When restaurants started putting tables in their parking lots, verges, and, in some areas, streets last year, it was seen as a stop-gap measure to provide safer dining options before COVID vaccines were available. It turns out Denverites liked dining alfresco though, and now the city is designing rules for restaurants that want to continue long term.
“I strongly support the patio seating program,” said Mayor Michael Hancock, speaking at Daughter Thai Kitchen & Bar on Platte St in LoHi. In order to process hundreds of restaurants at once last year, the city adopted looser guidelines than what will likely be formalized in the future.
Angela Fillian, the manager of Daughter Thai, explained the new restaurant was waiting on a patio permit when the pandemic hit, and they closed their dining room. The interim program cut through red tape, allowing them to open a patio on their property almost immediately under the short term rules.
A spokesperson for the Colorado Restaurant Association said an estimated 54% of summer revenue for restaurants this year came from outdoor dining. 373 restaurants utilized the program.
Support for the program is strong from restaurant owners. Elliot Strathmann, co-owner of Spuntino on 32nd Ave, told The Denver North Star that the program “was really essential to us getting through the past year and a half the way we have.” Spuntino expanded into their parking lot last year.
Over on Tennyson St, the popularity of the program is evident as well. Hops and Pie, which doubled their internal space since they first opened, also converted their parking lot for dining space, doubling their size again. Bars like Berkeley Untapped were given permission to expand into the street.
Not every restaurant is planning on turning parking spaces into dining spaces long term though. Further up Tennyson, Parisi turned half of their parking lot into dining under a heated tent, but removed their tent earlier than some other restaurants. Christine Parisi explained the outdoor options were vital but a short term plan for them as cars had a hard time navigating the truncated parking lot, causing problems. She’s supportive of the city exploring outdoor options though, noting other cities that closed small outdoor areas to cars to allow more pods and other outdoor dining, coordinated at a block level instead of each restaurant being on their own. In Denver, Larimer Square adopted that mentality, closing an entire block to cars. Areas like Larimer Square could potentially remain car-free permanently if businesses desire and the city approves. While closing Tennyson St to cars has been discussed from time to time, the concept has never been pursued.
The current rules run through October of 2022, with restaurants renewing their outdoor permits every three months. Early next year, city agencies will be developing their long term plans and accepting applications for restaurants that want to create permanent outdoor spaces. City staff stressed that every restaurant’s situation is different, so while there will be some set rules, applicants will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.