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The tender ribs at Boney’s Smokehouse BBQ. Bangers and mash at the Irish Snug. Margaritas at Lola. Every Denverite has a fond memory of a delicious experience at a bar or restaurant that has shuttered during the COVID-19 pandemic. Even as we approach the two-year anniversary of Colorado’s first coronavirus shutdown in March, our beloved dining and drinking establishments still face ongoing challenges—and many have closed for good.
Local food businesses continue to battle issues such as debt accumulation, supply chain pains, and lack of staff—problems exacerbated by the rampant surge of the Omicron variant. According to the Colorado Restaurant Association, 85 percent of local restaurants surveyed in January reported a decline in demand for indoor, on-premise dining due to the variant-driven increase in coronavirus cases. This caused owners to reduce hours of operation, close on days they’d normally be open, and other actions that affected their livelihoods. While Omicron cases are falling, uncertainty about the future continues to plague the restaurant industry in Colorado (and across the United States).
Here, 5280 staffers and contributors pay tribute to spots that have ceased operations since March 2020—a bittersweet reminder to support the independently owned bars and restaurants you love the most.
What restaurants or bars are you missing? Write us about it at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Biju’s Little Curry Shop, Berkeley (closed March 2020)
I will miss Biju’s Little Curry Shop, which had such an innovative concept for Indian fast-casual food. Most Indian restaurants in Colorado serve North Indian–style buffets with a familiar menu, so it was so refreshing to see a South Indian–inspired modern approach for the Denver market. Kudos to chef-owner Biju Thomas for experimenting with new flavors and format for a cuisine that is more creative and exciting than most U.S. Indian restaurants reflect. —Vignesh Ramachandran, contributor
Frijoles Colorado Cuban Cafe, Lakewood (closed May 2020)
Tucked into a nondescript, chain-heavy strip plaza, Frijoles Colorado Cuban Cafe’s location wasn’t anything special. Neither was the decor inside the small eatery, which had all the charm of a Jimmy John’s. It didn’t matter that the place was short on style because it was long on flavor, personality, and, for me, nostalgia. As a 19-year-old college kid, I was lucky enough to be one of the few Americans to visit Cuba because I was on a study abroad program. During three amazing days, I got to experience Cubans’ zest not only for life, but also for food. At Frijoles, that same gusto and joie de vivre were on display in the animated owners and staff as well as in the fried plantains, the classic Cubano sandwich, and, my favorite, the Lechon, Moro y Yuca, the eatery’s signature plate of pork, white rice infused with black beans, yuca, and caramelized onions. The pandemic may have taken Frijoles from us, but there are certain sensations—delicious aromas, comforting vibes, indescribable flavors—that will forever live on in our memories. —Lindsey B. King, 5280 editorial director
The Mediterranean Restaurant, Boulder (closed June 2020)
Twelve years ago, my husband and I had our first date at the Mediterranean Restaurant (though no one ever called it that) in Boulder. Young and fairly broke, we met up at the Med to drink the house red and share bacon-wrapped dates. Three years later, we toasted to getting engaged atop Flagstaff Mountain with dinner and on-the-house dessert at a table along the front window. Since then we’ve been back for post-hike lunches in the open-air courtyard, big group meals with visiting family, and promotion celebrations over nice bottles of wine. The Med—with its tie-wearing servers, affordable but delectable tapas, and colorful tilework—had that magical quality of being perfect for any occasion. I’m so sad we won’t get to mark life’s special moments, big and small, inside its bustling, labyrinthine space anymore. —Jessica LaRusso, 5280 managing editor
When our gaggle of five families, including eight littles under age seven, looked for a last-minute spot to imbibe post-Munchkin Masquerade, there was only one place with enough seating to get a table before 10 p.m.: the Med. We quickly ordered margarita pizzas and falafel balls to keep our little princesses, dinosaurs, and cowboys happy and (obviously) requested a round of white sangria. Our table was raucous with laughter (and a few outbursts of frustration) as we attempted adult conversation while ferrying crayons and coloring books over to the short people. That didn’t seem to bother the table with two older couples sitting near us who smiled at our kids, applauded us for “getting out,” and then, we found out when the bill came, covered our drink tab. —Courtney Holden, contributor
Brasserie Ten Ten, Boulder (closed June 2020)
My palate grew into adulthood at Brasserie Ten Ten, a French bistro where I spent so many occasions: birthdays, pre-shift happy hours (I worked as a server at the dearly departed Old Chicago down the street for five years), and date nights with girlfriends and my boyfriend (now husband). I can still smell the fresh flower bouquets that bedecked the space; feel the coolness of the marble-topped bar table under my elbows; and taste the quail-egg-topped steak tartare, mussels doused in chorizo-spiked broth, and crispy, skinny frites. Those are dishes I would have never learned to appreciate and seek out at other restaurants if I hadn’t spent so many hours within the walls of the brasserie, which I miss dearly. —PK
