Gone, Daddy, gone: Pick your own sad song to sum up what Denver lost when the 15th Street Tavern, a local-music landmark, closed after one last hurrah on Saturday. If it hasn't hit you yet, it will. Because downtown Denver, with all its chi-chi lounges and supercalifragilicious sports bars, is a little less cool now, a little less real and a lot less welcoming to those live-music fans who just want to throw on a pair of blue jeans and get a brew -- hold the "micro." Like it or loathe it, the Tavern was as straightforward inside as its unimaginative name suggested.
Why did the Tavern close so suddenly, after almost ten years as a venerated venue? Owner Andy Artzer and his wife were hands-on involved when they opened the bar back in 1995, in what had been the Sportsman. Artzer turned over the day-to-day operations to Anika Zappe in 1999, when he moved to New York for another project. His mom, Kathy Artzer, took over in 2001. Fast-forward to October 23, 2004: Andy comes to town to renew the lease and liquor license, both of which are set to expire at the end of that month. Over the weekend, his mom mentions that she's fallen out of love with the labor -- and would maybe like to have a life. After further discussing the tavern's future, the Artzers decide to let the place go. And so, after October 30, the club is no more.
Melissa Martin, initially the bar's part-time tender and waitress, started doing promotions for the Tavern a year ago and added booking the stage to her duties in January. She's fielded a lot of calls since she announced last week that the place would close. "People are so sad," she says. "They can't believe it. They started taking it for granted, and now it's gone." Martin's heartbroken, too. She remembers her first days at the Tavern: "I was coming downtown with friends, and sometimes I would ditch them to go to the Tavern, because I could relax there and be myself." Patrons turned personnel were common there. In fact, for the final blowout Martin chose bands that contained past or then-present bar employees.
It's not surprising that so many people felt at home in a place whose wokers also enjoyed hanging out there off the clock. Or that customers old and new are forlorn over the passing of a club that holds so many memories -- whether of making friends' drinks, or seeing now-famous bands like the White Stripes, the Shins and Jimmy Eat World on their way up the ladder. One of Martin's treasured moments involves a Japanese band whose members played like they were at Red Rocks, thrilled to be performing at the Tavern -- and whose drummer wore only a sock over his penis.
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"In the mid- and late-'90s, it was the only small club in Denver that was actively pursuing the coolest indie bands in the country," recalls Scott Campbell, who booked the place until December 2002. "We had a good thing going for years. We had so many good bands I can't count them all. I hope that a lot of people there had the same good experiences I did. It was my baby for a long time, and it's too bad it's over." (Speaking of Tavern employment trends, Melissa Martin will now work alongside Campbell at his Larimer Lounge.)
Faithful fans still grieving over their loss should take heart from Martin's words on the Tavern website: "We can only leave with the knowledge that the memories, the spirit of the place and the rock 'n' roll will live on in all of us who knew and loved the 15th Street Tavern!"
"It was always about the people," Andy Artzer says. "Our managers and our people have always been so into the scene. It's not a credit to me, by any means. They're the ones that made the Tavern."
And they may be the ones who keep its spirit alive in the space. There's word that some of the employees may take over the lease. Club Scout will keep you posted.