In the 1970s, before Larimer Square became an unofficial ambassador to Denver, when Dana Crawford was still desperate to find tenants for the street and faced an uphill battle, quite literally, with constant construction and a giant mound of dirt in the middle of the road, the developer decided to have a little fun.
“Ski Larimer Square” read the signage Crawford put out, tongue in cheek, to welcome pedestrians to her new vision for Denver. Then she opened The Market, modeled after New York specialty grocers. It and the surrounding block went on to flourish for more than 40 years.
Today, Denver’s most iconic block is once again facing a sea change in the likes of “Ski Larimer Square.”
Retail businesses like a floral design studio, vintage clothing shop and tattoo parlor have popped up around the square’s vacant spaces this year, while new food businesses like a Chinese street food spot, a fried chicken shop and a year-round farmers market are still to come.
At least six brand new food and drink businesses are set to open this season around the Square. And from their ownership to their offerings and design, they’re all clearly aimed at a younger, local crowd.
“We want you back on Larimer Square,” said Michael Swift, who’s opening his Chinese street food pub and tea room, Bao Brewhouse, in the next month or so in the building last occupied by Euclid Hall.
By “you” he means people like himself, who live in River North (or another young neighborhood), are in their 30s and haven’t considered Larimer Square a destination for years.
“We’ve all kind of talked through this as a team and are really hoping to kind of build up the block together, bring something new and different and make it feel young again,” he added.
Swift is one of a few new entrepreneurs on the block who have been able to take advantage of open leases and lower rents during the pandemic. Their situation is bittersweet, to be sure, with many Denverites mourning the closures of their predecessors, like The Market and Euclid Hall.
But Swift and fellow business owners are paying homage to those spaces as well. With Bao Brewhouse, Swift wants to create a late-night food destination with specials for people in the service industry. He said he would often go to Euclid Hall after a shift and hopes to recreate that tradition now.
Around the corner, Josh Sampson will open The Farmers Market LSQ by mid-October, and he’s taken cues from The Market before him, while bringing the concept forward in time.
The Farmers Market will feature a bunch of local vendors — baked goods from Hinman’s and Rebel Bread, Little Owl coffee, YAYE Organics and even The Market’s famed Spring Fling Cake from its former bakers, who formed their own pandemic business, Lala’s.
“It’s a great mix, and then the other twist is we’ll have a liquor store inside focused on natural wines,” Sampson added.
Also on the block, Josh Schmitz is taking over the spaces previously occupied by Eve and Timbuk2 boutiques to create a coffee shop and bar called Ghost Coffee Saloon, as well as an ice cream parlor and interactive art installation called Hidden Gems.
Schmitz is behind another coffee shop and whiskey bar, Bellwether, across town. He’s modeling Ghost Coffee on that concept, while bringing in Denver artist Wes Bruce to create something entirely new next door at Hidden Gems — a “forced interaction” inspired by both trap music and “The Wizard of Oz” and “with ice cream at the end.”
Schmitz started his hospitality industry career in Larimer Square, “and I kind of always had a soft spot in my heart for it, but I can’t say the last time I went down there before this project,” he explained.
Now he’s excited to be a part of the next wave: “The coronavirus in an odd way has benefited us (new business owners). It was scary to see people who were mentors of mine not want to touch (the real estate) … but it’s really kind of been a biblical flood for young entrepreneurs and creatives like myself.”
Here’s a rundown of every food concept so far coming to Larimer Square.
Hidden Gems: Trap music, Wizard of Oz, forced interaction art and then ice cream, but only in vanilla and with 35 different cereal toppings to mix in. “I think I might have actually created the coolest ice cream shop in America,” owner Josh Schmitz said. Mid-October opening, tentatively. 1413 Larimer St.
Ghost Coffee Saloon: All-day nitro whiskey on tap, or espresso, depending on your mood, and macarons and other cakes made fresh. Mid-October opening, tentatively. 1411 Larimer St.
The Farmers Market: Natural wine, craft beer, liquor, breads, pastries, Spring Fling cake, organic meals to go, craft coffee and more. Mid-October opening. 1445 Larimer St.
Fat Baby Fried Chicken: Fried chicken sandwiches and 1960s soul music tucked in an alleyway while you’re wearing a full ski suit. December opening, tentatively. 1440 Market St.
Garage Sale: Spinning vinyl, but also vinyl lounge seats and vintage on sale, plus margaritas, “garage beers” and shots, and then “throwback” snacks like Cracker Jacks and pudding packs. Open now, street tacos coming. 1460 Larimer St.
Bao Brewhouse: Chinese street food including but not limited to roujiamo pork-stuffed “burgers,” paired with a green tea lager or Sichuan ale, with a background of graffiti murals all over the first floor, and then a teahouse upstairs — classy vibes, Peking duck to share. Late October opening, tentatively, and later for upstairs. 1317 14th St.
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