After 88 years at 740 S. University Blvd., the Bonnie Brae Tavern will close later this month.
Ricky Dire, who owns the restaurant with his cousin Michael — and whose grandparents founded it in 1934 — told BusinessDen that its last day open will be June 25.
“It’s a very bittersweet thing,” he said.
The Dire family sold the property at the end of May for $4.5 million, according to public records. In addition to the 740 S. University Blvd. building, home to the tavern and a dry cleaners, the deal also involved the Wish Gifts building at 750 S. University Blvd. and the surrounding parking spaces.
The buyers were Alpine Investments, led by Churchill Bunn, and Revesco Properties, led by Rhys Duggan. The two Denver firms said last year that they planned to team up for four apartment developments within the city.
“We’re in early concept planning phase for a three-story apartment project with ground-floor retail along University,” Bunn wrote in an email of the Bonnie Brae site.
The site is 0.72 acres, meaning Duggan and Bunn paid about $144 a square foot for the land.
Carl and Sue Dire opened the Bonnie Brae Tavern at its current location in the middle of the Depression. The business serves lunch and dinner, with a menu featuring burgers, salads and sandwiches, as well as Mexican standards and made-to-order pizzas.
Ricky Dire, 57, said this August would have marked 44 years working at the restaurant. His cousin and co-owner Michael Dire has been there 40 years, he said.
The sale doesn’t come out of the blue. In 2019, the Dires applied for and received a designation that made it easy to demolish the buildings for a five-year period. Property owners often request that designation, now called a certificate of demolition eligibility, when they’re exploring a sale and think the next owner might want to redevelop the site.
As for why the building didn’t sell until last month? “We’re on buyer No. 3,” Dire said. “That had something to do with it.”
The first interested party was Rhode Island-based CVS Corp., which considered a pharmacy at the site before passing on it, Dire said. The second interested buyer, who submitted development plans to the city in early 2020, was local developer Joe Jundt. Then came Bunn and Duggan.
Dire cited several reasons for the decision to sell and close, among them the building itself.
“We had an 88-year-old building with 88-year-old electrical and plumbing,” he said.
Dire said the building had been grandfathered in to older standards, but that he had been told by the city that he’d have to bring it up to code in the near future, which would mean installing ADA-compliant bathrooms and sprinklers in the ceiling, among other things.
Additionally, the restaurant business is “hell,” Dire said. He said he and his cousin had to pump money into the business to keep it going during COVID, and the tight labor market has made staffing tough. In December 2019, Bonnie Brae Tavern had 33 employees. It now has nine, and Dire said the business can’t afford the $20-an-hour wage it would take to attract more.
Monday, June 6, was the tavern’s 88th anniversary, Dire said. The business didn’t mark the occasion; it’s closed on Mondays. And Dire said nothing big is planned leading up to June 25.
“We’re just going to stay open and, hopefully, say thank you to Denver for helping us make it 88 years,” he said.
Asked about the restaurant’s heyday, Dire said that, “during the late 70s and the first five years of the 80s, it was an hour wait for dinner.” That was before Cherry Creek North had really developed, and LoDo wasn’t a destination. The ensuing years gave people “a whole lot more choices.”
He added, “We still have some of the best pizza.”
In addition to the Bonnie Brae site, Alpine and Revesco are partnering on apartment projects at 955 Bannock St. in the Golden Triangle, 46th and Tennyson in Berkeley and 2000 Chestnut Place in Union Station North. Revesco is the firm planning The River Mile project where amusement park Elitch Gardens now operates.