Come Out Swinging
With the sudden clamor from local news outlets over the scheduled August 24 opening of the controversial Sugar House, you might get the mistaken impression that Scottie Ewing's west-side nightclub is the first and only swinger-friendly joint in town. You might also think that his prolonged effort to secure a liquor license for the former boat-repair building at 1395 West Alameda Avenue marks the first time the 37-year-old has butted heads with the city over an establishment catering to couples who enjoy, um, sharing.
After word of Ewing's apparent battle with Denver officials somehow jumped onto the media radar two weeks ago, the feel-(up)-good story hit the national wire service and stimulated heated debates on Internet message boards and talk-radio shows between pious folk citing the Lord's disapproval and liberal sextroverts dismissing Denver as a land of party-pooping cow-towners.
But all that heavy breathing must be bad for the memory. Because it was just over a year ago that Westword pointed its flashlight on the softly lit lair of Denver's vigorous swinger community and found Ewing engaged in a feud with Kendall Seifert, owner of Scarlet Ranch, the largest swappers club in Colorado ("Swap Talk," June 22, 2006). Meanwhile, Ewing had opened Sindicate, an underground night spot for swingers, with his girlfriend, Lynne Thomas, at a spot in northwest Denver. There are three other officially recognized swingers clubs in the metro area that operate out of private facilities, and several other social organizations that throw events at hotels or bars. But Scarlet Ranch, still located at 424 Broadway, and Sindicate were the only fleshpots in Denver that would hold "on-premise" parties where sex would occur in-house.
In 2005, both clubs had received visits from the Denver fire marshal for fire-safety and zoning-code violations, but the difference between the two clubs was that Seifert owned his building, whereas Ewing was renting the storefront at 3648 Navajo Street and operating under the guise of an art gallery and coffee shop. When their landlords found out the true use of the building, they moved to evict their tenants; Ewing and Thomas responded with a lawsuit that was ultimately decided in the landlords' favor ("Exhibitionists," May 3).
While that case made its way through the courts, the couple and some partners bought the building on West Alameda in hopes of re-creating it as an aboveboard club with a real liquor license. They gave presentations to the Athmar Park Neighborhood Association, describing their vision of a high-end tavern serving tapas. But community leaders were skeptical and collected some 200 signatures in opposition to the liquor-license application. At a hearing last fall, one neighborhood representative brought up the fact that Ewing had served alcohol at Sindicate without a proper license ("License to Chill," August 17, 2006). Even so, the application was eventually approved.
For his new club, Ewing trademarked the name Denver Sugar Lounge (not to be confused with the high-priced hooker service Denver Sugar) and initially hoped to be open as early as this past March. But the city held off on final approval after inspectors noticed that the walls installed upstairs didn't match the plans that Ewing had submitted during the application process. While the venue is to be open to the general public, Ewing has long acknowledged his intention to host sexually charged swinger gatherings on certain nights at the club, and the fact that he'd installed beds on the top floor may have contributed to the bureaucratic delays and confusion.
For his part, Ewing says he believes the final approval was temporarily stalled by a high-ranking official at the Denver Fire Department who had a "moral issue" with the club's premise — when in essence, the Sugar House will be no different than a gay bar or a biker bar or a sports bar. "The whole philosophy is that you gather people with similar interests," Ewing explains. "There was no place for people with this lifestyle or with those interests to have a default place to meet." Where they go and what they do afterward is their own business, he adds, and that sentiment inspired the club's motto: "If sexy offends you, stay home."
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