Turning Restaurants Inside Out for 2020’s Pandemic Finale

Restaurants throughout North Denver have turned inside out to stay afloat through the pandemic. Happy Camper, 3211 Pecos Street, provides a tongue in cheek view of the “good life” in 2020.
Photos by Basha Cohen

Through adversity comes innovation. There is no one who has been unaffected by the pandemic of 2020, but restaurants and bars have undoubtedly been hit the hardest. Expanded patios offered a summer respite for the struggling hospitality sector, but as the cold front of winter stretches ahead, it has required a deep stretch of imagination for businesses to remain open. And an even deeper stretch into financing. Due to the unthinkable second shutdown since March that bans indoor seating and requires 8 p.m.closures, restaurateurs have been forced to rethink their survival strategies. Capacity and cash limitations have demanded scrutiny over every detail from menu offerings, operating hours and staffing, weighing labor costs against the customer’s appetite for dining out. For a profession that thrives on creativity, it has given new meaning to being an “Iron Chef.”

Aside from critical-to-survive take away, free delivery, cocktails-to-go, and pre-packaged meal kits, businesses are reinventing how to serve guests who have had enough of home. Restaurateurs throughout Denver have shown their scrappy, Northside Pride and Viking grit to innovate and create magical outdoor dining experiences. Gargantuan tents, geodesic solar domes, igloos, snow globes, greenhouses, shipping containers, canvas and plastic shower curtains have created the framework for foodies in streets, sidewalks, parking lots and alleys. These creative imaginings have been “Santa-fied,”laced in glittery lights, decorated with trendy furniture, stoked with fires and warmed with carpets and heaters appealing to hipsters and romantics alike. Quirky marketing messages beckon apres-street guests to BYOB (bring your own blanket)and #DoItLikeaNative. In other words, if you can ski in a bikini in Keystone, you can surely dine outdoors and weather the weather.

My Brother’s Bar

Innovation is at every turn. My Brother’s Bar, the oldest bar in Denver, open since 1873, has taken it up a wild notch with six enchanting and beautifully designed geodesic solar dome, dine-in living rooms. Co-owner Danny Newman calls them “snow globes.” These outdoor igloos are designed to track solar gain, but they also have individually controlled space heaters. Happy Camper provides a dramatic skylight tent and hilarious cross between Miami meets Santa meets camping cookouts. Signs throughout the whacky space shout, “WEAR YOUR F*&@!#$ MASK!” The Family Jones Spirit House brings their natural mossy, eclectic spirit to the streets with lovely greenhouse sitting rooms, as does Bar Dough’s elegant horticultural privacy suite. Who knew that we would be eating in greenhouses in 2020? Apparently,climate change is real.

It all comes with a cost, though. Tents, structures, propane and electric heaters, exhaust fans and decor add up. Newman’s snowglobes alone cost $1,000 each. Director of Operations for the Family Jones, Terry Freeman said, “We use ten propane tanks a week just to heat the picnic tables. The whole winter project including the greenhouses cost $11,000. We’ve applied for the CRA outdoor grant, but haven’t heard yet.” The state of Colorado and the Colorado Restaurant Association have created grants to help, but there are no guarantees of receiving them. 

Dave Query, owner of the Big Red F group including Lola Coastal Mexican said in his recent newsletter, “When we all fell into this COVID world last March, it was unconscionable that we’d be ‘in this’ by December, but here we are. What a long, strange trip it’s been. We are launching all kinds of fun back-door kitchens and pop-ups and food clubs and deliverables. Please help support our efforts, and the efforts of every small business nearby. Every local needs the support of locals right now — it ain’t coming from anywhere else. Please support every restaurant and locally owned business throughout this holiday season.”

Family Jones

Query says it all. He, alongside many neighborhood restaurant operators, have given back all year in spite of the challenges and hurdles so many have faced. To name just a handful, Justin Cucci’s Edible Beats, Juan Padro from Highland Tap & Burger, Troy Guard from FNG, Andrea West from Fire on the Mountain and Niya Lenay from COVID victim, Local 46, and still thriving el Camino, have continued to give back to our community through food drives, industry meals and helping feed local school families. Greg Pratt, Director of Bienvenidos Food Bank remarked, “I can’t get over the food industry’s support this year in spite of everything they have gone through.”

During this season of giving, let’s give back to them. Support all of our local restaurants whether in person, through take away, or by buying a stocking stuffer gift card. Our gift this year is our health and our community. Give generously. Stay safe. Love Local.  

Don’t see your favorite North Denver restaurant with outdoor dining listed? Let us know at News@DenverNorthStar.com and we’ll update our list as more restaurants expand into the outdoors.

Billy’s Inn-4403 Lowell Blvd
Berkeley Untapped-4267 Tennyson St.
Parisi-4401 Tennyson St.

Daughter Thai Kitchen-1700 Platte St.
My Brother’s Bar-2376 15th St.

Bar Dough-2227 W.32nd Ave
Cart-Driver Highland-2239
W. 30th Ave
El Camino Community Tavern-
3628 W. 32nd Ave
Fire on the Mountain-3801 W. 32nd Ave
Highland Tap & Burger-
2219 W. 32nd Ave
Spuntino-2639 W. 32nd Ave

Acova-3651 Navajo St
Ale House-2501 16th Street
Ash’Kara- 2005 W. 33rd Ave
Avanti Rooftop Deck-3200 Pecos Street
The Bindery-1817 Central Street
Dimestore Delibar-1575 Boulder Street
The Family Jones Spirit House-
3245 Osage Street
The Fifth String-3316 Tejon Street
Happy Camper-3211 Pecos Street
LoHi SteakBar-3200 Tejon Street
Lola Coastal Mexican-
1575 Boulder Street
Maine Shack-1535 Central Street
Mizu Izakaya -1560 Boulder Street
My Neighbor Felix-1801 Central Street
Northside Market and Eatery-
1691 Central Street
Postino-2715 17th Street
Prost Brewing Company &
Biergarten-2540 19th Street
Señor Bear-3301 Tejon Street

The Patio at Sloans-4032 W. 17th Ave

El Jefe-2450 W. 44th Ave.
The Wolf’s Tailor-4058 Tejon St.


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