Two of Denver’s beloved old-school restaurants are getting a makeover and reopening later this summer, a promising development after a string of closures that began just before the pandemic.
In recent years, local restaurants such as Tom’s, Roots, Denver Diner, Breakfast King and more recently Annie’s Cafe have all announced closures in the face of property sales and redevelopments.
They join a long list of decades-old institutions that have recently gone bankrupt, from Pete’s Greek Town to Bonnie Brae Tavern. But the transformations of two local restaurants show what the future of these community spaces could look like, under very different circumstances.
At Tom’s Diner on East Colfax Avenue, construction is underway for a complete renovation of the historically designated 1967 Googie-style building. Restaurateur Tom Messina announces his new Tom’s Starlight will reopen in August, with a revamped interior, new menu and outdoor spaces reminiscent of mid-century Palm Springs style.
“We’re bringing in a lot of landscaping and planting over 24 trees,” Messina told the Denver Post. “We will have seven cabanas, a few fire pits and a 30ft outdoor bar… which will be something special, especially where it is, surrounded by concrete. I think people are going to really have fun and not feel like they’re downtown.
Messina has worked for more than two years with historic Ohio-based real estate company GBX Group and Denver architect Kephart to reimagine the space he operated for 20 years as a 24-hour restaurant.
But now, “no more diner atmosphere, other than we kept the building envelope and kept the layout, if you will,” Messina said. “And no more 24/7, thank goodness. It won’t be like a dinner menu with seven pages.
The former restaurant counter will be transformed into a full bar with a smaller menu to accompany all drinks. Think classic shrimp cocktails, calamari, steak, pork chops and fish. And while the original stone and bay window surroundings will be preserved, the restaurant’s decor will lean heavily towards dark woods, with a complementary color palette – all orange, brown and avocado green.
“For people who know (the space), there will be a wow factor going from old to new,” Messina said. “And then, when you go outside…”.
The real spectacle comes in the form of “Vegas pool vibes without the pool”. Messina sees this dynamic outdoor space — a necessity for restaurants in the post-COVID era — as the most important piece for the future of his business.
“I think what we’re doing is a surefire way to meet the needs of the changing restaurant world,” he said.
When Messina was initially approached by Historic Denver and GBX Group, he wanted to leave the restaurant business. “At that time in my life, I just wanted to cash out and move on,” he said. “But here we are two and a half years later, and we’ve found a way forward that I think will make everyone happy, myself included.”
However, not all restaurant owners have found such a beneficial partnership to keep their business alive. Further east on Colfax Avenue, Annie’s Cafe and Bar will sell at the end of June to new owners who plan to completely change its concept.
It’s a bittersweet ending for Annie’s owner Peggy Anderson, who previously hoped her sister and niece would continue to operate the 41-year-old restaurant, just in a new location.
“As it stands, we’re just closing and it’s kind of a ‘wait and see,'” Anderson told the Denver Post last week.
What is certain is that the local Indian restaurant Spice Room will reopen in the space by the end of the summer. It’s a concept launched by three friends who all dreamed of opening their own restaurant. They launched Spice Room in 2017 with a small location at 3157 W. 38th Ave., but have found such a following that another larger location is key to the viability of the business, said co-owner Kal Pant.
“We’ve been focused on (consistency) since we opened,” he said. “After a year we realized it was a small space…plus we have four partners so we can have two in one place, two in the other. I don’t want to have 15 restaurants, just two good ones.
So when they found out Annie’s location was up for sale earlier this year, they jumped on it. It’s a chance to be their own landlords, since they don’t own the 38th Avenue food court, and to invest in Denver real estate for the long term.
“It took me forever (to find a second space), and I didn’t get everything I wanted, but at least I’m lucky,” Pant said.
As for replacing an institution like Annie’s, “when you have demographics and people’s idea behind what they want, there’s a collective feeling,” he explained. “Once (customers) find what they love, they will see the light of day. So we have to know what customers want and try to move or change accordingly. »
Whether Annie’s clientele, as well as the surrounding neighborhood, will find and frequent the new Spice Room remains to be seen. Pant just hopes his new clientele will keep an open mind and let his restaurant entice them.
“There is a balancing act,” he said. “You have to be able to adapt as a business owner, and as a customer as well.”
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