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Nicolais: Racine’s may be gone, but plenty of excellent eateries remain open for business

Restaurants like the British Bulldog have fought through hardship to keep customer safe while serving up their daily specials

Politicos and newsies alike let out a collective moan of despair when Racine’s announced it would close several months earlier than planned due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Or maybe it was just the sound of their stomachs grumbling.

Regardless, the toll taken on Colorado eateries threatens to squelch the burgeoning foodie scene that saw Denver’s recent ascent among America’s best restaurant cities. It is a travesty for our communal taste buds and a tragedy for the workers who relied on our restaurant trips to pay their bills.

For me personally, that reality hit home in early March. Even before Gov. Jared Polis closed restaurants and bars on March 17, I had already stopped attending soccer matches at my beloved British Bulldog restaurant and pub.

Mario Nicolais

While I am not a regular in the same manner as Norm Peterson in “Cheers,” I am typically greeted by several chants and jeers whenever I walk into the Bulldog. And for early morning kickoffs – 5:30 a.m. MT – I typically get a caustic but loving reply from the bar’s aptly named general manager, Sam, when I burst through the doors singing. Given that she’s a Liverpool supporter, her comments aren’t usually fit for print.

So when bars and restaurants were shuttered in March, I knew the names and stories of the British Bulldog’s bartenders and servers. I gratefully chipped in when the Rocky Mountain Blues, my local Chelsea supporters club that has made the far end of the Bulldog its home for more than a decade, began a collection to help the suddenly unemployed staff. 

The money the RMBs raised and gifted seemed like a lot but at the same time, in the face of uncertainty and unparalleled economic hardship, too little.

Not long after Gov. Polis lifted restrictions, soccer returned to Europe and the television screens at the British Bulldog. They reopened with limited seating and, unlike some other dining establishments, in strict accord with COVID-19 regulations. I have yet to make it back because I have vulnerable family members, but several friends reserved seats in advance. 

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Nearly two months later the British Bulldog is still serving up Denver’s best chicken masala alongside hours of soccer. 

Sadly, that is not the case for all my favorite restaurants. I learned from a fellow Chelsea fan that Frijoles Colorado, an exceptional Cuban joint, permanently closed in May. I will miss its gregarious owner almost as much as his “pan con bistec” sandwich on fresh-baked Cuban bread.

To help other local gems avoid a similar fate, my family continues to order carryout on a regular rotating basis from restaurants that take their customers’ safety as seriously as their menus. That means wings and cauliflower baskets drenched in sauce from Fire on the Mountain.

It means finishing a hike along the Colorado Trail with a smothered carne asada burrito and two rellenos from one of the four El Tapatio Mexican Restaurants dotting Wadsworth Boulevard.

It means driving for an hour into the mountains to reach Zoka’s Restaurant and Bar in Pine. Not only do they serve one of the best burgers in the state alongside perfectly golden onion rings, but they’ve converted the restaurant’s windows into individual service stations to keep customers on their deck as safe as possible.

And when I need my Neapolitan fix, it means anything from Café Jordano where on occasion I washed dishes in exchange for a meal during my middle school days.

Racine’s, Frijoles Colorado and many other Colorado favorites have closed shop and left us with a pit in our stomach worse than hunger. Yet the list of establishments continuing to fight through these extraordinary times and provide mouth-watering menus remains long and distinguished. 

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

As infections continue to ebb and flow, it will be up to us to continue supporting restaurants. 

And with a little luck and lots of caution, I will soon find myself doing just that and watching a new season of soccer from my favorite corner booth at the British Bulldog.


Mario Nicolais is an attorney and columnist who writes on law enforcement, the legal system, health care and public policy. Follow him on Twitter: @MarioNicolaiEsq


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