By Jamie Swinnerton
By Mark Antonation
By Lori Midson
By Jonathan Shikes
By Amber Taufen
By Cafe Society
By Juliet Wittman
By Jonathan Shikes
It's a club with no membership rules, no initiation fees, and dues that vary depending on how much liquor you can consume in one sitting. For more than five decades, Don's Club Tavern has been one of the most inclusive joints in Denver, a home away from home for everyone from badass bikers to buttoned-up governors. But while the ancient neon sign promising "mixed drinks" still glows over Sixth Avenue, something is missing inside: Donald Aymami, owner of Don's, passed away earlier this month, at the age of 86.
A Denver native and die-hard Irish Catholic, Aymami could usually be found hanging around the bar, chatting with the regulars and sipping a Red Beer ($3) -- Budweiser with a splash of tomato juice in it -- which he frequently paired with a shot of Jack Daniel's. For members of his large family, which includes eighteen grandchildren and fourteen great-grandchildren, Don's wasn't just a place to drink; it was where you could visit "Poppa," hide out in the phone booth or make a little extra spending money.
"Daddy saw the history of Denver go down Sixth Avenue," says Sandra Everding, Aymami's oldest daughter, who remembers how her father, an avid golfer, would drive golf balls down the empty street. "Denver is a different place now that he's not here."
Aymami and a partner purchased the bar 57 years ago and named it the Club Tavern. When they decided to go their separate ways shortly thereafter, they tossed a coin to determine who would keep the establishment. Don won. So did Denver.
Other than the fact that the kitchen closed years ago -- you could once get a fried-chicken dinner here for $2 -- not much has changed inside Don's over the decades. Faded pictures and posters of Ireland line the dark, wood-paneled walls. Behind the bar and under a glowing, etched-glass rendition of the Maroon Bells, the original cash register still rings up drinks.
Don's wife of more than thirty years, Barbara, and other family members hope to keep this smoky Denver institution going, and they still plan to throw Don's annual St. Patrick's Day bash, which is famous for its free corned beef and cabbage. "We would love to keep it in the family," says Megan Lemieux, one of Don's granddaughters. "He lived and breathed for this place. He lived an amazing life."