By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
The new Celtic Tavern, at 18th and Blake, made it through the application process easily, says owner Noel Hickey. From the start, he promised that his place would be a true neighborhood bar and restaurant, and he agreed not to play music outside in the street. "One thing I have to say is, we've had a large amount of neighbors in, and they love the place," says Hickey.
When neighbors really don't love a place, the city has suggested mediation, with the business and nearby residents working with a mediator appointed either by the city's Department of Excise and Licenses or its Office of Neighborhood Response. Sevilla, the Latin-themed nightclub in the Ice House, was in mediation for eight months.
According to Sevilla's Bart DeLorenzo, the complaints stemmed from "strictly a few residents that didn't realize the repercussions of living downtown."
At first the club tried to work with its neighbors. "We did everything we could to cut down the sound, but once they felt it's not good enough, then they go to the city," DeLorenzo says. Since then, the club has "put up a cover, a roof on our atrium, which is an expensive process. We did that in good faith."
The monthly mediation meetings recently ended; the process was "amiable," DeLorenzo says. "We all have part of our lives invested in this building. We just try to work through it."
Only one other LoDo bar has gone to city-sponsored mediation: F-Stop.
The owners of 1819 Wazee received their liquor license in May 1993 - two years before opening day at nearby Coors Field - and Wazoo's opened in the downstairs space later that year. In 1994, people began moving into the Rocky Mountain Warehouse Lofts - but since the loft project was sold out a few years earlier, the question of who had first claim to the block remains debatable.
What's clear, though, is that it didn't take long for Wazoo's and Warehouse Loft residents to clash. In June 1994, the restaurant's owner, Bunt LLC, filed a request to modify the premises by adding a street-level patio. Neighbors balked.
"When confronted with the problems his restaurant was causing, [co-owner David French] replied that it should be a police problem," resident George Handley reported in a letter to the Department of Excise and Licenses. "His reasoning was that he had no way to tell whether a patron was drunk and rowdy because of coming to Wazoo's or became that way at another bar arriving. This is an irresponsible attitude on his part that washes his hands of any concerns that the residents of LoDo might have."
Yet a month later, residents gave the application their blessing. "We agreed that Mr. French was making a reasonable effort to control his patrons, and he agreed to keep the noise level down to the 55 decibel code so as not to bother the Rocky Mountain Warehouse Loft Residents," Handley reported in another letter. The license was granted in July.
In February 1995, the owners applied for another modification, this time to use the empty second floor as a dance club. The Denver Downtown Residents Organization, which encompasses all of downtown (St. Charles represents just LoDo residents), filed a letter of complaint, stating that "adding additional capacity at this site will only aggravate an already difficult and noisy situation for the residents that surround Wazoo's." Nevertheless, the application was approved.
The Great Room opened later that year, bringing live music - and big crowds - to the 1800 block of Wazee. Complaints soon followed. In August 1996, the city got reports that the Great Room was using unlicensed bouncers; that October, Excise and Licenses ordered a fifteen-day license suspension at Wazoo's after an undercover police officer found that the restaurant had served alcohol to a visibly intoxicated customer. The suspension was later reduced to three days and then rescinded in lieu of a $2,394 fine.
Barbara Henderson had moved to the Warehouse Lofts from the Bonnie Brae neighborhood in 1994; she was attracted to the small-town feel of LoDo in the midst of a big city. "You know the shopkeepers, you're friends with them," she says. "It's urban, but it's warm."
Sometimes too warm. After the Great Room opened, Henderson was not above putting a sweatshirt on over her pajamas and going to the club to ask that the music be turned down. "I did that all the time. They knew me; they saw me coming," she remembers. Sometimes the DJs would oblige her, but not often enough, and in the spring of 1998 Henderson moved a block away to the Ice House. "It was a hard two years," she says. "I would have rather heard the music than that bass beat. It permeates your body."
That same year, when the club applied for yet another modification to transform the Great Room into a new club called Tabu, another resident sounded off - and he knew how to make his voice heard. Former city employee Ron Straka occupies a loft that's right next door to 1819 Wazee, and his wall of windows was a poor sound insulator. In a letter to the Department of Excise and Licenses, he complained that sound from the club penetrated his residence until 2 a.m., and after that, there was the usual rowdiness and noise when patrons left the building. Straka also complained about the "after-hours use of outdoor service areas for high-pressure cleaning of equipment after closing" and, in general, management's arrogance in dealing with any complaints.