A lot has changed in downtown Denver over the past two decades or so, but there's been at least one constant: Soapy Smith's Eagle Bar, at 1317 14th Street. For 23 years, Dick Bacon and his wife, Beth, have run the watering hole, which has earned a deserved reputation as a wild party joint. "I've had couples introduce me to children who were supposedly conceived in the restaurant," Dick says. But the Bacons' run came to an end on June 23, when Dick and Beth officially closed the doors and put into motion a plan to sell the club and everything inside it, down to the last shot glass.
The weekend before the closing, a considerable sum of money was stolen from the bar--the third theft of this type in a distressingly brief period. But while Dick confirms that the situation, which he calls "an inside job," accelerated his decision to put the bar on the block, he insists that it was only a minor factor in his decision to sell. "I'm no spring chicken anymore, and when you get to my age, you should curtail certain activities," he says. "It's a young man's game, and that's the kind of person who should be running a place like this--not someone old and happily married like me."
Dick denies that the bar has suffered a decline in business of late, as has been rumored. "This isn't a distress sale," he says. But he admits that his increased involvement in real-estate development in the Fort Collins-Windsor area has prevented him from keeping as close an eye on Soapy Smith's as he should have. "Whenever we put a concentrated effort into any program, whether it was live music or whatever, it has always been successful. Unfortunately, I haven't always been around to help--but if someone's committed to the property, there's a lot of opportunity here."
Rather than simply slapping a "for sale" sign on the front window, the Bacons have taken a more ambitious tack. Woltz and Associates, a firm in Roanoke, Virginia, is already hyping the bar over the Internet at www.woltz.com, and advertisements for it will soon appear in the Wall Street Journal and various national trade journals. A tour for real-estate agents will also be offered on July 9, followed by a July 28 session at which time the land, the building and its contents will be auctioned off to the highest bidder. Dick estimates the appraisal value of the whole shebang at $1.4 million, but he won't necessarily turn up his nose at anything less. The minimum bid has been set at $695,000, and if that's all he's offered, that's what he'll take.
Tidying up the club in anticipation of the sale hasn't been easy, but the Bacons are accustomed to the chore. Beth remembers one night when a bandmember climbed onto the room's balcony and dumped a bag of feathers all over the rowdies below--and when the cleaning crew discovered the mess early the next morning, "they totally freaked out, because they thought somebody had been doing some kind of weird ritual. And on another night, we had a customer who'd decided he was a wild and crazy guy urinate on all the credit-card machines. He had to buy all new machines and pay the bookkeeper and the manager who cleaned it all up."
"The clientele, which started out being mainly preppy students from across the street, has, shall we say, evolved over the years," Bacon points out with a laugh. "But I think the spirit of the place has really remained quite consistent. This is a fun, outrageous drinking establishment, and we've loved presenting it to the town of Denver."
One day after Soapy Smith's gave up the ghost, the Gothic Theatre, at 3263 S. Broadway in Englewood, returned from the dead. Its Thursday, June 24, bow had been scheduled to take place the previous Monday, but construction delays had nixed that, and on the big night itself, a few tasks remained incomplete--for instance, the floor in front of the stage was still bare, unpainted concrete. But for anyone who recalls dodging rats at the venue during the early Nineties, when it was overseen by nobody in particular presents head Doug Kauffman, the renovation executed by current owner Steve Schalk and his partners will come as a very pleasant surprise.
Schalk has a background in film-set design, as is clear from the Gothic's new look. Wavy curves turn up on the ceiling, the walls, the bars and the railings, and when they're juxtaposed with the antique light fixtures and bluish hues that are sprinkled about, they gave the interior the feel of an art-deco aquarium. The ornate filigree and multiple tiers on the balconies sometimes impinge on sight lines; the views are fine for those front and center but can be tricky for anyone behind them. However, wings built along the sides of the room provide patrons the opportunity to look down on the musicians from only a few feet away. As I sat above them, two members of Chris Daniels and the Kings, who provided the swinging sounds at the soiree, kept eyeballing me in an effort to remember who the hell I was. Luckily for me, I'd left my Westword name tag at home.
