Is it optimism that’s driving Josh Sampson, Josh Schmitz, and Michael Swift to open new restaurants and markets in the heart of downtown Denver in the middle of a global pandemic? Perhaps, but creativity and opportunity are also to blame as the trio help give historic Larimer Square a refresh.
There will be seven new culinary endeavors popping up around the downtown block over the course of the next month or so, including an ice cream shop, a locally sourced market and wine shop, and a Chinese-inspired pub and tearoom. The intention behind each one is rooted in a desire to bring younger visitors to Larimer Square. Each is also in its own phase of the opening process, with some spots still under construction. Here’s what’s open now and what’s to come.
The Farmers Market LSQ (1445 Larimer St.)
Walk into the former home of the Market, past the white picnic tables and lawn chairs on the expanded Larimer Street patio, and you won’t recognize a thing (save the tile floors), even though you’ll surely like what you see. Josh Sampson (also behind Farm & Flea, the Big Wonderful, and other local events) has installed a craft cocktail bar and fast-casual concepts (Farm to Truck lunch and dinner fare, breakfast sandwiches) to choose from up front, with more local vendors and a full wine-and-spirits shop in the back.
On the market shelves and around the central island on the upper level of the space you’ll find artisan breads and tempting pastries from Rebel Bread and Hinman’s Bakery; espresso drinks from Little Owl; Spring Fling and other gorgeous cakes from Lala’s Bakery, owned by alumni of the Market; sundries from local artisans the likes of Dar Chocolate, Miso Hot Chili Paste, and Pastaficio dried noodles; and plant-based, wholesome, from-scratch deli fare, juices, and smoothies from Boulder-based, female-owned Ya Ye Organics.
A refrigerated cooler offers fruits, veggies, eggs, and cheeses courtesy of the LittleJohn Produce Box Project; you can sign up for the company’s subscription program and pick up varying-size portions of fresh produce and other local products there or have the goods shipped to you at home.
Finally, there’s the Farmers Market’s liquor shop, where you can ask sommelier Ghenghis Whetzel and his staff to open a bottle of wine (most fall in the $15 to $24 range) or pour you a happy hour glass ($5 for a four-ounce pour from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.) from the 20-plus rotating Coravin options that you can take outside and sip on the patio. Live music performances will take place on site regularly, as well.
Garage Sale (1460 Larimer St.)
Across the street, Sampson has also opened Garage Sale, in the space formerly occupied by Tom’s Urban. It’s a vintage retail and record shop/casual margarita bar/street taco joint where Sampson hopes you’ll come to shop, dine and drink. Even without the taco menu in place just yet (it’s expected to drop on October 25, featuring various tacos de guisado), you’ll want to stop by for the funky retro clothing, decor, and music—and barman James Keiser’s crushable drinks. (Try the frozen daiquiri made with Nicaraguan Flor de Caña seven-year-aged rum.) There’s even a selfie area set up to look like the basement lair from Wayne’s World, for those in the mood for a bit of extra kitsch.
Ghost Coffee Saloon (1413 Larimer St.)
Restaurateur Josh Schmitz is reincarnating his East Colfax Avenue coffee shop/bar/barbershop Bellwether into a downtown version, sans hair cuts. From 7 a.m. until midnight, the black-and-white muraled space (which formerly housed retailers Eve and Timbuk2) will serve classic cocktails (old fashioneds, Sazeracs) and nitro whiskey on tap, along with Queen City Coffee espresso drinks and the sounds of live guest DJs. Expect to get your buzz on there as of mid-November.
Drunken Bakery (1411 Larimer St., Unit 102)
Next door to Ghost Coffee Saloon will be a whimsical bakery selling French macarons in untraditional flavors (Oreo, Fruity Pebbles, birthday cake); custom cakes; and—why not?—Champagne. Will the sweet treats contain alcohol? Nope. Baker Sabrina Morin enjoys a good drink, though, Schmitz says, so they decided to name the shop as such. The opening should coincide with Ghost Saloon’s sometime in November.
Hidden Gems (1411 Larimer St., Unit 101)
Schmitz is holding nothing back from his ice cream shop and art installation, also scheduled to open in mid-November. The full effect of the immersive place remains to be experienced, but the art definitely comes first, from the moment you walk into the long, narrow room. Artist Wes Bruce, who also designed the fantastical Adventure Forest installation at the Children’s Museum Denver, painted every inch of Hidden Gems by hand, designing around the theme of a “hero’s journey home” and inspired by the Wizard of Oz. As he does for every unique project, Bruce invented a special language to enhance and deepen the viewer’s understanding of the art, which you’ll discover as poems and symbolic clues scattered throughout the space; even the menu will appear in Bruce’s Hidden Gems dialect. Should you fail to decode the beautiful markings, don’t worry, because the ice cream concept is clear and simple: vanilla only, to be blended into a Blizzard of sorts with your choice of more than 30 iconic cereals, cookies, and candies, from Corn Pops and animal crackers to Pop Tarts and Butterfinger.
Fat Baby (1440 Market St.)
On the other side of the alley between Larimer and Market streets sits the future site for this fried chicken sandwich-and-beer garden spot, also by Sampson. You’ll be able to enter the space through the alley behind Tag, which will land you on the back courtyard with its massive honey locust tree, or via the main entrance on Market. Sampson is planning on a ’60s soul theme and hoping for a December opening.
Băo Brewhouse (1317 14th St.)
Michael Swift is the mastermind behind this double-duty Chinese-inspired restaurant, located in the building that housed Euclid Hall until this past spring. The restaurant is close to opening, but for now, you can taste chef Jules DeBord’s cooking at Băo’s food cart on Larimer Street, where she serves roujiamo (a northern Chinese stuffed sandwich), chicken and meatball skewers, shrimp chips, and other street food items.
The fast-casual lower level of Băo Brewhouse is scheduled to open in early November with a gritty-chic, graffitied, Hong Kong-inspired vibe transforming the former pub. Swift and DeBord plan to serve creative iterations of Chinese street fare—dumplings, skewers, noodles, ranging from $8 to $20—and custom beers made in collaboration with Colorado brewers.
Upstairs, the setting will evolve to reflect “Old China,” says Swift, and a higher-end, full-service model. The food and drink also changes into a family-style tearoom concept, complete with hanging lanterns and draped-off private tea rooms along the street-facing windows. Boulder-based Ku Cha House of Tea is providing 20 different styles of tea, which Swift’s team will use to create tea cocktails and traditional tea services to complement the large-format food menu. Expect Peking duck, whole fish, more noodles, and rice dishes. Prices will range from $15 to $50, and the opening is planned for early December.
The final build out will take place in the basement of the building, where Swift is planning a speakeasy that guests will enter through the alley off 14th Street. He hopes to have that running by spring 2021.