The year 2019 looked promising for Denver restaurateurs Stephen Julia, Katsumi Yuso Ruiz, Stuart Jensen and Zach Spot at their lower downtown bar Brass Tack.
Before opening Brass, the team tested the chops running their bar and restaurant in two operations inside Denver Central Market in the North Art District.
But 2 1/2 years after introducing their first brick-and-mortar concept in a renovated 19th-century loft on Blake Street, they’ve announced it’s closing permanently. Brass Tax will be closed after the evening service on Sunday, October 10. Meanwhile, the team’s other businesses across the city have come to a halt.
“On a personal level, we are (outrageously) tired,” Julia told The Denver Post. “It was a tough year … and there are a lot of other things in our lives that we want to make sure all work out.”
For her final nights out, Julia expects the founding bartenders and former staff to return to the bar for guest appearances. So until October 10, regulars and fans can be reminded of the place that used to pull them until the rug was pulled out.
“We were trending to make good money (in brass tax), and we had happy people and everything was going well,” Julia told of her first year in business. “To be honest, if COVID hadn’t happened, I don’t think we would be closing now.”
Later in 2019, Julia and her team opened another bar, Rogers Liquid Oasis, in the new Edgewater Public Market. Having operated restaurants and bars in three Denver neighborhoods, he says he is well aware of the contrasts between each of his successes in the pandemic.
The group’s bars in Edgewater and Reino are doing well, said Julia, while downtown business hasn’t returned yet.
“When we opened, I thought there might be a resurgence of restaurant rows, just outside Larimer Square,” he said. But starting in March 2020, all the traffic we used to see around Blake Street suddenly came to a halt.
From office workers to commuters, concerts and event-goers, even locals, “literally they all disappeared, every single one.”
As the pandemic spread, the team tried different approaches, from changing the look of their bar to changing the menu options. Shortly after indoor dining returned to full capacity, Chef Spot left the bar to open another fast-casual counter in Denver Central Market, while new brass tax chef JV Hernandez created a more upscale menu on Blake Street, Which Julia hoped to raise the check average and help. Bottom line of business in 2021.
By late summer, Barr had also parted ways with Hernandez.
“We changed some of what we were doing,” Julia said. “Our strategy and intent worked, but there just weren’t enough people coming in.”
And though he acknowledges that other businesses around him are making it work, “it just doesn’t feel like a lively or fun city.”
For now, the team will focus its efforts on the businesses to market. And while there’s no shortage of restaurant jobs, Julia said she could at least put her employees in other locations, if they wanted to.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen in winter,” he said. “And I can’t let (Brass Tack) stay in the void. But we have lots of other people and places to think about, and I want to make sure I’m not just pushing for something that drains our wealth and doesn’t leave us facing a storm elsewhere. Give. “
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