stuff. (A former sous chef at both Tante Louise and the late Normandy Restaurant, Hix also served as chef de cuisine at Grouse Mountain Grill in Vail; most recently, she was executive sous chef at the Eldorado Hotel in Santa Fe.)
In addition to doing good works, Douglass wants to commemorate good eats: This year, he also plans to issue a cookbook chronicling the evolution of Tante Louise's cuisine.
The Savoy Restaurant in Berthoud (535 3rd Street) isn't quite as venerable as Tante Louise. And when owners Chantal and Jean Martini reopen their eatery on July 12 after a well-deserved break, they'll have only two days to prepare for their tenth-anniversary Bastille Day celebration -- a traditional four-star French dinner -- on Sunday, July 14. Mon Dieu!
And you don't have much more time to submit nominations for the Colorado Restaurant Association's first Hospitality People Employee Awards. Winners in two categories -- supervisory and non-supervisory (no bartender classification?) -- will be announced August 8 at Keystone Resort; for a nomination form, contact the CRA office at 303-830-2972.