Overall, the sonics at the theater were much improved--better in the middle of the room than along the sides, but acceptable everywhere--and the ventilation kept things feeling more comfortable than in the old days, when attempting to breath the stagnant air upstairs could be considered a suicidal act. Nonetheless, Schalk faces a tough battle if he hopes to make the Gothic successful. His early bookings (a mix of local shows and national acts such as Howard Jones) include no blockbusters, and neither Bill Graham Presents/Chuck Morris Presents nor Universal Concerts have truly embraced the venue thus far. He's done a nice job with the place; now let's see how many people actually bother to check it out for themselves.
The February 18 edition of this column told the tale of the $10.4 billion merger of Polygram and Universal Music and the chaos that resulted in, among a great many other things, Denver's 16 Horsepower being dropped from A&M Records, its label of several years. At the time, the group's longtime drummer, Jean-yves Tola, revealed that the combo, which is led by David Eugene Edwards, was hoping to hook up with one label in Europe, where the lion's share of its fan base resides, and another in the States. Now, as the outfit prepares to kick off a mini-tour of the U.S. with a Tuesday, July 6, appearance at the Bluebird Theater, Tola confirms that the first half of that goal has been reached. "We've signed with Glitterhouse Records," he says from California, where he's currently living. "It's a big independent company from Germany, and they really know the European market, which is something that's important to us. We've talked to a couple of bands that have a world deal with an American independent, and they're struggling a little in Europe. But Glitterhouse has a real network set up there, and that's just what we need."
Initially, Tola and company had assumed that they'd ink with a European major; after all, a pair of Polygram-affiliated companies began sending out feelers immediately after the band's departure from A&M. But the more Tola investigated the situation, the colder his feet got. "We thought that the merger had mainly affected the labels in America, which still don't know what's going on all these months later. But when we talked to the European labels, we found out that they don't know what's going on, either, and we didn't want to wait for them to get situated. They were full of promises, but we'd heard those kinds of promises before. So we decided we needed to find a situation where we'd be more in control of our future. And that should be the case now."
The Glitterhouse pact doesn't mean negotiations are now part of Tola's past. The players are currently in discussions regarding a management contract, and conversations are also ongoing with a couple of U.S. indies that Tola calls "small but capable." He says the band is "basically staying away from the majors in America, too. It's just so refreshing to talk with people who are not caught up with all the corporation crap. It's straightforward, with no hidden agenda, no politics, no bosses lurking around every corner. It feels really good."
Not that Tola is nursing bitterness about how A&M treated the group. "Don't get me wrong. A&M was great for the first three years, when we did an EP [via Ricochet Records] and our first album [Sackcloth 'n' Ashes] with them. But after that, they became a different company. They'd had a bunch of big bands that had done well, but in the last couple of years, things went just terrible, and there were a lot of personnel changes. It became a bad situation, and we're definitely relieved that we're not with them anymore."
Between its July 6 Bluebird show and one at the Fox Theatre in Boulder on July 26, 16 Horsepower will perform headlining gigs in Minneapolis, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Boston, New York, Atlanta and a handful of other cities. Afterward, the musicians will get started on a recording they had originally planned to start making in February. According to Tola, "We'll probably rent a house a couple of hours outside of Denver and get all of the gear up there and record for two full weeks. Then we'll take a break and mix it, and we'll probably be ready to release it worldwide early next year. And we're not going to stagger the releases between America and Europe like we've done in the past. This one will come out everywhere at the same time.
"It's been an interesting last few months," he says. "But all of it's been positive. Very positive."
During the making of 16 Horsepower's second A&M full-length, Low Estate, Jeffrey-Paul was a full member of the band; in fact, he broke up the group he fronted, the Denver Gentlemen, in order to work shoulder to shoulder with his friends Edwards and Tola. But Jeffrey-Paul wasn't invited along for a subsequent tour, ostensibly because of finances, and after sitting in during a handful of local gigs, things fell apart. "I tried to complement what they were doing rather than step on them," he maintains, "but because they'd been playing without me, it was hard to find a place to fit in. There wasn't a lot of musical room." Although other reasons also contributed to his departure from the band, he prefers to keep them to himself. But he offers a hint of strain behind the scenes while talking about the fact that his new project, Hoitoitoi, was scheduled to debut at Cafe Cero on Tuesday, July 6--the very same night 16 Horsepower is playing at the Bluebird. "It's just a coincidence that our first show was supposed to be that same night," he says. "But if I could have planned it that way, I probably would have."
