Whitney Buttorff, right, and her sister-in-law Grace Buttorff have margaritas at the outside table of Rioja on Larimer Square on May 27. (Photo by Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post)

We’re just going to say it already: Summer in Denver will not be the same this year. Whether you’re out protesting or head-down attempting to get back to work, desperately keeping loved ones healthy and safe or, maybe, all of the above, the idea of sitting back just to relax can seem very far off.

At the gathering places where we’d normally stop to let off steam, we can’t do so in the same way, and some aspects of going out will certainly be lost. But we can now stop in to our very favorite spots and sit around a table within small groups. And maybe some more meaningful meals and shared drinks will result.

Here, a light-hearted look at the things we’ll miss and what we can still look forward to at bars, breweries, restaurants, markets and more.

1. Squeezing in at the bar

What’s lost: There will be no fighting for a bar seat, no lining up and leaning over the counter to try to get a drink. Ahh, those days. But there still will be opportunities to sit at the bar. On Wednesday, Brass Tacks on Blake Street opened to drinkers for the first time since March. Its bar is able to seat a limited amount of walk-in customers, according to bartender Daryl Pryor.

The way it works: Pryor and his team work out of one service well at one side of the long bar, allowing enough room for patrons to sit along the other side (with 6 feet between parties, of course).

“We’re really excited about it, because face-time with a bartender is one of the most important parts of the experience here,” Pryor said. “The table service on the dining room floor will all be handled by our bartenders as well, so we can still provide that hospitality.”

Silver lining: No more angling to get that drink!

2. Going up to the buffet

What’s lost: Buffets are a serious no-no in the time of coronavirus. Just think of all of the opportunities for germs to spread. You’ve got the food sitting out, the serving utensils that are shared, the little buffet-top offering very little protection from the elements … . Need we go on?

The way it works: Even though some foods (Indian! Nepalese! Tibetan! Jazz breakfast! Hotel brunch!) are really fun in buffet form, they should actually taste just as good when served straight from the kitchen. At the popular local Denver chain Yak and Yeti, lunch and dinner buffets are on hold, but that just means you’ll have to commit to a couple of curries.

Silver lining: Not eating from a buffet.

An Aperol, orange spritz crafted with house-made limoncellos at Bar Dough in December 2019. (Daniel Brenner, Special to the Denver Post)

3. Long, lazy brunching

What’s lost: I once sat down inside Bar Dough to eat breakfast at an acceptable Saturday morning hour and didn’t emerge until it was almost time to have dinner (apologies to the staff and our server). But this kind of all-day weekend brunch just won’t fly any longer.

The way it works: Bar Dough is booking up for brunch via the reservation app Tock. (When I checked earlier this week, there were still a handful of weekend reservation times available.) And for diners opting to sit inside, the restaurant makes it clear that 90 minutes is your limit. Exceptions can be made if you put in a request or call ahead, but with a small dining room, it will only be able to turn so many tables. Thankfully, you can also ask for a coveted outside spot where the brunch length isn’t metered.

Silver lining: Be productive, and get on with your day.

4. The community or chef’s table

What’s lost: One of the coolest things about dining out pre-pandemic had to be the option to sit with strangers (if that’s your thing) or else with a front-row seat of the kitchen (if you’re into that). If neither of those lost seating options matters to you, skip to number 5.

The way it works: At Beckon, Denver’s only true chef’s-counter-tasting-menu restaurant, the experience previously relied on sitting around an open kitchen, your date on one side and perhaps a stranger on the other. Now, that’s out of the question, and the dinner has moved outdoors, according to experience director Allison Anderson. Diners will still get a multi-course menu (five dishes for $75), but more courses will be delivered together. Sommelier Zach Byers will still be available ahead of time for a chat about a bottle of wine to pair with dinner.

“We have temporarily lost the drama of the dining room and what we were able to provide our guests by welcoming them to the counter,” Anderson said. But she pointed to the new seasonal and locally sourced menu as the spotlight. Chef Duncan Holmes’ “approach is so honest and unfussy, the plate says plenty with just the touch of a careful hand. That is luxury, right?”

Silver lining: You can sit with people you know and like already.

A rendering of geodesic dome seating outside The Source Market Hall and Hotel. New outdoor dining options are pending city approval and should open sometime in June. (Dynia Architects, provided by The Source)

5. The bustling food hall

What’s lost: Remember the feeling of walking through a crowded market, lining up at a food hall stall to place your order, sitting down at a communal table to wait for your number? Food halls that once saw hundreds and thousands of diners will now have to space out their visitors.

The way it works: One creative solution we’ve seen is The Source Market Hall and Hotel’s plan on Brighton Boulevard, where a former parking lot will be filled in with geodesic dome dining structures that wrap around private tables. Prior to The Source’s rendering, we had seen spacing solutions like plants, dividers and even mannequins sitting at off-limits tables. But this setup sure seems appropriately futuristic.

Silver lining: Why play indoors when you can go outside? 

6. Brewery tours

What’s lost: Pre-coronavirus, Colorado boasted some of the best beer tours in the country. Whether you’ve tried one on foot, bike or bus, there was always something for everyone. New Belgium’s Fort Collins brewery tours, one of the more famous national draws, are on hold until further notice, according to communications director Leah Pilcer.

The way it works: For now, NBB’s patio reopens on June 16 to drinkers who have booked ahead of time through OpenTable. There will only be outdoor table service (no standing around inside the taproom), and food trucks will park and serve following social distancing requirements. With private and public tours of the brewery on pause, Pilcer said they’re working on introducing “digital experiences in the near future.”

Silver lining: Hard to find a silver lining for this one.

The Union Station Farmers Market used to be a social affair. (Ashton Ray Hansen, provided by Union Station Farmers Market)

7. Spontaneity (i.e., just walking in) 

What’s lost: Denver never was a reservation town. Perhaps it was the sheer number of relative entertainment options. But that all changes this summer, when restaurants that before eschewed pre-booking turn to reservations-only, and even farmers markets book up in advance for those venturing to shop in person.

How it works: At the Union Station Farmers Market, opening this weekend, customers are asked to reserve a shopping window ahead of time. They’re available (for free) online and in 10-minute increments (the market also encourages shoppers to keep their browsing to just 10-15 minutes). You can book between 9 a.m. and 1:40 p.m. on market Saturdays.

Silver lining: No waiting once you do arrive.

8. Mingling — not to mention dancing

What’s lost: When Kendra Anderson opened Bar Helix on Larimer Street, she specifically “wanted people to kind of be on top of each other,” she said. But now? “What does it mean to be a bar, and particularly Bar Helix, which I designed very intentionally to be intimate … to encourage co-mingling?” Her answer, and that of many others, required spreading people out and moving outside, at least for the summer.

The way it works: When it reopens this weekend, the bar will feel totally different, according to Anderson. Rather than a dark, sexy and intimate indoor space serving a menu of mostly stirred cocktails, the vibe will be “sunshine, fresh air and all the things we’re craving,” Anderson said, with a patio-friendly food and drink menu. “We’re kind of putting Bar Helix to bed for the summer,” Anderson laughed, “and introducing her sassy little sister. She’s going to lighten it up, be a lot more fun, playful and carefree.”

Silver lining: Little sisters deserve the spotlight, sometimes.

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