As of Wednesday, Denver restaurants will continue to be open for personal dining, but they will limit their seating to 25% and, according to a new city mandate, stop serving alcohol until 10:00 p.m.
With Denver County’s COVID-19 cases high enough in late October to trigger another order at home, the city is taking this stopgap to avoid another shutdown, authorities said.
According to Michael Hancock, Denver Mayor, the new order will take at least a couple of weeks.
“We want to avoid (shut down the economy) at all costs because it has an amazing impact on everyone,” Hancock said during a press conference Tuesday.
“With very few exceptions, I can tell you that our restaurants have done a phenomenal job,” he added. “And they’re not targeted, I think they’re influenced by things that are beyond our control.”
But restaurant owners say they are wrongly targeted by these restrictions.
“We find this quite punishing,” said Stephen Julia, co-owner of Brass Tacks, Roger’s Liquid Oasis and Curio restaurants and bars in Denver. “You go to (a certain level) and it automatically closes restaurants.”
“We really do a better job than anyone else at home, even tidying things up and keeping people safe,” he said. “We have thought and invested a lot (according to the guidelines) and we have shown that it works.”
According to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, there are currently no COVID-19 outbreaks in restaurants in Denver County. The last outbreaks in Denver restaurants reported by the CDPHE occurred in August when a seated eatery, Mezcal, and a fast food chain, McDonald’s, dealt with staff infections.
When asked what types of facilities are contributing to the current outbreak rates, Bob McDonald, executive director of the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment, said “all venues can contribute.”
“This new order coming from the state here is designed to address all those places where we can see cases,” added McDonald.
As smaller restaurant capacities reduce revenue even further and the last call is postponed from 11pm to 10pm, Julia wants support to help companies overcome the new restrictions.
AAron Ontiveroz, the Denver Post
Restaurant owner Stephen Julia is walking near the outdoor seating tent at Denver Central Market on Tuesday, October 27th. Julia owns three bars in the Denver area, including Curio at Denver Central Market.
“It would be really beneficial if there was also a positive aspect,” said Julia, citing help, suggestion or help from the federal government as an example.
“Honestly, we feel that the government needs to find a way to make people feel like they are together,” said Julia. “It could make this pandemic a lot less severe because everyone would follow the rules a little better because they would feel supported.”
Sonia Riggs, CEO of the Colorado Restaurant Association, says her organization continues to push for “additional government relief, be it in the form of an industry-specific grant program or an extension of (wage protection) or something entirely different.”
Riggs and the CRA see outdoor winterized dining as a partial solution for restaurants trying to get through this next phase and season, but restaurateurs like Julia have run out of hands to spread out and use outdoor seating.
(Provided by Brass Tacks)
The entrance to Brass Tacks is on Blake Street. The bar and restaurant are among many in Denver facing a 25% indoor capacity limit as of Wednesday, with no room for that expansion of the outdoor seating.
Julia’s Bar Brass Tacks, for example, is across Blake Street in downtown Denver and cannot be expanded outside. A few blocks away, neighbors Run for the Roses and Pony Up are facing similar problems.
“I love that so many of these neighborhood places have all that extra outdoor space,” said Angela Neri, owner of Pony Up. “But it’s almost like a slap in the face for us (downtown).”
She said people suggested building greenhouses or igloos for more seating. “Where?” she answers. “We feel a little Charlie Brownish here.”
For now, though, Neri is less concerned about the 25% capacity limit and more concerned about returning to one last call at 10pm. Their bar serves members of the hospitality industry, and that last hour of sales when they come in to eat and drink can make up 30-50% of the nightly business.
“Our busiest times are down here,” said Neri. “Our lunch business consisted of regulars who were in offices and no longer working.” She got creative with pop-ups of unemployed chefs and bartenders to help other industry members attract new customers.
(Photo by Michael Ciaglo, Denver Post Special)
Inside run for the roses in the dairy block. The cellar bar and the restaurant must be occupied to 25% from Wednesday, October 28th.
Across the street from Pony Up, Run for the Roses owner Steven Waters was preparing to end the season on his outdoor patio when news of the 25% capacity restriction came on Tuesday. His plan was to move the business entirely inside for the winter. His bar, which feels like a speakeasy, is in the basement under the Free Market on the Dairy Block.
For Thanksgiving, he’s even planning a winter makeover in a tropical style with completely different drinks and decorations to give customers something to look forward to over the holidays. But with these new constraints, these future plans can be controversial.
“We won’t make it,” he said. “And we’re already going through so many measures to keep people safe.”
Updated October 28 at 11:57 a.m.The following corrected information has been added to this article: Due to a reporting bug, the mandatory last call for groceries in restaurants under a level 3 order was previously incorrectly specified. Restaurants must stop serving alcohol at 10 p.m. but can continue to serve food after that.
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