By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
Al Avram has an irresistible East Coast/macho/wiseguy/velvet growl, and the best thing he says with it is this: "You know, I got an explanation for that."
Which is handy, because Al has a lot to explain. His name, for one thing, which is Al Avram in some circles and Carroll Alan Abraham in others. And don't forget Cayull Alshi Al-Avram, the moniker that graces Al's driver's license and may even be the name he was given at birth. "But I got an explanation for that," Al says. "I'm a Sephardic Jew, but sometimes people think I'm some kind of rag-on-my-head camel jockey. So my contention is that I can change my name just like you might want to change yours from Weiss to White." You know, informally. "Sure," Al agrees. "Like, say you're born Elizabeth, and someone calls you Betty--is that an alias? I don't know. Maybe it is."
It is if there happens to be a separate felony record attached to two of those aliases. But not only does Al have an explanation for his various names and their related charges, he's the one who mentions them in the first place. "See, where I'm from"--which could be Pittsburgh, Israel, Argentina or a place called Cakmak, Turkey--"everyone was mobbed up, as they say," says Al. "You couldn't help it. But we had standards. I know that sounds funny, but we didn't touch drugs or prostitution. I finally hadda leave. In Pittsburgh I would've wound up..."
Even more "mobbed up"? Even more likely to be busted for armed robbery, RICO conspiracy, receiving stolen goods and...? But, really, what does it matter? You now know the Al of twenty years back, because Al himself introduced you to him. Before you today, however, is a simpler Al--a man who wants nothing more than to create "a place like in New York or Pittsburgh, where the food is good, plenty and plain. No radish carvings or things of that nature. Three to nine bucks a plate. Specialties, like stuffed lobsters, like a veal chop with the bone in. What I want," he sums up, "is an Italian-type lounge." Run by a Sephardic Jew who once checked the "Hispanic" box on a liquor-license application. Still, not even Al's sworn enemies--and there are several--can accuse him of making a substandard fettuccine con pollo or pork chops i vongoli.
"Oh, yeah," he says, "you gotta come down for pasta. Anytime. I'm here from about nine in the morning to eleven at night." You gotta. What you do is, you go down to the southeast corner of 13th Avenue and Pennsylvania, to the building that once housed Zenobia's and Malfunction Junction, and see if you can find anything resembling a restaurant. Hint: Al calls the place the Beau Brummel Club, in the hope that it will become known as the B.B.C. Problem: There is no sign reading Beau Brummel Club or B.B.C. For that matter, to date there is no liquor license for either the Beau Brummel Club or the B.B.C.; the restaurant license is but two weeks old. And once you finally get inside the place, you won't find much in the way of fixtures. Or waiters--Al is the only employee. Hidden bonus: Even though the restaurant does not seem to exist, you may still get a damn good meal--free. It's been known to happen, particularly if the diner is willing to lend a sympathetic ear to Al's tale of neighborhood woe, to wit:
"I'm being persecuted by one of these neighborhood watch groups. They call themselves the Unsinkables, and they are run by a little megalomaniac short guy named Jorge and his sidekick, an off-duty cop known as Tony the Thug."
What? Can't a former felon get a break? "Nobody's persecuting Al," says Denver police officer Tony Burkhardt, who indeed works with the Unsinkables off-duty but does not answer to Tony the Thug. "What it is, is he's persecuting me! He's dirty and a felon and he's throwing a wrench into the gears."
On the one hand, law enforcement officials across the metro area have spent a considerable amount of time trying to figure out where Al got the down payment for not just one, but two, bars. On the other hand, they still don't know. "Look, I'm 56, and basically this is gonna be my retirement place," Al says. "I intend to be involved in this neighborhood. I am the first to admit I've made mistakes, but hey, give me a chance."
Armed with a tiny sponge mop, Al Avram is wetly, but supremely, suave. One of the pipes above the B.B.C. has burst, and water is pouring through the ceiling he has just painted. Beneath the downpour, Al is unfazed in his casual outfit of jeans, crewneck sweater and Topsiders. His hair is a distinguished silver-gray, his eyes Paul Newman blue. It apparently takes more than faulty plumbing to get to Al. "I got a lot of enemies," he admits, "but don't forget, I got a lotta friends, too. Now, if I start to pontificate, stop me."