2020: The Year That Changed Everything

Here are a few of our favorite spots for al fresco meals around the Mile High City, plus a few mileage-worthy destinations, too.


Coloradans have always enjoyed après al fresco and snacking on sunny patios, but 2020 brought myriad new ways to dine outdoors for intrepid and safety-conscious restaurant-goers. From polycarbonate greenhouses and plastic igloos to engineer-built private dining pods and mountain-town gondolas, here are some of the very best—and most comfortable—ways to eat and drink outside right now.

Metro Denver

Ace Eat Serve (Uptown)

Ace Eat Serve
Patio and igloo dining at Ace Eat Serve. Photo courtesy of Ace Eat Serve

Picture it: Sipping on a ceramic cup of hot junmai sake or an icy pint of Left Hand’s Milk Stout Nitro by a fire pit or inside a translucent igloo as an eye-smiling masked server sets down a sizzling wok filled with crispy lobster, prawns, and sweet potato noodles tossed in a miso-butter-chile sauce. You’re at Ace, of course, where there’s free live music on Saturday afternoons, prizes for Denverites outfitted in their finest retro ski attire, and chef Thach Tran’s tender soup dumplings and curries, which will warm you better than the finest Patagonia puffer. Ping pong, optional. 501 E. 17th Ave., 303-800-7705

Annette (Aurora)

The interior of the yurt at Annette. Photo courtesy of Annette

Chef-owner Caroline Glover and her team—including the 25 helpful volunteers who showed up on a Sunday in mid-September to lend a hand—moved quickly to erect a tiny village of 12 polycarbonate greenhouses on the extended patio outside Annette’s restaurant at Stanley Marketplace. Thanks to them, you can cozy up in any weather inside your two- to four-person party’s private structure, made snug with area rugs, space heaters, wool blankets, Gotham Greens plants in Mortar and Stone Ceramic’s planters, QR-code menus, call buttons that flash a blue light when you need to summon your masked server—plus thermoses of hot toddies and one of the best burgers in the metro area, too. Parties of up to eight people can also opt for Annette’s new-in-November yurt, where there’s a minimum spend per person ($25 for brunch, $50 for dinner) but the surroundings make you almost feel like you’re back inside the restaurant’s warm, hospitable dining room. Stanley Marketplace, 2501 Dallas St., Suite 108, 720-710-9975

Bar Dough (Highland)

Bar Dough
Bar Dough’s greenhouses. Photo courtesy of Bar Dough

You might mistakenly think that if you’ve dined in one greenhouse, you’ve dined in them all. Not so at Bar Dough, which has taken over the large parking lot adjacent to its West 32nd Avenue restaurant and transformed it into a greenhouse hamlet, where each structure is lined with string lights and oscillating heaters keep the insides toasty, no matter what Colorado’s weather is up to. There, chef de cuisine Russell Stippich is dazzling diners with his monthly prix fixe menus; December’s lineup highlights the cuisine of Piedmont, that northern Italian culinary powerhouse known for its eggy pastas, rich meat dishes, and bold Barolos and Barbarescos. Reserve your tiny house now and you’ll be sipping on a glass of red and slurping Stippich’s brothy tajarin noodles and glazed beef short ribs with truffle demi-glace before the weather has a chance to change—yet again. 2227 W. 32nd Ave., 720-668-8506

Barolo Grill (Cherry Creek)

Barolo Grill
A dining pod at Barolo Grill. Photo courtesy of Barolo Grill

Ryan Fletter, owner of upscale Italian Barolo Grill, is taking no chances with Colorado’s mercurial weather. He had already transformed the parking lot on the east side of his 28-year-old restaurant into a heated, tented patio dining area, but to combat every type of cold, wind, and precipitation that a Centennial State winter can deliver, he worked with the mechanical engineers at Denver’s Black Eagle Engineering to create a customized dining pod that achieves two things: The pods give Barolo a weatherproof dining option complete with built-in heating and ventilation systems, locking doors, and modular capabilities to accommodate larger parties (when that’s safe to do once again), and they also put Black Eagle’s staff to work producing pods for restaurants across the country. Reserve one of Barolo’s 15 cozy pods now for a four-course taste of its refined Italian fare—and a glimpse into the future of al fresco dining in Denver. 3030 E. 6th Ave., 303-393-1040

Beckon (RiNo)

