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Bottoms up, Denver: City 'consumption zones' will allow you to take your drink with you

Patrons could walk bar-to-bar, drink in hand
Posted at 4:43 PM, Apr 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-06 09:02:40-04

DENVER — If ever there were a sign that normal life is within reach, it's that we've found time for old controversies again.

The City of Denver is once again finalizing a plan to let businesses seal off their respective blocks so customers can walk from bar to bar, drink in hand.

The plan was put on hold for a full year during the height of the pandemic, but it is back on the table for discussion this week in the Denver Department of Excise and Licensing.

Think of this as a much smaller, much more contained version of Bourbon Street in New Orleans or Beale Street in Memphis, Tennessee.

Restaurants certainly find it appealing.

“To be honest, I think it’s a great idea,” said Jody Bouffard, owner of Blush and Blu, an LGBTQ bar on Colfax.

The people who live nearby are understandably hesitant.

“I haven't really found many citizens of Denver that want this," said Loretta Koehler, who lives in the Baker neighborhood near South Broadway.

Much like Las Vegas and New Orleans, common consumption laws allow you to walk out of a bar with your drink.

The Colorado state legislature approved the idea back in 2012. And now, after a year of COVID-related delays, the City of Denver will start taking applications for common consumption areas this summer.

“I sort of see some kind of festival sort of a spot, with little pockets - especially with big blocks shut down,” said Pierce McKenna, general manager of First Draft in Denver’s RiNo neighborhood.

“Especially on Colfax, to be able to have customers come in, get a drink and go watch any of the multiple parades that go on out here throughout the year," Bouffard said.

Bars would be required to pour drinks into plastic cups marked with their name if a customer decides to leave.

Some don’t like the idea.

“Keeping the booze inside is fine,” said bartender Lindsey Wise-Kirke. “We’ve got enough patios. I don’t know that we need to be wandering around with an open container situation.”

But the City of Denver believes it will work.

“In that designated area someone could go purchase a drink at the Italian restaurant and walk over to the area where someone could purchase a margarita from the Mexican restaurant,” said Eric Escudero, spokesman for the City of Denver.

The rules would require a group of bars in any given area to have a security plan.

“It sets these designated areas where businesses can form partnerships and hopefully will help them recover after this pandemic," Escudero said.

But homeowners like Koehler remain skeptical.

"It's a tough thing,” Koehler said. “And we want to make sure it's working for neighbors, also. Not just the bar owner."

Others see trash and over-consumption as potential issues.

"Tennyson - that area - you always find beer bottles, wine bottles and all that," said a man named Dave who asked us not to use his last name. “Keep it in the patio area or something like that. You can socialize with everybody there. There are kids and families out on the sidewalks."

The city is poised to finalize the rules this week. And we could find out as early as late summer if these so-called entertainment districts or common consumption zones hit the spot or come up empty.

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