As more Mexican-inspired restaurants continue to open along the Front Range, the relatively old Rio Grande wants diners to know it’s still alive.
After closing its 23-year-old location on Blake Street on Monday, the restaurant will reopen just three blocks away at 1745 Wazee Street on Friday, June 3. Rio owner Pat McGaughran said he bought the Wazee property so he could have more control over his destiny as a restaurateur.
The new space will require fewer staff, it will offer fixed mortgage costs in a highly variable market, and it will come with an integrated clientele of baseball fans and residents of the Union Station area, he added.
“LoDo is a different space in today’s world when it comes to things happening at the street level,” McGaughran told the Denver Post. “So I think the energy is changing block by block these days. And when that location became available on Wazee, we knew it was heading for a pretty big investment. And we felt like the space , even three blocks from where we are now, was more manageable for us.
The Wazee Street Rio is located inside the space Morton last occupied until its pandemic closure in 2020. Surrounded by the Ballpark neighborhood’s recent restaurant additions at the Dairy Block and McGregor Square, the Rio can be part of a “new energy” downtown, McGaughran hopes.
“You have to stay on your game here, and that’s what I hope today’s Rio presentation (does),” he said.
The move allowed the 36-year-old restaurant concept to freshen up without closing for weeks or months. McGaughran said he scraped the old steakhouse completely to create a bright and fun corner dining room, with a sidewalk patio.
A similar transformation has just taken place at the original Fort Collins Rio, which closed following a kitchen fire in July 2021 and reopened with its redesign late last month.
The northern Colorado restaurant had operated in a temporary location while its Mountain Avenue original was rebuilt and redesigned. “It’s been a crazy year,” McGaughran said.
Fort Collins was the first Mexican restaurant in the Rio Grande to open in 1986, serving Tex-Mex fare and margaritas — three of which is the limit, as locals know. Now the brand comprises five locations, including outposts in Greeley, Boulder and Park Meadows.
“When we opened the (Denver) Rio in 1999, a lot of people said, ‘Why would you go to downtown Denver, it’s dead there,'” McGaughran recalled. “But we saw the potential… Now people ask us the same question: “Why stay in LoDo?” And the answer is the same.
Opens 5 p.m. Friday, June 3, 1745 Wazee St., 303-623-5432, riograndemexican.com.
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