Rooftop patios the latest bar battleground near Coors Field by the Ed Sealover at the Denver Business Journal Standing on the rooftop of the 6-month-old ViewHouse at the corner of 20th and Market streets, owner Francois Safieddine could almost see over the walls of Coors Field as the Colorado Rockies played this season.
But turning just 90 degrees, Safieddine had a bird’s-eye view of a bigger battle — that of three bars, including his, that all sport expansive rooftop patios on three of the four corners of the intersection. Throughout the summer, ViewHouse (which opened in March), Lodo’s Bar and Grill (which opened in 1994) and the Tavern Downtown (which opened its roof in 2006) sought to attract patrons. They marketed, offered specials and bragged about their views. In the end, the new kids on the block exceeded expectations, the Tavern’s traffic was even with 2012 and Lodo’s reported that revenue declined by a “sizable amount.” “I truly believe that the market is going this direction,” Safieddine said. “People like to be casual, they like to be outdoors … In the near future, if you don’t have a rooftop as part of your operation, you’re going to struggle in the summer.” Safieddine is more known as one of Denver’s top nightclub operators, owning such hot spots as Chloe, 24K and Oak Tavern. He originally planned to use the former warehouse at 2015 Market St. as a corporate office. But as he looked out at Coors Field, he realized — as did Frank Schultz, CEO of Tavern Hospitality Group, and George Mannion, Lodo Restaurant Group managing partner with their establishments — that he was sitting on a gold mine. Safieddine and Brad Manske, managing partner of ViewHouse, expected to create competition with Lodo’s and Tavern Downtown for patrons. They also believed that by offering a more upscale menu than the other two rooftop competitors, Lodo’s and Tavern Downtown would feel comfortable about raising food prices rather than having to minimize profits in order to outsell each other. Schultz said bigger crowds came to the area this summer, though he didn’t know whether to attribute that to the presence of the ViewHouse or the good start to the Rockies season. He said Tavern Downtown had “a good year, but about the same as last year.” “I’m a big believer — and I’ve seen it in different locations that we’ve been in — the more that’s going on, the better,” said Schultz, whose Hospitality Tavern Group operates six other locations under the Tavern brand. “The more the merrier — as long as you have good operators.” Mannion, however, said that he lost business and disagreed with Schultz, saying the crowds were smaller. One reason he lost business is that his customers and potential visitors gravitated to the “newest and brightest” place, the ViewHouse. But he believes the bigger problem is the proliferation, in Lower Downtown and in surrounding neighborhoods, of new establishments getting liquor licenses and siphoning people away from existing hot spots. Mannion noted, for example, that many people take the light rail into downtown Denver, get dropped off by Union Station and walk through a swath of new bars before even getting to the Ballpark neighborhood, giving them less reason to make it up to the corner of 20th and Market streets. “The way Denver views it is they keep offering liquor licenses, and they’ll just get more tax money,” Mannion said. “Well, our tax revenue declined by a sizable amount because our volume isn’t what it once was.” The three establishments are looking at different ways to retain and grow their core crowds. Schultz said The Tavern relies on big crowds during baseball season to make up for the much quieter periods in the winter, especially on weekdays. In comparison, ViewHouse operators set out to find a different crowd. Before opening, they spent six months talking to area businesses and residents, trying to attract the work-lunch and Sunday brunch crowd that other Coors Field-area restaurants don’t have, Manske said. ViewHouse also added touches to its menu not found at some of its competitors, such as a variety of organic selections and items like short rib poutine. “Most of the restaurants in this area, their food production sounds like ‘Beep, beep, beep’ — the sound of the delivery truck backing into the parking lot,” executive chef Jose Guerrero said. “We’re trying to take time to really touch our product.” If such subtle comments — or Schultz noting that his establishment has dress codes banning neck tattoos or pants worn too low — sound like competition, so be it. But both Safieddine and Schultz are doing well enough that they’re already planning their next projects. Schultz owns land one block closer to the stadium at 20th and Blake streets, and he plans to develop that into another rooftop bar at some point. Meanwhile, Safieddine and Manske announced that, like The Tavern and Lodo’s, they will open another ViewHouse location in the south suburbs, taking over the former Trail Dust Steakhouse in Centennial, with plans to open by the start of the 2014 baseball season. Mannion, meanwhile, said he plans to “weather through” by offering good food and service in a location that he opened one year before Coors Field opened. “Everybody’s trying to take their slice of the pie. And the pie has only so many dollars, and it just keeps getting thinner and thinner.” he said.