As it turns out, no head-to-head battle will take place: Hoitoitoi's date was canceled at the last minute in the wake of a disturbing-the-peace ticket, and no makup gig has yet been announced. But interested parties can still check out Hoitoitoi via the Internet, at www.hoitoitoi.com --and those who do will discover that the musical contrast between 16 Horsepower and Jeffrey-Paul's latest experiment couldn't be starker. Edwards's creation uses rootsy instrumentation to dark, fascinating ends, whereas Hoitoitoi finds cellist Rebecca Vera and Jeffrey-Paul handling everything from organs to walkie-talkies, offering up what he describes as "erotic dance grooves. It's sex music. I think it is, anyway.
"I really liked a lot of the groove shows that I saw in Europe," he continues, "and when I watched them, I understood the frustration that a lot of people have with seeing nothing but guys with guitars--so I decided to put grooves and guitars together. I know a lot of other people are doing that kind of thing, too, but I think it's a good direction to go. It's technological stuff, which makes sense, because we started out wanting to be an Internet band."
Hoitoitoi isn't just any computer group; after all, the video clips of rehearsals on its site often find the performers in various states of undress. "It differs from a porn site in that it's obviously personable," Jeffrey-Paul says. "Most porn sites are like strangers you couldn't stand to spend an evening with if it weren't for the sex. But we try to give back what you give to us. We want people to send us an e-mail or send us something else, so that we can see if they're the kind of people we'd want to invite to our rehearsals. And we don't invite just anybody; we're moody. But if we get to know you, we may decide to show you some pretty interesting things."
In the future, Jeffrey-Paul hopes to improve the grainy quality of the images on the site and perhaps even begin Webcasting rehearsals in real time. But he's also interested in performing with Hoitoitoi in clubs and other more traditional venues, his current difficulties notwithstanding. "Our live shows are going to be more audience-aware," he says. "If people want to sit back in a corner and hide, that's fine, and if they want to participate, that's fine, too. It'll be about giving back what we get." As for how wild the stage show might get, he concedes that "Rebecca's pretty busy with the live parts of the music. But most of my stuff's automated, so I'll get a chance to really perform or not, depending on how things are going. And just so you know, I look really good in six-inch heels."
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Way back in the June 17 edition of this column, I wrote about scenesters trying to revive the Rocky Mountain Music Association, a well-intentioned organization that's gone through hard times this decade. Unfortunately, the attempt has already hit a snag: Dolly Zander, who was heading up the project, recently issued a release in which she says that there is "simply too much baggage, power madness, heaviness, preference for obstacles and control mongering to overcome" in order to bring the RMMA back. Therefore, she has filed articles of incorporation for a new group, to be called the Colorado Music Association, and has already altered the RMMA Web site (www.RMMA.org) to reflect this switch.
Change is good. On Thursday, July 1, Rebecca Folsom fields requests at the Little Bear. On Friday, July 2, Cabaret Diosa celebrates the release of its new CD, Voodoo Pinata, at the Fox Theatre; the Real Eyes shine at Cricket on the Hill, with Tomorrow at Five and 32; and the Homeless Wonders squat at the Raven, with the Fairlanes, the Gamits, the Messy Hairs and the Hardsoles. On Saturday, July 3, On Second Thought reconsiders at Herman's Hideaway, with the Ryan Tracy Band, and Phantom Freeway races to Ziggie's. On Sunday, July 4, the Dude of Life and Foxtrot Zulu set off fireworks at the Wolftongue Brewery in Nederland. On Tuesday, July 6, Touch and Go's own Delta 72 kicks up a racket at the Raven. And on Wednesday, July 7, the Melvins go to the Fox in support of their new album, The Maggot. Delicious, nutritious, and kids like it, too.
Backbeat's e-mail address is Michael_Roberts@westword.com.