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Winter is coming. There is no avoiding the fact that the patio season as we know it is about to end, and with it the opportunity for guests to enjoy the warm weather in the extended dining areas for restaurants and bars, while COVID-related capacity for indoor restaurants is still restricted up to 50 percent or up to fifty people (with a few exceptions).
Coloradans are a hearty bunch who brave the elements on the beach at Arapahoe Basin during the ski season to sip burgers and beers, dance the night away at the annual Icelantic Winter on the Rocks at Red Rocks Amphitheater, and in the worst of conditions, in front of the Broncos Playing truant. But what about a romantic dinner for two under the stars in January or cocktails with friends over a Sunday outdoor brunch when the wind cuts through your sweater faster than the first Bloody Mary cuts through your hangover’s haze?
A drive through the many neighborhoods and restaurant zones of Denver shows that most businesses are still in summer mode and the misters are in full swing. Umbrellas, tarpaulins and open tents provide shade; and the occasional patio heater for the evenings when temperatures plummet into the 50s. However, some companies are already getting creative to make guests feel comfortable this winter, taking advantage of the one-year extension of the City of Denver’s expanded seating program, which now allows bars and restaurants to be spread across parking lots, lawns, and other areas. Sidewalks and lanes until October 2021.
And they may need to get very creative: Larger outdoor seating areas could be considered for indoor capacity purposes, according to recently published guidelines from the Colorado Department of Health and Environment. According to these rules, open tents are considered outdoors, as are tents with two opposite open sides. The only limit on guests would be set by social distancing rules. However, add a third or fourth side and a tent becomes the interior space, subject to the same capacity constraints as a dining room.
To help restaurants survive a long winter, the State of Colorado and the Colorado Restaurant Association, along with several other organizations, have partnered with several other organizations to help create additional outdoor dining spaces for capacity expansion. The Let’s Take This Outside program consists of two parts: The first part is a charrette / design workshop on October 19, which was opened by Governor Jared Polis and which is divided between state officials, architects, engineers, designers and restaurateurs are in teams and commissioned to develop new ideas for outdoor dining concepts. The second is a restaurant grant program that can help finance the construction of approved designs. Xcel Energy has already committed to donate $ 500,000 to the Colorado Restaurant Association Foundation and up to $ 250,000 (depending on donations) to the Colorado COVID Relief Fund.
As a result, restaurants work hard to make their outdoor spaces look hot in the hope that diners will embrace the Norwegian concept of friluftsliv – love for nature, even (maybe especially) in winter.
Various types of heated outdoor seating abound in the city.
Some strange looking buildings have appeared in a former parking lot at My Brother’s Bar (2376 15th Street), which was just outside customers all summer. Wooden decks with geodesic bubbles made of clear plastic each hold a cocktail table, which is surrounded by four chairs. The bubbles inside can get a little steamy in warm weather, but the built-in heater will keep them cozy in winter. A larger tent with space for four groups of four is reminiscent of a Rockwell-era Boy Scout campsite, but is furnished with large tables, chairs, and carpets so you can at least enjoy your jalapeño cream cheese burger with a pint or two of beer all winter.
Annette (at Stanley Marketplace, 2501 Dallas Street, Aurora) has created about a dozen greenhouse structures for outdoor dining. Made of clear plastic over metal frames, the greenhouses resemble oversized Monopoly houses and each hold a table, allowing for maximum comfort and minimal contact with other guests. You will also have portable heaters when the temperatures start to drop. Annette closed for a few days at the beginning of the month to make the final preparations before reopening on October 9 with the greenhouses ready for the guests.
ViewHouse’s terrace now looks more like a greenhouse.
In the Ballpark district, ViewHouse (Market Street 2015) built a greenhouse-like structure on its street-level terrace with a high ceiling for good air circulation and a huge TV at one end for sports watching. Reservations are recommended if you want to reach one of the indoor and outdoor tables. Food is served until 11:30 p.m., 30 minutes after the last call to Denver. You can also have brunch in the tent from 10 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.
Just a few blocks away, Denver Central Market (2669 Larimer Street) is preparing to hibernate the parking lot seating that has been under open tents all summer. These are replaced by a larger tent with lockable sides; Natural gas heating keeps the room warm. A stone stove is also built in to create an alpine lodge feel, but it’s not a really working fireplace (which we’d love to see). It turns out to be a prop, albeit a realistic one, that only requires a bearskin rug to complete the look. Vintage chandeliers, carpets and Christmas decorations are also being added for a “winter wonderland” feel, according to a market spokesman.
Denver Central Market is getting ready for a stove winter.
Stephen Julia, co-owner of Curio Bar in Denver Central Market, and his partners also run Roger’s Liquid Oasis, the bar on Edgewater Public Market (5505 West 20th Avenue, Edgewater). He says the rooftop bar with an Airstream trailer will stay open for comedy and music events as much as possible this winter. Heaters and a fireplace ensure pleasant conditions.
And that’s just the beginning of the creative possibilities that will soon emerge across town as restaurants prepare for the coming winter months.
Don’t leave the badly affected Denver hotel industry out in the cold in the coming days: Dine outside when you eat out.
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Mark Antonation is the Westword Food & Drink Editor. He began eating and writing about every restaurant on Federal Boulevard and continues to cover the diverse international food scene on Metro Denver and the city’s rapidly changing dining landscape. Mark was recognized as an Outstanding Media Professional by the Colorado Restaurant Association in 2018.