Tom's Urban gets a remodel: More restaurant, less diner -- and shorter hours
When Tom's Urban 24 opened on Halloween night 2012, it lit up the corner of Larimer and 15th streets that had gone dark when the Samba Room closed. Last week that space went dark again -- but only temporarily -- so that owner Tom Ryan could introduce some changes. When the brown paper covering the dining room windows was taken down Monday morning, the restaurant was again open for business -- but as Tom's Urban, with the "24" dropped from the name and the open-all-night concept sliced in half. The space has also gotten a bit of a cosmetic update, and the menu has been revamped, too. We sat down with Ryan at the bar before the doors opened to talk about the changes in design, food and drink.
Kevin Galaba Bartender Ryan Stearns presents one of the popular drinks at Tom's Urban: The Fireball Sour.
See also: Tom's Urban Bartenders Shake Things Up
"There are things you figure out by design before you open," Ryan says. "And when you open, you learn from how the market and the customer base interacts with you." As we talk, electricians are still clambering up and down ladders; in two hours, the restaurant will be open again after a week-long facelift.
Kevin Galaba A new shelving unit above the bar, visible from Larimer Street, displays bar options.
"Originally, when we opened, it was a 24-hour concept," Ryan says. "We learned fairly quickly that that's good when there are people down here, and it's not so good for a variety of reasons -- business reasons, safety reasons, whatever -- when there's not people down here. So we kind of made a decision along the way to morph Tom's Urban 24 into Tom's Urban, and basically be open while there's people on Larimer Square."
Ryan learns from experience -- and he has plenty. He not only started Tom's Urban, but the Smashburger and Live Basil Live Basil chains. There are currently 275 Smashburgers (25 in Colorado), and six Live Basil restaurants -- five of them Denver, one in Los Angeles. The Larimer Square Tom's was the first in that line; there's now one in L.A., too, and a third being built in Las Vegas that should be open by December.
But Ryan's restaurant lineage goes back much further. He pioneered the concept of stuffed-crust pizza, and he was the guy who brought the McGriddle breakfast sandwich to McDonald's. In 2004, he opened Chef Jimmy's Bistro in Terminal A at Denver International Airport, and later opened Mesa Verde Grill, also in Terminal A. In June 2007, Ryan introduced the first Smashburger, at the intersection of Colorado and Mississippi. In May 2013, the Live Basil concept made its debut as a casual eatery serving pizza made and topped with with fresh ingredients.
"We don't do one of anything," Ryan says of his three restaurant families. "The idea behind Tom's Urban was to provide customers with a place to get interesting yet familiar food at a relatively great price, with full bar service and some cool features in terms of cocktails and craft beers."
And after a twenty-month run as Tom's Urban 24, Ryan felt it was time to give that original idea a few twists. "We've learned a lot," he says. "We've morphed our look and feel a little bit. We never meant it to be a diner. We did want it to be a democratized concept for Larimer Square, so that almost anybody could come in here and have a great time -- and afford to have a great time. We had some 'diner-esque' elements in our original concept, only because we thought that that familiarity was going to be good. It's been a slow evolution ever since."
But when he decided to make physical changes, they happened fast.
Kevin Galaba The mezzanine at Tom's Urban: fresh paint and a new wall design for a more subdued atmosphere.
Keep reading for more on the changes in decor and dishes at Tom's Urban...