Gozo, Baker (closed July 2020)
Gozo where’d you go to?!? I miss your wide-open windows, your designed-for-my-tastebud’s menu—best fried calamari in town—your enticing wine list and servers who could tell me what’s good with what and never be wrong. Most of all I miss visiting your close-by-my-home, low-key hangout that was always welcoming to this solo eater. —Charli Ornett, 5280 photo editor
Bru Handbuilt Ales and Eats, Boulder (closed August 2020)
Chef-owner Ian Clark built-out the charming interior by himself, even the wood-fired oven that cooked nearly all of the wonderful food at Bru Handbuilt Ales. Clark flooded the food-forward brewpub with heart, grit, and brewing and culinary savvy. My father-in-law ate there once a week for years, up until he died; if he missed his usual day, staff would worry about him. It was a special place. Boulder lost a bit of soul when it closed. —Doug Brown, contributor
Acorn, RiNo (closed September 2020)
We have so many food halls in Denver now. But when the Source opened in 2013, it was like a cool new kid had moved to town, impressing us with its vintage exposed brick splashed with graffiti. I loved coming to RiNo to pick up a bouquet of flowers, bulk spices, and then doing a mini food crawl, bouncing between Comida (also closed in the Source; RIP spicy margs and griddled tacos!) and Acorn to indulge in ribeye with tallow vinaigrette or the super rich shrimp and grits. One of the best compliments we can pay food is to say we crave it; and I still think a lot about the kale-apple salad dressed in a zesty lemon vinaigrette that I just can’t seem to fully replicate at home. —Brittany Anas, contributor
Zolo Southwestern Grill, Boulder (closed November 2020)
When it opened in 1994, Zolo Grill was a revelation and a blast of bright flavors most of us hadn’t sampled: duck confit enchiladas, roasted poblano rellenos, and legit, scratch-made guacamole. In the quarter century that followed—a millennium in an industry where most eateries don’t last three years—restaurateur’s Dave Query’s first solo eatery survived the demise of its Southwestern cuisine [by reinventing its menu] several times. Multi-generational families celebrated birthdays and holidays there over well-made margaritas. Zolo thrived until COVID finally closed it in 2020. — John Lehndorff, contributor
Bar Helix, RiNo (closed November 2020)
What I miss most about Bar Helix is the pure sexiness of the room from the moment you walked in—as if you’d stepped into a James Bond movie—upscale but approachable, sleek yet unfussy, stylish, and sublime. Whether you opted for a flight of negroni variations or a Bump and Bubbles caviar pop, the lush and lavish experience felt like you’d somehow teleported to a metropolis where everyone was beautiful but you still managed to feel like the most important person in the room. —Eric Elkins, contributor
Boney’s Smokehouse BBQ, Downtown (closed December 2020)
I really miss Boney’s Smokehouse BBQ that was owned and operated by Lamont and Trina Lynch. The Lynches invigorated Denver’s restaurant scene with sublimely smoked, Memphis-style barbecue complemented with expertly-cooked soul food side dishes and desserts. I still dream of Boney’s pork spare ribs, smoked-then-fried chicken wings, and peach cobbler. —Adrian Miller, contributor
Brass Tacks, Downtown (closed October 2021)
Brass Tacks was one of the first spots I visited as part of the 5280 food team—and as such, one of the most magical. With its kitschy-cool wall art, hip menu board hanging high above the impressive bar, bevy of creative cocktails on tap, and lineup of sophisticated eats (looking at you, bone marrow), it was a bar for insiders, those who truly belonged to Denver’s food and drink community. Though I’ll never go back for a second visit, I’ll always be grateful for how Brass Tacks welcomed me to the community. —Riane Menardi Morrison, 5280 associate food editor
TAG Burger Bar, Downtown (October 2021)
I view any space that lets me order tots as a safe space, but TAG Burger bar was special, and their burgers still live in my mind rent-free as some of the best ever served in the Mile High City. You couldn’t go wrong with one of their classic patties, or some kind of green-chile-infused or brie-laden weekly special; they were always coming up with these combinations of ingredients to put on burgers that were inventive but still unpretentious—which is hard to come by. —Madi Skahill, 5280 digital assistant editor
McClellan’s Brewery, Fort Collins (closed November 2021)
I’ll never sip a flat beer again without thinking about McClellan’s Brewery. When they closed their Fort Collins doors this year, we lost a proper Scottish pub. There, I learned about casks, executing a pull, and authentic wee heavies (sniff sniff). —Kristin Owens, contributor
Breakfast King, Overland (January 2022)
I’m a decidedly uncool person, but when I slid into an orange vinyl booth at Breakfast King, I became cool. We all did. When we were there—at 9 a.m., 5 p.m. or, more often, 2 a.m.—we were in on the secret. The hot coffee, spicy green chile, classic diner waitress secret. We could be the people we were, or we could be the people we weren’t. The King didn’t care. But alas, the King is dead, leaving a country-fried-steak-size hole in Denver’s heart. —Allyson Reedy, contributor
[Read A Running List of Restaurants and Bars Closed in the Denver Metro Area]