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Ed Jones, an El Paso county commissioner and longtime friend and customer of Leonard's, explains it this way: "I've been knowing Leonard for thirty years. He's always run nice lounges. Nice blue-collar lounges where people can come in after work with a little paint on their jeans, have a few cold ones and shoot the bull. He's a good friend, good to his employees, and if anyone needs help, he'll give it to them. But if you cross him, that brings out the Sicilian in him."
Jones adjusts his toothpick, sips his cocktail. "Now, Leonard has always been potty-mouthed," he continues. "If he didn't say a potty word, I'd think he was sick. It's not so much that you love to hear Leonard curse, but he has a right to say what he wants to say. People don't come in here looking for the signs. They come in to relax and talk. If you don't like what he says, you can go to another bar. And there are lots of other bars far more insensitive than this."
He's biased, Jones admits that -- but in his opinion, the people who frequent Leonard's come in for the personality. And Mr. Personality happens to be Leonard, who isn't so much belligerent as he is cantankerous, not so much on the offense as out to jerk your chain. When people walk into Leonard's, they know exactly what they're getting. Besides, after listening to Leonard's spew for a while, the shock wears off.
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"The Offal Truth"
"Although we live in a very conservative community and a very religious community, there has not been one letter in the newspaper protesting Leonard's bar," Jones says. "You'd think people would be out here protesting, but they're not."
In his own defense, Leonard strolls around the bar pointing out signs that are not potty-mouthed, like this upside-down placard: "If you can read this, put me back on my bar stool." There are also photos of grinning friends and patrons, copies of the Ten Commandments, photos of his grandson receiving a medal from the Marines, even a picture of puppies -- the offspring of his dogs, Fuck You and Motherfucker.
"This is like my front room," Leonard says. "When you come in here, you come in as my guest. But if you abuse that, you're gone. And if you're gone, you're gone for good, because if you fucked up bad enough to get tossed out the first time, you don't deserve to come back."
But out of all of Leonard's guests, not a single one has ever complained about his language or his signs, which are not visible from the sidewalks, parking lots or side streets because of the bar's blinds and tinted windows. "Never. Never. Never," Leonard insists.
Leonard's has also been regularly inspected by liquor-enforcement investigators who never mentioned the placards, either. During one such inspection in December 1997, Brian Osterhouse gave Leonard's II a clean bill of health. Although Osterhouse had noticed the signs, he told investigators in October that he did not remember exactly what they said. To the best of his recollection, he said, the signs were well-crafted, "kind of nice" and might have said "No Fucking Tap Beer," "No Fucking Profanity," "Fucking Men" and "Fucking Women."
The signs hadn't concerned him at the time, Osterhouse recalled, because they contained what he considered commonly spoken language. If he'd heard someone saying the same words on these signs, for instance, he probably would not have taken enforcement action. But Osterhouse admitted that he hadn't seen the signs that were confiscated this past August.
Six weeks after they took those signs, investigators interviewed the bar's neighboring businesses. Although none of the merchants said he was offended by the signs, a few mentioned that Leonard usually appears "half-drunk."
Leonard shrugs. "Do I have a cross outside and a sign that says church?" he says. "No. I have a sign that says bar."
In mid-October, the state also received a complaint from a man who lives across the street from Leonard's II, but he'd never been in the bar. He phoned investigators only after he read about the controversy in a local paper.
When told about that, Leonard laughs out loud. "I've been in business 35 years," he says. "Do you think I'd be in business 35 years by violating the law? You can call up the mayor and the chief of police, and they'll say I'm low-key and just want to be left alone. I'll stand up before anyone and say there are no shootings, no stabbings, and no bing, bang, boom."
Colorado Springs police lieutenant Skip Arms concurs with Leonard's assessment of his tavern. "It hasn't cropped up as one of our problem bars," he says, "so I guess it's low-key. It hasn't been a problem place."
That's because Leonard considers himself "a businessman," and one who's not above compromising. A year before his signs were seized, Leonard removed two of his favorite posters after police asked him to (okay, and the city took him to court). One featured an enlarged birthday snapshot of his best buddy, Gary Chase (who has since died), his face between the enormous bare breasts of a 300-pound stripper named Ample Annie. The other showed Leonard's grinning mug between the practically nude butts of two nineteen-year-old hardbodies.