Perhaps it goes without saying that the last couple of years have been tough for restaurants. Between required closures, capacity restrictions, hesitation among diners to eat out, rising food and labor costs, and labor shortages, it’s amazing so many eateries survived.
But even those that did are now facing the harsh realities of rising rent and being ousted by landlords as real estate continues to change hands.
It’s not all doom and gloom, though. More than a dozen new breweries are slated to open along the Front Range by year’s end and there are also new restaurants popping up we’re excited about.
Still, there’s no question Denver’s dining scene has changed immensely. Here’s an ode to 10 establishments we lost in the Mile High City. We know this list is incomplete, especially since it focuses just on Denver.
We also asked readers to submit a toast to the eateries they miss most. Aldya Morosco, for example, gave a shout out to Golden European in Arvada, which closed in June after 27 years.
“They had excellent schnitzel, spaetzle and red cabbage,” Morosco said. “I just learned of their closing and am so sad I missed having at least one last German/Czech/Polish style comfort food dinner there!”
And the Preservery in RiNo announced its closure late last week, after this list was put together.
Feel free to send us a tribute to a now-closed restaurant you miss at [email protected].
When the building on Colfax Avenue that housed Annie’s Cafe went up for sale, owner Peggy Anderson knew she would have to buy it or move the restaurant. It would have been the second move to a third location in the business’ 41-year history. Instead, Anderson decided to retire in June, taking the robust menu of Benedicts and omelets along with her.
Bonnie Brae Tavern
Opened in 1934, Bonnie Brae Tavern was a stalwart of Denver’s dining scene and family-owned until its closure in June. The restaurant, known for its menu of burgers, salads and made-to-order pizzas, closed shortly after owners Ricky and Michael Dire sold the building. The business operated for 88 years.
Diners far and wide took a hit during the COVID-19 pandemic, including longtime favorite Breakfast King, which was open at the corner of Santa Fe and Mississippi since 1975 before shuttering for good in January. Denver Post reader Ellen Zachary wrote that she misses grabbing breakfast at the 24-hour spot after hitting the bars. Same.
Denver Diner, a 30-year icon serving up eggs, burritos and other breakfast staples, was among the first COVID-19 casualties. It closed in November 2020 to meet pandemic restrictions, but even when restaurants were allowed to reopen in a limited capacity, Denver Diner did not. It announced the closure would be permanent in January 2021.
Hardships brought on by the pandemic, namely rising food and material costs, caused this Texas-style smokehouse to shutter in early 2022, leaving a brisket-sized hole in the barbecue scene. Luckily, it was quickly filled by former staff members Michael Graunke, Juan Pablo Llano and Esteban Gallardo, who inherited Owlbear’s smoker and location from its former owner and opened their own joint called Pit Fiend in the RiNo neighborhood.
House-made pasta was among the biggest draws to Piatti Italian restaurant. Sure, it was a chain, but the restaurant became a Cherry Creek institution after spending 27 years serving diners in the neighborhood. That run came to a sudden end around Christmas 2021 after the restaurant’s landlord asked it to vacate the property.
Whether you came for breakfast, lunch or dinner, dining at Racines was equally about the comfort food as much as it was the comfort of the atmosphere. In the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, Racines announced its plans to close by early 2021, fully intent on reopening post-lockdown. However, the 36-year-old legend never did. The owners sold the land, decided to shut down instead of reopen for a brief period, and longtime fans never got a last chance to stop by.
Tables, a Park Hill favorite with a seasonally rotating menu that never ceased to inspire, closed in August after 17 years. Chef-owners Amy and Dustin Barrett said personal circumstances, including the passing of Amy’s dad, led them to re-prioritize and they decided it was time to move on from the restaurant.
Third Culture Bakery
When Third Culture Bakery expanded from California to Aurora in February 2020, hundreds lined up to get a taste of its mochi muffins and doughnuts. The bakery even expanded to a second location in mid-2021. But pandemic hardships, including racism experienced by owners Wenter Shyu and Sam Butarbutar, led the company to close both locations by the end of 2021.
To the Wind
What the 15-seat To the Wind Bistro lacked in size, it made up for in dazzling dining experiences. The restaurant, a hot spot for celebrations and dinner before a show at the nearby Bluebird Theater, closed in May after an eight-year run. Denver Post reader Jessica Nelson said she won’t miss a specific dish — she ordered something different every time — but rather “the intimate nature of the space and dining experience.”
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