Drinking Al Fresco

Why does our fair-weathered city lack ample outdoor bar seating?

July 2009

Every summer Friday at 5 p.m., downtown office workers pour out onto the sidewalk in need of cold beers or icy margaritas to cleanse the palate of the workweek. More often than not, the weather is gorgeous—courtesy of our 300 days of sunshine and all—but we just end up steamed that we can't find a stool at a rooftop bar.

Outdoor drinking is one of the great joys of summer, and sitting on lousy plastic patio furniture, sipping cold microbrews, and enjoying the sunset is practically our Colorado birthright. An unofficial survey of downtown's rooftop landscape shows potential: Right now, acres of roofs are filled with air-conditioning units and vents instead of happily imbibing city dwellers. Local restaurants and bars are ignoring our need for vitamin D—and shortchanging their profit margins.

Consider: LoDo bars with rooftops like the Sports Column, Lodo's Bar and Grill, and the Pour House make a killing during the summer; the Tavern Downtown, for example, does 75 percent of its rooftop business during the summer months, thanks to the weather. The rooftops are constantly packed—at 6 p.m. on a weekday, it can be hard enough to get a beer at the bar, let alone secure a table.

So why aren't more restaurants opening bars up top? Restaurant consultant John Imbergamo says that although rooftops are lucrative, the necessary renovations to make the rooftop weight-bearing can dissuade owners. Plus, haggling with LoDo residents can be difficult. "Generally," he says, "they don't like rooftop bars because of the noise."

Fair enough. But we don't need rooftop bars to stay open until 2 a.m.; we just want a spot to drink while it's sunny out. Let's say till 8 p.m. By that time, it's starting to get cool, and most workers are headed home anyway. So, LoDo, let's agree: We'll keep it quiet after dark if you just let us have a couple of Sunshine Wheats in the waning mountain sunlight.