After drama at the Denver Performing Arts Complex (not onstage), theatergoers have new dining and drinking options

The Next Stage Gallery at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts downtown, June 19, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

The Next Stage Gallery at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts downtown, June 19, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

By Paul Albani-Burgio, for Denverite

After two tenants were booted last year, the Denver Performing Arts Complex has some new options for dining and drinks.

The splashier of the two new spots is Prelude + Post, a sleek offering from the Kevin Taylor Restaurant Group and DPAC hospitality partner, Centerplate, located across from the Buell Theater.

Prelude + Post replaces another Kevin Taylor property, the Limelight Supper Club and Lounge, and aims to offer what DPAC representatives describe as an updated dining experience that is more conducive to pre-show eating than the multi-course dinners that were the Limelight’s specialty.

“The entire point of Prelude + Post and the way the menu is laid out is for social and shareable dining so people can come in and enjoy a charcuterie board or the beet and cheese salad together,” said Katie Bonneau, who is handling public relations for Prelude + Post. “It really has that communal dining element so people are really able to go with big groups and make it more social, but they are also able to get out quicker so they can make their show.”

The other new kid on the theater-filled block is Under the Glass Top, a more casual concept focused on drinks, coffee and a grab-and-go menu of sandwiches, salads and appetizers. Under the Glass Top takes over the former home of Backstage Coffee at 1000 14th Street.

Backstage Coffee had been a fixture in the performing arts complex for 13 years before it departed last fall after the city evicted it for unpaid rent and failing to provide sales reports as required by its lease.

Jan Mangles, who owned Backstage with her husband, told Denverite last October that she believed the city wanted Backstage gone and was using rent as an excuse to evict the couple. She told BusinessDen that Backstage had fallen behind on rent because the city had removed the space’s HVAC system in August, leading to a decline in business.

Mangles wrote on Backstage’s Facebook page that the couple wanted to reopen the shop elsewhere downtown, but felt it could be difficult because “downtown is pretty full.” Some four months later, she says she and her husband would still love to bring back the business. But for now, they are focused on survival.

“Who knows what the future will bring, but it’s not going to happen real soon,” Mangles said of reopening Backstage. “My husband just got a job [working for a small grocery store], and I am looking for a job. It’s been challenging to make ends meet.”

Mangles, who predicted in her Facebook post announcing Backstage’s closure that the shop would be replaced by a “corporate food service group,” said seeing the Centerplate-owned Under the Glass Top take over the space has only confirmed her suspicions that the city and Centerplate wanted her business out.

“That’s what they wanted in the long run, and it’s just so Centerplate can have control over the entire complex,” she said.

However, officials at Denver Arts and Venues, which runs the performing arts complex for the city, have previously denied pushing Backstage Coffee out.

Former nightclub could become rehearsal or event space

Backstage Coffee, as you might recall, wasn’t the only business inside the DPAC to shutter under controversial circumstances last year. Onyx Ultra Lounge, a hip-hop club located next to Backstage Coffee, closed in December. The city amended the club’s lease to end two years early after some crimes occurred in the art center’s parking garage and the streets around Onyx, including the shooting of two of the club’s security guards in a drive-by.

However, the club’s former manager, Tommy Ellis, told Denverite at the time that he didn’t think the club should be held responsible for the crimes because they were never officially linked to the club by police.

A closing message posted to Onyx’s Instagram page also suggested that its owners felt it may have been targeted for closure. A portion of that message read “Being a minority in this country is not easy and being a minority-run business with primarily minority patrons can be a sore eye to some.” Denverite couldn’t reach Ellis about whether there are plans to reopen Onyx elsewhere.

The former Onyx space, meanwhile, remains dormant while the city and Centerplate staff work to determine what will replace it.

“Right now we are in the planning process and talking with the other resident organizations inside the theater and along 14th Street to get a better sense of what the community and neighborhood would like to see there,” said Denver Arts and Venues Assistant Marketing Director Stephanie Freeman.

Although a final decision has not been made, Freeman said it is possible the space could end up as either a rehearsal space or flexible event space, two needs for the complex identified in NextStage, a plan for the DPCA’s redevelopment that was released in 2016.

That plan lays out transforming the complex from an entertainment destination to a 24/7 urban center that would include three new residential towers, a 1,200-seat theater and a building for Denver’s performing arts high school program. DPAC is already in the midst of a multi-year renovation of the complex’s Space and Ricketson theaters.

Freeman said Denver Arts and Venues and Centerplate are evaluating and planning the future of the complex’s dining and drinking options.

“We are noticing the shifting demographics and how the neighborhood has changed and what people are expecting from a food perspective when they are downtown and about to take in a show, and [we’re] trying to make adjustments based on that as we continue to look at the redevelopment of the arts complex,” Freeman said.

Expect the complex’s dining lineup to remain stable for the time being. Freeman said there are no immediate changes planned for the DPAC’s offerings, which include Kevin Taylor’s at the Opera House and the Bonfils Bar & Cafe located in the lobby of the Helen Bonfils Theatre Complex.

“We will continue to re-evaluate the audiences as the neighborhood changes,” Freeman said. “For now, that’s what we are focused on, and things may change in the future as we continue down the redevelopment plans for the arts complex.”

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