Beckon patio dining. Photo courtesy of Jonnie Sirotek/ Paper Laundry

When tiny-house restaurant Call closed for renovations last fall, little did anyone know that come spring 2020, when the contemporary cafe was slated to reopen, a world-altering pandemic would have hit. More ironic still: The shuttering of Call has been a lifesaving event for sibling restaurant Beckon, the high-end, previously chef-counter-only next-door neighbor, because it freed up Call’s patio to seat Beckon guests who would rather dine under the stars. Now, when you book a pre-paid table for two or four, hospitality pro Allison Anderson will seat you on the newly covered double patio near a crackling fire pit or radiant heater, offer you a blanket, and do as she, chef Duncan Holmes, and sommelier Zach Byers and the Beckon team have always done: Ply you with exquisite food and drink. No special occasion required. 2843 Larimer St., 303-749-0020

The Plimoth (Skyland)

The Plimoth
The interior of a cabana at the Plimoth. Photo courtesy of the Plimoth

Whether you’ve sat inside its homey dining room or outside on its lush garden patio, the Plimoth has been a festive yet intimate neighborhood spot since it opened in 2013, thanks to chef-owner Pete Ryan’s locally sourced menu, thoughtful wine pairings, and affable service team. Now, with the indoor restaurant closed to guests, Ryan and company have moved the party outside full-time, erecting seven heated private black-walled cabanas where up to 26 lucky diners can sit in the glow of Edison bulb string lights and be comforted by Ryan’s tempting cold-weather menus. Potato-leek soup with crab, seared scallops with lobster sauce, and a “big ol’ pork shank” with white bean ragu and grilled apples is just what winter 2020 calls for, and it all somehow tastes better than ever under the blacktop. Note: The Plimoth is taking a much-needed holiday break through the first week of January 2021; check online for its reopening date. 2335 E. 28th St., 303-297-1215

9+Co Postino (Hale)

Postino Wine Cafe
A view of Postino WineCafe’s fireplace patio. Photo by Tim Gillies

While it’s a shame that it’s not possible right now to dine on mix-and-match bruschetta boards and eclectic bottles of vino inside the gorgeous, barely two-month-old Postino WineCafe outpost at the 9+CO development on Colorado Boulevard, take consolation in the fact that you can enjoy a similar experience on its well-heated, wraparound patio. There are two fireplaces adorned in glittering mosaic tiles, standing heat lamps, and even heaters that radiate warmth from above. Pair all that with $5 glasses of wine and pitchers of beer until 5 p.m. daily—or the brand-new, all-day $5 holiday mulled wine—and your heated early happy hour plans are made. 830 N. Colorado Blvd., 720-262-5474

My Brother’s Bar (LoHi)

My Brothers Bar
My Brother’s Bar igloo village. Photo by Denise Mickelsen

Let’s say that you are blindfolded, and then led into one of My Brother’s Bar’s six translucent dining domes. Vision restored, you may not realize where in the city you are considering how stylish each interior is compared to the bare bones aesthetic Denverites have long appreciated inside the 147-year-old bar and burger joint, the longest consecutively running watering hole in the city. Owner Danny Newman hasn’t sat a guest inside his building since the pandemic hit in March, but he has invested in his new parking lot patio, which contains a large living room–esque heated tent, picnic tables, and those igloo-like domes, glammed up with rugs, chandeliers, stylish furnishings, candles, and even portable stoves. Classical music is wired in, too, and the careful service team sanitizes surfaces and airs out each dome in between uses. Downing a burger and a beer and whiskey chaser at this venerable institution has never felt more chic. 2376 15th St., 303-455-9991

Spuntino (Highland)

Spuntino’s all’Aperto dining tent. Photo by Denise Mickelsen

It’s all about that tent, ’bout that tent, no trouble… or so goes what may well be Highland gem Spuntino’s theme song of 2020. That’s because the two lovingly dubbed all’Aperto tents that owners Cindhura Reddy and Elliot Strathmann have erected in the restaurant’s side parking lot—complete with greenery, string lights, high-capacity forced-air propane heaters, and a pass-through window for ferrying food from the kitchen—is where they’re serving in-person meals from now until Vaccine Day. Strathmann’s impeccable wine list and homemade amari are available by the flight, glass, and bottle, and James Beard Award–recognized Reddy and sous chef Austin Nickel are cooking a cold-weather menu that delivers Spuntino’s seasonal Italian soul (hand-cut pappardelle with El Regalo Ranch goat Bolognese) as well as a rotating family-style dish honoring Reddy’s South Indian roots (this month: spicy braised Colorado lamb shank with cumin basmati rice, house-made roti, raita, tomato pickle, and mint-cilantro chutney). You can also order the team’s full Namkeen takeout menu, if dining al fresco isn’t for you right now. 2639 W. 32nd Ave., 303-433-0949

