Not all novelty restaurants can be as enduring as Denver’s Casa Bonita restaurant. There have been many beloved restaurants over the years, but unfortunately like many good things their time came to an end.
1. Baby Doe’s Matchless Mine
Baby Doe’s Matchless Mine is probably the restaurant on this list that I am most familiar with. The restaurant overlooked I-25 and downtown Denver from its location on a bluff on the west side of the highway. Growing up my dad would always say something like “There’s Baby Doe’s” when he would pass it on the highway. This would later turn into “There’s where Baby Doe’s used to be” when it was torn down in 2007.
I’ve always been puzzled for my dad’s fondness for the place, after all, he would take the family to the sister restaurant, The Chili Pepper, but we never once set foot inside Baby Doe’s. Perhaps, The Chili Pepper had better food and offered the same grand view as Baby Doe’s. Even though I was a little girl at the time, I still remember the dazzling view of the Denver skyline, especially the twinkling lights of the Elitch Garden’s Ferris wheel. The Chili Pepper was also my first time ever seeing a mariachi band.
I would have loved to have visited Baby Doe’s. The entrance of the restaurant was made to look like mineshaft that would lead patrons to either the bar or the main dining room. The restaurant was made to look like a typical Victorian restaurant and was adorned with all types of interesting memorabilia. Elizabeth McCourt Tabor (A.k.a Baby Doe) is a bit of a Colorado legend and the walls of the restaurant were actually adorned with actual stock certificates from the Tabor mine, photos, and letters from the Tabor family. There were a series of Baby Doe’s Matchless Mine restaurants across the country, but unfortunately, all of them are now gone.
Random note: Parts of the torn down Baby Doe’s restaurant were used in the construction of a mansion in La Veta, Colorado.
2. The Organ Grinder Pizzeria
This was a Denver favorite for many 70s and 80s babies. Families used to come and listen to classic and contemporary songs being played on a theater pipe organ, all while they happily munched on slices of pepperoni pizza. The rise of more contemporary family video game joints like Chuck E. Cheese sent The Organ Grinder packing. Still, it must have been amazing to hear the Star Wars’ Imperial March on the pipe organ. I just like to imagine that it is something that actually happened. Please tell me that was actually a thing.
3. Trail Dust Steakhouse
In the 1970s as the middle-class grew a surge of steakhouses began to pop up across the country. Many steakhouses provided an atmosphere that gave patrons a taste of the finer things in life, the Trail Dust steakhouse was not one of those restaurants.
Visitors who wore a tie to the Trail Dust risked getting it snipped off and nailed to the wall. An odd gimmick that would certainly not fly at the next restaurant on the list. The fun didn’t stop there, each location had a slide for the youngins or young at heart to use. These days if you want to see clippings of bad ties you will have to make a trip up to Sanger, Texas. Seriously, what happened to all those ties?
4. The Broker
Denverites who wanted a taste of luxury would go to The Broker, a steakhouse that was hidden behind a century-old bank vault. The restaurant resided inside the old Denver National Bank building and was known for its surf and turf menu options.
Countless business meetings, date nights, and proposals happened at this establishment, but unfortunately, this symbol of old Denver served its last steak on January 31st of 2018. It is still unknown if someone else will come to utilize this unique space. I would personally love to dine behind an old bank vault.
5. Round the Corner
This place always had the strangest gimmick to me. My parents once told me of a restaurant they went to on a date. At the restaurant, each booth had its own telephone where you could phone in your order. The phone would ring once the meal was ready for you to pick up. Basically, it was the Postmates of its day…just with more work. I am unsure if there were multiple restaurants like this, but I think Round the Corner just might have been the place where my parents had their date night.
6. The Apple Tree Shanty
This Swedish themed restaurant prided itself on serving delicious dinners cooked over hickory and applewood embers. The restaurant was also known for its apple inspired dishes. Apples were used in muffins, bbq sauce, and even baked beans. The staff dressed in traditional Swedish costumes, which would appear comical to today’s standards. It closed around 1996 and was turned into a Christian bookstore. The kettle-shaped sign still exists to this day.
7. Tommy Wong’s Island Restaurant
Mr. Tommy Wong moved to Denver in the 1960s and created a series of Chinese and Polynesian restaurants, including the Chinese restaurant inside “The Yum Yum Tree”.
His most popular establishment was Tommy Wong’s Island restaurant. His restaurant did well until bad investments in other properties forced Tommy to close his beloved Island in the 1980s.
8. The Yum Yum Tree
Many have described The Yum Yum Tree as the grandfather to today’s food halls. There were eight restaurants under one roof, including Tommy Wong’s (Chinese), Adam’s Rib (barbecue), Reuben’s (deli), Apple Annie’s (desserts, sweets), Fellini’s (Italian), Hofbräuhaus (German), Pancho’s Patio (Mexican) and Fat Eddie’s (steaks, chops).
Guests had the option to stop at every restaurant and make their selection before they went down to eat in the centrally located dining area. This restaurant gave many of the younger guests their first taste of cuisine from different cultures. The Yum Yum Tree changed locations over the years. The last move was to 2802 South Havana Street before it closed for good in good 1981.
In many ways, the legacy of The Yum Yum Tree continues on. You won’t just find the influence of The Yum Yum Tree at today’s trendy food halls, but also on the street of its last location.
Today, Havanna Street is a thriving food district, with more than 20 international cuisines featured. May 1-May 8, just happens to be Havanna Street Resturant Week. Check out their page for giveaways and to learn more about the amazing restaurants that call Havanna Street home.
Side Note: Havanna Street Business Improvement District did not pay me to write this. I just incidentally found The Yum Yum Tree’s connection to Havanna street and had to give them a shout-out during their restaurant week.
Do you have any fond memories at any of the restaurants mentioned or did I neglect to include one? Please share your stories in the comments. I would love to hear them.