2019 looked promising for Denver restaurateurs Stephen Julia, Katsumi Yuso Ruiz, Stuart Jensen and Zach Spott at their Brass Tacks bar in Lower Downtown.
Prior to opening Brass, the team had tested their bar and restaurant chops in two operations inside Denver’s Central Market in the River North Art District.
But two and a half years after starting their first brick-and-mortar concept in a renovated 19th-century loft on Blake Street, they announced its permanent closure. Brass Tacks will close after the evening service on Sunday October 10. Meanwhile, the team’s other businesses across town remain in place.
“On a personal level, we are (expletively) tired,” Julia told the Denver Post. “It’s been a tough year… And there are just a lot of other things in our lives that we want to make sure everything works.”
On her final nights, Julia is hoping the founding bartenders and former staff will return to the bar for guest appearances. So, until October 10, regulars and fans alike can remember a place that drew them until the carpet is pulled.
“We tended to make a lot of money (at Brass Tacks), and we had happy people and everything was fine,” said Julia of the first year in business. “To be honest, if COVID hadn’t happened, I don’t think we would close now. “
Later in 2019, Julia and her team opened another bar, Roger’s Liquid Oasis, at the new Edgewater Public Market. Operating restaurants and bars in three neighborhoods in Denver, he says he’s keenly aware of the contrasts between each of their successes in the pandemic.
The group’s bars in Edgewater and RiNo are doing well, Julia said, while downtown business has simply not rebounded.
“When we opened, I felt like there might be a resurgence of the rows of restaurants downtown, outside of Larimer Square,” he said. But as of March 2020, all the traffic he used to see around Blake Street suddenly stopped.
From office workers to travelers, to concert and event enthusiasts, even locals, “they are all literally gone, all”.
The team tried different approaches as the pandemic progressed, from improving the look of their bar to changing menu options. Shortly after the meals inside returned to full capacity, Chef Spott left the bar to open another quick and relaxed counter in Denver’s Central Market, while new Brass Tacks Chef JV Hernandez created a more upscale menu on Blake Street that Julia was hoping to increase checkout averages and help the company’s bottom line in 2021.
By the end of the summer, the bar had also parted ways with Hernandez.
“We changed part of what we were doing,” Julia said. “Our strategy and intention worked, but there just weren’t enough people. “
And although he admits other businesses around him seem to be making it work, “it just doesn’t seem as vibrant or fun downtown.”
For now, the team will focus its efforts on the marketplace trades. And while there is no shortage of restaurant jobs, Julia said he could at least place his employees in other locations, if they wanted.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen in winter,” he said. “And I can’t let (Brass Tacks) live in a vacuum. But we have a lot of other people and places to think about, and I want to make sure that I’m not just pushing and pushing for something that’s going to drain our funds and not let us weather the storm elsewhere.
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