Sitting at the bar of a "local" chain restaurant a few weeks ago, I realized why my husband and I only go there for the cheap happy hour and to see our bartender friend: The environment is horrendous.
There's a lot to look at, but the walls have nothing original to show for such a large collection of junk. Sporting gear, faux-retro advertisements, wannabe Tiffany lamps ... everything is a replica, almost sure to desensitize.
There are so many of these places, it's no wonder your senses ignite when fine food, drink and art merge in one spot.
"It's a perfect marriage," says Heather Buchman, who owns Monument's Second Street Art Market and Wine Bar (secondstreetart.com) with her husband, Douglas, and also chairs the Monument Art Hop. Her outfit features one local artist a month, May through September, in the wine bar area and displays a variety of local art year-round in the market.
Chip Johnson considers it "the art of food, the art of dining, the art of being aesthetic, the art of living the mind." At his Warehouse Restaurant and Gallery (thewarehouserestaurant.com) downtown, he exhibits and intermingles the work of multiple artists.
"I'll have a really cool, far-out abstract from Robert Van Vliet," he says, "and then surround that with copper works from Brooke Johnson and, you know, shake up a whole look."
He does this, at least in part, to make his patrons stop and think. Which brings us to a big difference between places like his and their chain counterparts: Dallying is actually encouraged. An ornate sign that reads "Linger" hangs above Second Street's bar; at the Warehouse, Johnson and Co. refuse to do quick "table turns."
"If people want to come in and relax and listen to the music, look at the art and nibble some food, they can do that," he says. "We want to be more of a relaxing, calming place to go."
That's an important idea to Sharon Erale-Palmer, who's expanding her Manitou Springs' Swirl Wine Emporium (swirlwineemporium.com) from a wine and beer shop to a wine bar with food service. She sees local art as a way to create "an inviting and intriguing atmosphere," a way to lure drop-in customers to stay a while.
"All the art in my store is not for decoration, but part of the whole," she says. "It helps define my store."
Taking things one step further, the Buchmans create menu tie-ins to Second Street's featured artist. For example, Kathy Beekman's pastel landscapes, some of which she painted in Europe, will hang through April. The wine bar concurrently features Beekman's berry compote dessert and a wine from one of the regions the artist visited.
At Coffee Exchange and Wine Bar (site.thecoffeexchange.com), new owner Donna Gazzana has decided to feature one local artist each month. It fits the neighborhood vibe that she's going for, and is another way to cater to customers who look at the shop as something of a downtown community center.
"It's something that's always changing," she says, "so I think it's fun for regulars that come in to see different things on the walls."
Here are some other restaurants where art comes with your meal:
• Adam's Mountain Café (extensive gallery of Charles H. Rockey works), 934 Manitou Ave., Manitou Springs, 685-1430, adamsmountain.com
• Cucuru Gallery Café, 2332 W. Colorado Ave., 520-9900, cucurugallerycafe.com
• El Tesoro Restaurant & Gallery, 10 N. Sierra Madre St., 471-0106, el-tesoro.com
• Gertrude's, 2625 W. Colorado Ave., 471-0887, gertrudesrestaurant.com
• The Margarita at PineCreek, 7350 Pine Creek Road, 598-8667, coloradoeats.com/margarita
• Mediterranean Café, 118 E. Kiowa St., 633-0115, medcafe-co.com
• Phantom Canyon Brewing Co., 2 E. Pikes Peak Ave., 635-2800, phantomcanyon.com.