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Grinding, pulsating sounds from inside the club at 1037 Broadway spill out onto the sidewalk, competing with chirping cell phones, loud conversations and a constant barrage of bodies coming in and going out. But despite all the heated activity, there's no line to get in -- at least not yet.
Serengeti, one of the year's most hotly anticipated new clubs, still isn't open. And if scenesters feel like it's taking an inordinate amount of time to finish the place (which just blew through an August opening date), imagine how Regas Christou feels: He bought the building that once housed Jonas Brothers Furs eleven years ago, and it's been unoccupied ever since. He started working on Serengeti (the club's name plays off the jungle mural left by the Jonas Brothers) three years ago, and he's now just a month away from finally seeing his vision realized.
Denver's most renowned nightclub impresario is happy to show off his latest creation, even in its transitional state. As he steps over buckets, ladders and extension cords that snake across the length of the main room and makes his way upstairs, his eyes brighten. "This is better than sex," Regas says. "Look at the power and energy of these people. Don't you feel it? Fuck!"
Although the space looks more like a dingy bus garage than anything else, Regas describes in detail the grandiose, elegant establishment that now exists only in his mind -- and maybe that of his brother Chris, "the hardest-working guy I've ever known in my life, ever," Regas says. From stunning second-floor views of the skyline and mountains, to the two-story waterfall that will feed into a river -- that's right, a river -- flowing under two bridges in the basement that connect the jazz room and the vault, to the two enormous outdoor decks, Serengeti is Regas's most ambitious project to date.
And because of a few last-minute changes -- the bathroom was moved from one side of the building to the other, for example -- Serengeti still has a last hurdle to clear before the city will allow it to open. That incenses Regas, who focuses his wrath on Helen Gonzales, Denver's director of the Department of Excise and Licenses.
"Usually, it's just a simple modification of the premises, but now she wants to have a full hearing," he says. "The neighborhood has no objections so far. Every fucking time I try to do something, she always gets in my way for some fucking reason. She set up a hearing; instead of a simple modification, she wants to have a full hearing. If we have to go through a hearing, it could go either way -- you know how that goes. It's just the same old shit, man. The shit never changes in this city."
"The rules are simple, and they apply to everybody," responds Gonzales. "If he doesn't follow the rules, then it does become more complicated. We have a process that we have to follow. We approve the premises based on the representations made to us at our public hearing. And if they change that, then I think the neighborhoods have a right to know what's been changed."
While moving a Serengeti bathroom "isn't going to have an impact on the neighborhood," she says, "if they're increasing size, which increases capacity -- which is what he did in the basement -- we would consider that a major modification because of the potential impact on the neighborhood."
Margerie Hicks, executive director of the Golden Triangle Neighborhood Association, says that her group didn't oppose Serengeti's initial license application. But given some of the changes -- more than a "simple modification," she says, "essentially a 50 percent increase in the nightclub part of it and then a second outdoor patio" -- a committee that reviews all liquor licenses is now re-evaluating the Golden Triangle's position and will make a recommendation to the group's board, which will then write a letter to Excise and Licenses before the department's hearing.
"We now have another notice from Excise and Licenses that a significant area that was going to be the restaurant is now going to be more of the nightclub," says Hicks. "Regas had thought that if there was some initial agreement, there wouldn't be another hearing. So I called Excise and Licenses, because the notice I got didn't say that. And what I found from Excise and Licenses is there's going to be a hearing in either case."
Regas doesn't sound too daunted by the prospect. In opening his other clubs, he's become well acquainted with the process.
"They did it before, at the Church, for a simple modification…because I built a patio without asking them. They had a hearing because she said that I intended to sell liquor there," Regas continues. "The judge threw them out of his courtroom, basically. It was a bogus case. But they never thought I would go to court with it until I finally did. They lost on every count, because people in this country don't get prosecuted or don't lose their business because they intend to do something. How does she know my intentions?"