Best Of » Food, Drink & Nightlife

Ritzy business

The Indy's top non-geologic vote-getter of all time caters to Joe Average and Mr. X



Happy Hour

Wait Staff

Ritz Grill 15 S. Tejon St., 635-8484

In other places, Young Frankenstein dance routines and that horrible '80s song by Taco still reign. But when it comes to Colorado Springs, the popular use of the term "the Ritz" can only mean one thing: the Ritz Grill, which has become as much a downtown institution as there is in this city.

This year, the Ritz celebrated its 20th anniversary. Since its introduction, it's racked up more awards than a performance-enhanced Marion Jones at an elementary-school field day. In the 14 years of Indy Best Of competition, the Ritz has earned more than 30 first-place nods. The only bigger winner in that time span is the Garden of the Gods.

So, when it comes to non-geological phenomena, there's nothing Colorado Springs seems to hold in higher esteem than the Ritz Grill.

And all this greatness stemmed from humble beginnings, explains one of its most well-respected patrons.

"This used to be the old Rexall drugstore," says the encyclopedic Mr. X, who has come in for dinner every week since it opened. He prefers to remain anonymous despite having his very own booth and a drink on the menu named after him.

"It stayed empty for many years, and then Zerbe Jewelers came in and used it before moving across the way, leaving this whole downstairs empty. The downstairs was gutted, but the ceilings, windows and the Rexall floor are still here. It was opened in a grand way, with an invitation-only party. And then the rest is kind of history."

While teaching Ritz 101, Mr. X is approached by well-wishers of all ages. It's like sitting with Don Corleone; he knows almost everyone in the bar, whether staff or other patrons. This place is his second home, and the Ritz staff, he says, makes all the difference.

"This operation is top-notch," Mr. X says. "The staff is always professional, and they know the menu by heart. They know what's going on. As soon as I walk in, the bar staff starts shaking my martini."

It's only natural for a longtime customer to get some love, but from the staff's point of view, every customer here gets treated like a regular.

"People come back when they see a familiar face and people know what you like," says Ben Jackson, the Ritz's bar manager. "It's a comfortable place to go. We have a philosophy about how we try and do things. It's not a written-on-a-piece-of-paper type thing, but if you treat people how you know they should be treated, everything else kind of falls into place."

This philosophy works not only because the staff follows this belief so fervently, but also because the Ritz appeals to so many people. The lunch, happy-hour and dancing-on-the-table-to-the-live-band-at-1-a.m. crowds are completely different.

"We have something for everybody," Jackson says. "We've got everything from cheap draft beer to $200 bottles of wine, and everything from lamb chops and a filet to cheese sticks. It doesn't matter what you're looking for; you can find it here.

"And if it's not on the menu, our guys on the back are good enough to make it for you. The key is being able to accommodate whatever people want."

For Monica Clemons and Jennifer Davis, two friends who often drop in together, the Ritz offers something else that's important: consistency.

"It's Ol' Reliable," says Clemons. "It's a really casual place, with live entertainment that's always good. And [it] has a charismatic staff."

"We just always end up here," adds Davis. "It's the most comfortable place."

Terry Terrones

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