A restaurant chain born in downtown Denver is returning, but don’t expect to recognize it.
Tom’s Watch Bar, the rebranded and “reconcepted” version of Tom’s Urban, will be the sole sports bar within McGregor Square, the mixed-use project wrapping up construction next to Coors Field.
“I do not consider this a homecoming,” said Tom Ryan, who co-founded the company and lives in Uptown. “I consider this the first of its kind in Denver.”
The restaurant signed a lease earlier this month for 14,000 square feet across two levels at the corner of 19th and Wynkoop streets. It will be at the base of McGregor Square’s office building.
McGregor Square General Manager Patrick Walsh told BusinessDen over the summer that some ballpark-adjacent developments in other cities have become a sea of sports bars. The McGregor Square development team, which is led by Rockies co-owner Dick Monfort, didn’t want that to happen in Denver.
“We wanted one nice sports bar that takes that concept,” Walsh said at the time.
Tom’s Watch Bar was founded as Tom’s Urban by Ryan and Rich Schnaden. The pair had previously launched Smashburger together. They gradually sold that company starting in 2018, and now operate just one Smashburger restaurant in Los Angeles.
The inaugural Tom’s Urban opened at the corner of 15th and Larimer streets in 2012. By the time that location closed in 2018, the brand had expanded into other markets.
Ryan called the initial downtown location a “prototype.” Starting last year, the company began converting its existing restaurants into Tom’s Watch Bar, a screen-heavy sports bar that aims to be a destination.
Ryan said that, as the company opened Tom’s Urban near some sports complexes, leadership realized “there was a tremendous unmet need for celebrating sports through viewing in a differentiated way.”
The restaurant’s central room features what Ryan describes as a “360-degree viewing room.” There’s a massive stadium screen above the bar, where “the figures on the screen are bigger than real life.” Then the room is essentially wallpapered with televisions.
“It’s really a kind of spectacular vista of screens. We wanted to be able to tell people that every seat at Tom’s Watch Bar is the best in the house,” Ryan said.
The McGregor Square location will also feature a patio and balcony overlooking the development’s central plaza. You’ll be able to watch the action from those seats as well, Ryan said.
But what’s on the screens? Ryan doesn’t want guests at non-peak times to be limited to ESPN’s “Sportscenter.” He said the chain mines the international and collegiate markets as needed so that there’s always something competitive to watch.
He noted that the pandemic prompted some “emerging things” to attract viewers when the main leagues weren’t available in the spring.
“I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the professional face-slapping competitions that are coming out of Russia,” Ryan told a reporter.
If patrons are there for action that isn’t playing on the big screen, they’ll be able to link their cell phones to one particular smaller screen and listen through headphones.
“I can’t name a sports bar in Denver where you can do that,” Ryan said.
For big games, Ryan said Tom’s Watch Bar will have “an MC for the game,” who will guide the entertainment whenever the main action lulls.
“I want you to feel like every game is a Super Bowl party,” he said.
As for food, Tom’s Urban will offer “what I would call very interesting versions of traditional sports bar fare,” along with offerings that are “relevant for a much broader swathe of customer base.”
There will be dozens of beers on tap, craft cocktails and a wine list, but also a 40-ounce, two-handle beer stein “that really becomes popular for longer games,” Ryan said.
Tom’s Watch Bar currently has locations across from the Staples Center in Los Angeles, along the Strip in Las Vegas and in two casinos in Connecticut and Washington state. There’s also a licensed location at Denver International Airport. The new name hasn’t been installed at all of them.
The overall McGregor Square development is in the final stages. Ryan said Tom’s Watch Bar is targeting a spring opening, although the specifics of that are unsurprisingly dependent on pandemic-related restrictions.
“This is our first effort to build one from the ground-up, without any retrofitting,” Ryan said of McGregor Square.
Beyond McGregor Square, Tom’s Watch Bar has “a pretty aggressive pipeline” for more locations, Ryan said. He declined to discuss specifics, saying the company doesn’t discuss locations until a lease is signed.
Other expected retail tenants in McGregor Square include Tattered Cover, Starbucks, Carmine’s Italian restaurant and a Bank of Colorado branch.