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Bite Me

The Song Remains the Same

I was sitting at my little two-top lonelyheart's table at Brewery Bar II, nursing an afternoon beer and waiting to hear the perfect song. Something deep and meaningful. Tom Waits, maybe. A cut off Nighthawks at the Diner. Or maybe something from Springsteen's Nebraska.

What I got instead was Poco's "You Better Think Twice." Transcendent moments rarely come when you're out looking for them.

I really shouldn't complain, since I've had more than my share of those moments. But they tend to sneak up when I'm not ready -- when I'm doing something else or don't have a pen handy -- and by the time I realize I'm having this totally fantastic, once-in-a-lifetime experience, it's over and I'm already in the shower or something. It happened when I tasted my first square of Scharffen Berger dark chocolate. Unfortunately, I was driving at the time and almost ran over a cat. It happened in Ithaca, New York, when I got to see Pearl Jamplay a four-hour set for two bucks at a little college-town dive. There were maybe a dozen of us in the crowd, including a friend from Seattle who knew about the band and had dragged us there. A week later, Ten comes out and suddenly everyone knows who they are. And it happened at a bar in Ybor City, when I stepped away from the rail with two Coronas in each hand, listened as the DJ spun up Placebo's "Pure Morning" and got a look at my soon-to-be-ex across the room, silhouetted in light, dancing alone. After six years together, we split up a few days later. It took a while before I recognized that classic, perfect last moment of a dying relationship.

At Brew II, I was looking for something a little grittier, a little more wrong-side-of-the-tracks than Poco. I was looking for a moment with more historical gravity, a plumb line back to the past. I wanted Johnny Cash singing "Folsom Prison Blues." What I got was Poco.

But still, "You Better Think Twice" almost worked: It was recorded in 1970 and could have been playing on the day in 1973 when the Brewery Bar made its big jump to Kalamath Street. Abe and Roz Shur had opened their original bar at the Tivoli in 1960, then moved it down the road a dozen years later. Between point A and point B, very little changed, save the Roman numeral. The Shurs finally retired in the early '90s, and new owner Jim Lundstrom took over.

But not much has changed at Brew II. "I guess they cleaned the place up a little," says Don Isam, who's been manning the taps here for thirteen years. "And they started taking credit cards. But that's really it."

Now, Brewery Bar III? That's a whole different story (see Cafe for all the gruesome details on the mini-empire's newest outpost down in Lone Tree). But also consider that fifty more years of Brewery Bar history might prove me wrong. Maybe Brew III will lose its new-car smell and all its suburban airs and grow up right, taking on the character of its forebears and growing a few whiskers on its face. If not, though, as Poco says, "You Better Think Twice."

Another brewery bar (this one lowercase) has seen some changes recently. The Rocky Mountain Brewery was founded in 1859 and sold two years later to John Good and Jim Endlich. In 1870, Good hired Philip Zang, a Bavarian immigrant, to manage the brewery. Zang bought the joint outright in 1871, changed the name to the Phil Zang Brewing Company, turned the business into Colorado's largest supplier of frosty, cold adult beverages, and erected the Hostel Building near the brewery so that off-duty beer-wagon drivers could catch a nap, get laid, play some cards or grab a bite to eat. And then the brewery caught fire.

Zang rebuilt.

In 1881 the brewery caught fire again, and this time, it burned to the ground. Undeterred, Zang rebuilt again -- and like the smartest of the three little pigs, this time he did it out of bricks. Not to be outdone, Mother Nature tried a new trick. In 1882 the brewery was totaled when the Platte River flooded.

So Zang rebuilt a third time. And you have to give the guy credit for his stick-to-itiveness, because by 1889, he was listed as one of 33 millionaires living in Colorado, with a house in Denver and a 3,600-acre horse ranch in an area called Zang's Spur (later to become Broomfield). When he sold the brewery -- to an English company known as Denver United Breweries -- his son Adolph stayed on as plant manager, and the Zang name remained, too.

Adolph was no slouch, either. He saw Prohibition coming from a mile away, sold all of his stock in the company around 1910, retired on January 1, 1912, and peddled the family name to Denver United for a hefty profit. Prohibition took effect at the stroke of midnight on December 31, 1915 -- and that was that. Denver United tried to cover its nut by selling ice cream and non-alcoholic beer, but couldn't swing it and sold off the Zang properties in 1933. Today all that remains of the original complex are the Brewmaster's House (now an office suite) and the Hostel Building at 2301 Seventh Street, which continued operating through the decades as a speakeasy, flophouse, gambling den and, for more than a generation, the Zang Brewing Co. restaurant.

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