Tables (Park Hill)

Patio greenhouses at Tables in Park Hill. Photo courtesy of Tables

Since its opening in 2005 as a chef-driven sandwich shop, co-owners and husband-and-wife-team Amy Vitale and Dustin Barrett have consistently made their Park Hill restaurant shine bright as a welcoming gathering space for the Park Hill neighborhood, serving comforting-yet-elevated New American fare. Since the pandemic, they’ve returned to Tables’ roots, once again offering their delightful lunchtime sandwich roster Tuesdays through Saturdays; our favorite is the Hudson Street, with its perfect combo of Ham, Swiss, pears, peppery watercress, Dijon, and apricot jam. Tables can also now host you in one of its 10 heated greenhouses or large patio tent, complete with music and lights, for al fresco dining that includes the likes of sourdough parmesan bisque, Tables’ signature crispy sweetbreads, a killer cheeseburger, and black walnut Manhattans. 2267 Kearney St., 303-388-0299

The Wolf’s Tailor (Sunnyside)

The Wolfs Tailor
A tent on the Wolf’s Tailor patio. Photo courtesy of Jeff Fierberg

Award-winning chef-owner Kelly Whitaker is known for delivering more than just a meal when you dine at his experimental, contemporary restaurant in Sunnyside; he delivers full and unique experiences as well as sustenance. This winter, the ultimate Wolf’s encounter is one enjoyed by candlelight, basking in the warmth of a fireplace inside a private canvas tent on the restaurant’s garden patio. There, you’ll sup on a four-course tasting menu from Whitaker and his new chef de cuisine, Taylor Stark, in which the star is a donabe (Japanese clay pot) entrée and side dish; recent menus have included chestnut-ricotta ravioli made from White Sonoran heirloom flour, donabe-braised wagyu brisket, and a rye potato doughnut stuffed with yuzu curd. Sick of glamping? You can reserve a garden table (and dress in layers) instead, where four courses sans donabe will come off Wolf’s binchotan grill and wood-burning oven. 4058 Tejon St., 720-456-6705

Beyond Metro Denver

Aurum Food and Wine (Steamboat Springs, Breckenridge)

Aurum yurt
A yurt dining room at Aurum Breckenridge. Photo courtesy of Aurum Breckenridge

Where else but the mountains of Colorado can you mix glamping and dinner in the time of COVID-19? That’s the idea behind the luxe yurts you didn’t know you were missing at Aurum Food and Wine in Steamboat and Breck. There are four such canvas-and-wood palaces at Steamboat and two in Breckenridge, where parties of up to eight people (who can pay the $500 food-and-beverage minimum for a weeknight dinner, or $800 for weekend brunch) can linger for hours over tasting menus and specialty drink pairings, surrounded by charming mountain decor such as furs and pine boughs and vintage skis. Fondue is on the menu at Steamboat; a s’mores baked Alaska can cap your meal at Breck; and batched cocktails, hot and cold, are available to warm you down to your boots. 209 S. Ridge St., Breckenridge, 970-771-3943; 811 Yampa St., Steamboat Springs, 970-879-9500

Bin 707 Foodbar (Grand Junction)

Bin 707 Foodbar
Bin 707 Foodbar’s Grand Junction greenhouses. Photo courtesy of Bin 707 Foodbar

Western Slope–sourced ingredients. An incredible array of Colorado-made beers, wines, and spirits. Twelve unique whiskey flights. And now, seven heated greenhouses. If you’re anywhere near Grand Junction this winter, be sure to reserve one of Bin’s private greenhouses for a dining experience from one of Colorado’s best chefs, Josh Niernberg, and his talented team, including chef de cuisine Danielle Hinrichs. At just shy of 10 years in business, Bin is a Western Slope must-stop and your dinner there—be it the tempura squash with heirloom tomato aïoli or the local beef Bin burger topped with white cheddar on a house-baked potato bun—will be pandemic-safe and endlessly satisfying. 225 N. 5th St., Suite 105, Grand Junction, 970-243-4543

Black Cat Farm (Longmont)

