To Help The Living Stay 6 Feet Apart, This Denver Restaurant Employed The Help Of The Supernatural

June 5, 2020
Two lovebird ghosts snuggle up at a booth in the Denver restaurant Sputnik.Two lovebird ghosts snuggle up at a booth in the Denver restaurant Sputnik.Xandra McMahon/CPR News
Two lovebird ghosts snuggle up at a booth in the Denver restaurant Sputnik.

Colorado restaurants got the green light to reopen for in-person service on May 27.

With the strict precautions now in place, dining out is bound to feel a little strange for a while. But for customers eating at Sputnik in Denver, there’s an added layer of weird.

A phantasmic layer of weird.

“I love the ghosts, they’re awesome,” said Lexie Kothlow, who was having a late lunch at Sputnik on Monday, the first day the dining room was open in months. 

Xandra McMahon/CPR News
The ghosts in Sputnik help encourage social distancing for the restaurant's living patrons by blocking off booths and bar stools.

The reopening was off to a slow start. Owner Matt LaBarge said they had served about 15 customers inside by mid-day. Well, that’s if you’re not counting the ghosts. 

Posed throughout the restaurant, the ghosts — made of scavenged items and topped off with a classic sheet — help diners maintain a safe distance. 

“We've got some playing dice, and then we've got one just kind of hanging out at the end of the bar,” LaBarge said. 

There’s also a book-reading ghost, and some spectral lovebirds enjoying a date. The idea came from bartender Trevor Liebler when Sputnik was still closed for dine-in service.

Xandra McMahon/CPR News
A shyer ghost reads a book at the Sputnik bar.

“It was getting really quiet with no one in the restaurant,” Liebler said. “So we decided to put the ghosts up to keep us company.” 

Usually, this stretch of South Broadway would be bustling, and Sputnik is typically a hot spot for late-night hangs. When COVID-19 shut everything down, LaBarge said he had to lay off three- quarters of his staff. Luckily, almost all of them have returned or will return in the coming weeks, he said. 

“I think the idea [for the ghosts] was that things weren't going to be exactly how they were,” he said. “And it was the ghost of South Broadway, the ghost of the restaurant industry, and just, you know, dealing with the unknown and stuff.”

The ghosts are all handmade, too. 

“Yeah, it's all found material,” Liebler said. “The only things that I bought were the sheets and the styrofoam heads.”

Xandra McMahon/CPR News
Sputnik owner Matt LaBarge hangs out with a ghost in the Denver restaurant.

The rest is wire, old clothes, and crumpled up newspaper to make the bodies. 

“I didn't even see them until we sat down, but they're very well done, very lifelike,” said another customer who only gave her first name, Morgan. 

It’s a little bit of silliness against the backdrop of a whole lot of heaviness. And it’s captured people’s imaginations. 

“It's been pretty fun,” LaBarge said. “We actually got a call from the Mile High Paranormal something or other, wanting to come and investigate the ghosts.” 

Just an FYI to paranormal teams, the ghosts looked pretty fake to this reporter.

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