District Kitchen & Saloon Gaining Strong Popularity as CC’s Newest Community Hub

Town’s Latest Non-Gaming Family Restaurant Generating Stellar Reviews

Rick Langenberg

The long-awaited wait is over and local residents, casino workers, visitors, city politicians/officials, sports fans, music lovers and even journalists are reveling in Cripple Creek’s newest community gathering hub.

Since early March, the door has opened and the party has begun for the District Kitchen & Saloon, in the heart of Bennett Avenue, a few steps from city hall.

And the reaction has been stunning for a project in the making for two years. The town’s newest dining experience bustles with a look that provides the best qualities of a thriving sports bar, brew pub, family eatery, entertainment spot and meeting gathering area, not to mention Cripple Creek’s-only outdoor patio.

“The response we have had has been outstanding,” said Jeff Hellner, the head proprietor of the District Kitchen & Saloon, during another busy afternoon, when he found himself personally greeting hordes of customers and regulars. “We have been very busy since we opened and have had all kinds of people here. Everyone has been very friendly. We wanted to do a family restaurant and have a place where everyone can hang out and enjoy themselves.”

Hellner is not afraid to boast of their food quality, great service and enthusiastic employees.

The District, which is the nickname it has received locally, features a huge circular tap-house-style bar, seating 30 people, nearly 10 television big screens displaying sports games and playoff action from across the country and world, a huge selection of Colorado craft beers and bottle selections, wine and special liquor favorites.  Plus, the District showcases live music on the weekends and has trivia nights and regular weekly special events.

Hellner, who is involved in several other local businesses, including the Gold Camp Café and The Mercantile, admits reaching that opening day was a long journey. Altogether, the Saloon venture, which commanded main stage attention since it was renovated from a gift shop, took about two years to complete.

“Once we started getting local tradesmen and workers involved it really moved ahead smoothly,” said the business owner.

Plus, as with most elaborate commercial projects in the Teller high country, the realities of construction in Cripple Creek came into play.

However, Hellner has no regrets and is an experienced veteran of the bar/hospitality business.  He has operated the 20 Mile Tap House in Parker for 11 years.

But he stressed that the District Kitchen & Saloon stands on its own and is not established to replicate any of his other projects. In fact, the Saloon adheres to the historic character of the area, with special attention even paid towards its signage

Probably the most amazing feature to date involves the diversity of customers frequenting the  District in the first few months, running the gamut from yes, newspaper reporters/editors, city officials/politicians, casino workers, families, police officers and firefighters, visitors, curiosity seekers and much more.  The interchange among the customers is part of the experience.

The initial food reviews have been outstanding as many rave about their burgers, steaks, chicken sandwiches, along with their pork chops, seafood and salads.

Plus, the restaurant is well-equipped to handle big crowds, a factor they have grappled with since opening day in March. In addition, playoff fever, courtesy of the Denver Nuggets and Colorado Avalanche, has only escalated the excitement at the District.

Many of the employees have worked at Hellner’s other businesses in town. “We have very little turnover with our businesses,” said Hellner.

The District became one of the town’s most anticipated projects since May 2023, when the wheels started really moving in motion with the city council’s official approval of a liquor license, the first action in some time for a non-gaming entity.

A Familiar Community Leader

Besides his involvement with local businesses in Cripple Creek, which all have filled a definite needed niche, Hellner is a familiar face at city council meetings and community gatherings.

He serves as the board chairman for the Gold Camp District Impact Group (GCDI), the organization that paved the way for the landing of Rita the Rock Planter troll project outside Victor, the latest work of Danish artist Thomas Dambo, with the help of many community residents.

This year, Hellner says GCDI is mostly working on its internal organization more to enhance fund-raising efforts. But this summer, there will be the first Rita anniversary, called the Gold Camp Fastelavn. “It is going to be a lot of fun,” said Hellner, in describing this several-day celebration in early August.  Like most community leaders, Hellner was ecstatic about the reception Rita received last summer and fall, as it turned into a major tourist attraction and was responsible for turning what was a so-so season into a booming finish.

Hellner is enthused by the current direction of the city leaders in Cripple Creek, and the response his business’ ventures have received.  He was a big supporter of the Ice Castles attraction and wants to see more family activities like that in Cripple Creek

“I really appreciate being a part of the community,” said Hellner.

A Genuine Love for the Area
His story is fairly similar to the trip many business operators experience when becoming inflicted by the Cripple Creek bug. Hellner came to the Cripple Creek area several summers ago, and instantly fell in love with the region due to its history and amazing views.

But he was irked somewhat by the gaming-only stigma of the district.

“There is nothing wrong with the gaming. It is great. But there was nothing for families to do up here,” related Hellner.

That image has started to change, slowly, but surely.

Since arriving in Cripple Creek, Hellner and other business proprietors and partners have played a role in fostering more non-gaming retail and eateries that mesh with the town’s character. More importantly, they have started non-gaming businesses that work in Cripple Creek.  The District Kitchen & Saloon, the Gold Camp Café and The Mercantile have emerged as definite success stories that surprised some local cynics.

The District Kitchen & Saloon offers both take-out and sit-down dining options, and also has a private area for big parties. For  more information about the District Kitchen & Saloon, call 719-304-5855 and check out their Facebook page.