Black Cat Farm Dinner
A Black Cat Farm dining cabana. Photo by Denise Mickelsen

If you prefer your outdoor winter dinner with a view of the night sky, then Black Cat Farm’s glass-walled cabanas are waiting for you just 39 miles outside of downtown Denver. Tucked inside your own cabana on the Skokan family’s historic homestead, you and your dining companions can watch the stars twinkle in the light of the moon and stay snug thanks to your own wood-burning stove and overhead heaters. The woolen hides and throws from Black Cat Farm Table Bistro in Boulder have migrated to the farm, too (as well as the restaurant’s wine list, which you can order from), and chef Eric Skokan and his team are cooking the fresh, hearty fare they always do, prepared with produce and proteins grown and raised within miles, if not feet, of where you sit. A recent supper included mulled wine; sourdough boules made from White Sonoran wheat grown on the homestead; a tray of snacks, including tempura fava bean pods and a goat cheese terrine; green salad with juniper vinaigrette and creamy celery root soup; marinated steak with roasted carrots, turnip gratin, and potato rostï with mushroom ragu; pudding cakes with a rum glaze; dark chocolate truffles; and hand-picked chamomile tea. There’s truly nothing else like it in Colorado. 9889 N. 51st St., Longmont, 303-444-5500

Frasca Food and Wine (Boulder)

The inside of an Amex-Resy yurt at Frasca Food and Wine. Photo courtesy of Mike Thurk

Coloradans with American Express cards in their wallets are in luck: The credit card company and Resy have teamed up to bring glamorous, custom-built yurt villages to 13 restaurants across the country, and Boulder’s Frasca is one of them. There, co-owner Bobby Stuckey, general manager Rose Votta, and their pro hospitality team have erected three heated canvas structures that can seat four to six people each. With piped-in music, wool rugs on the floor, and cozy blankets awaiting each guest, these round private dining rooms are a treat, as is the four-course menu ($170 per person) offered within them. Inspired by what they saw in the rifugi (mountain huts) found throughout the Dolomites of northeastern Italy, Frasca’s chefs have cooked up an alpine feast that runs from delicate porcelain mugs of goose consommé with oxtail-foie-gras tortellini to brioche with soft scrambled eggs and shaved white truffle to a stunning assortment of crudités, smoked potatoes, and bread for dipping into your own bubbling pot of cheese fondue. Beautiful wine pairings are also available, and you’ll be sent home with those comfy blankets and a baked treat for the morning after. 1738 Pearl St., Boulder, 303-442-6966

Sakaba at the Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch (Avon)

Sakaba’s patio dining area. Photo courtesy of the Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch

Should you happen to be skiing at Beaver Creek this season (or simply heading west past Vail) and you have a special occasion to celebrate or bonus to blow, Sakaba chef Yoshikazu “Kazu” Ebina’s spectacular sushi is a worthy splurge. He’ll prepare you an omakase feast or you can order á la carte (pro tip: throw in an order of Ebina’s rich ramen while you’re at it), all while you soak in views of fir trees and heat from the flames of multiple fireplaces on the hotel restaurant’s stylish, covered, heated patio. Hey, if surviving 2020 doesn’t warrant tucking into a rainbow of sparkling fresh nigiri and sashimi while snuggling under a fur blanket near a crackling fire at a mountain resort, we don’t know what does. The Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch, 0130 Daybreak Ridge Rd., Avon, 970-343-1168

Town of Mountain Village (Mountain Village, near Telluride)

Telluride gondola dining
Telluride gondola dining. Photo courtesy of Michael Mowery Media

One of the most creative outdoor dining opportunities available right now is located in the Town of Mountain Village’s Heritage Plaza, where you disembark from the Mountain Village free gondola that connects it and Telluride, and where, by mid-December, there will be 20 refurbished gondola car dining pods scattered across the village center; eight are open right now. You and up to seven members of your household (or friends, come the end of the current household-only dining restrictions) can fit inside, and you can bring your own takeout from any local restaurant you choose; the closest options include Crazy Elk Pizza, Black Iron Kitchen and Bar, and Tomboy Tavern. There are also 20-foot yurts and other al fresco seating options available—but eating dinner in a heated and well-lit stationary gondola definitely takes the Instagram gold.

Denise Mickelsen, Food Editor

Denise Mickelsen oversees all of 5280’s food-related coverage, and feels damn lucky to do so. Follow her on Instagram @DeniseMickelsen.