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A bartender prepares the Mr. Brightside cocktail—a mixture of vodka and sherry—at Queens Eleven. Photo by Joshua Perez

Queens Eleven Is At the Forefront of Denver’s Minimum Wage Increase

The one-month-old cocktail bar/cafe is paying its employees the higher 2022 mandated wage—and serving affordable craft cocktails.

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There are many noteworthy aspects to Queens Eleven, a new cafe/cocktail bar inside the Hub building at 36th and Walnut streets, but we’ll start with the two most atypical: First, the delightfully complex drinks are all just $8 a pop, and second, at a time when many players in the hospitality industry are pushing back against Denver’s minimum wage hike, Queens Eleven’s owners went the opposite way, deciding to pay its staff the even higher 2022 mandated wage two years before they have to.

On January 1, 2020, Denver’s minimum hourly wage jumped from $11.10 to $12.85 (or $9.83 for tipped employees); by 2022, it will further increase to $15.87 ($12.85 for tipped employees). Queens Eleven, along with its sister coffee shop Blue Sparrow, was already paying above the minimum, but as of the new year, all employees got bumped up to the 2022 rate of $12.85 per hour, a 22 percent raise.

So how can the business charge lower prices and still take care of its employees above and beyond the industry norm?

“Ask me a year from now,” jokes co-owner Jeffrey Knott. “We’re trying to be different. We hope it catches on.”

Those $8 cocktails include the spicy, beet-heavy, mezcal-based God Beet the Queen and the creamy pisco and fernet blend, If You Know. Glasses of wine go for $6 and beers for $2.11. Remember, those aren’t happy hour prices; those are all-the-time prices.

There are good deals on food, too. Queens Eleven has a tight menu of salads and sandwiches—try the red bean and plantain combo—created by chef Edwin Sandoval’s Xatrucho Concepts, and burritos from Onefold. The biggest crowd comes in the a.m. for reasonably priced coffees, but we think it’s only a matter of time before those $8 cocktails win over local night owls.

Besides the affordable food and drink, there’s another big reason to check out this cafe/bar: the ethereal wall mural painted by Spanish artists PichiAvo. Gaze upon the sculptural street art from a barstool, turquoise seat, or, better yet, one of two corner leather couches, all while knowing that the bartenders and servers are being paid fairly.

When considering that minimum wage bump, Knott turned to a thoroughly modern source of data: Instagram. He polled Blue Sparrow’s customers and discovered that 80 percent supported Denver’s minimum wage increase, with 76 percent saying they’d pay $0.50 cents or more per drink to fund it. He also received comments suggesting that it’s up to owners to cut into their own profits, something he, along with partner Fiona Arnold, took to heart.

“It’s our responsibility as business owners to be good members of the community,” Knott says. “I think we can do better. Our employees deserve better.”

Knott and Arnold are betting on their business model, doubling down on Blue Sparrows—a second location is opened today on Platte St. They also plan to open a fancier cocktail bar, also on Platte St., in February.

If you go: 7 a.m.–11 p.m. daily, 3603 Walnut St.

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