Eddie Bohn's Pig 'N Whistle burns down: Remembering a Denver classic
News that the old Pig 'N Whistle restaurant on West Colfax burned down this morning couldn't help leaving Eddie "Punch" Bohn with mixed emotions. After all, Punch's dad, Eddie Bohn, was the man who turned the site into a Denver landmark for the lion's share of the Twentieth Century.
"I was so lucky growing up around all that," says Punch, 69. "I met every celebrity from every walk of life."
Of course, Eddie, who died in 1990, shortly before the restaurant went south, rivaled the famous folks from sports and politics with whom he rubbed elbows, including boxing legend Jack Dempsey, for whom he worked as a sparring partner. Indeed, taking blows from the Manassa Mauler provided him with the seed money to build his business in the first place, beginning back in 1924. Page through below to check out an amazing photo gallery provided by Punch, who shares his very personal memories of the place he calls "the Pig."
Eddie was born in 1902, the son of a brush maker whose factory was located at the Colfax and Wolff location the Pig later put on the local map. Then, in 1920, "he got on his Indian motorcycle with a buddy and went to California to find their fortune," says Punch, who's worked in real estate since 1971 (visit his website by clicking here).
"They all got different jobs, but my dad ended up as a sparring partner for Jack Dempsey, and they became lifelong friends -- like brothers. Later, when I was four years old, Dempsey bought me a Shetland pony.
"My dad sparred a hundred rounds with Dempsey, and Dempsey always paid a hundred dollars a round. It took him a couple of years, but he saved up $10,000 and came back to Colorado and brought the property where my grandfather's brush factor had been. He put up a gas station and sold oil there. The grand opening was on Dempsey's birthday: June 24, 1924."
The gas station was a success, and Eddie decided to expand. "As he went along, he put in the hamburger deal, and then he decided he wanted to build a motel. The first one in the area was out on South Santa Fe, out by Gates, but he thought another one would work. So Tom Morrissey, who was the grandfather of Mitch Morrissey, the district attorney, loaned my dad the money to build it. And he just kept going, putting in the swimming pool and everything else."
The Pig 'N Whistle became a mecca for boxers, many of whom used the motel as a base during training: "They'd run around Sloans Lake at five in the morning and five in the evening, then go across the street, do their workups on the speed bags, and then they'd get up and spar. Thousands of people would come out to watch them. It was always a lot of fun." Pro baseballers such as New York Yankees stars Yogi Berra and Billy Martin were also friends of Eddie: "They used to come out hunting with us," Punch remembers. And then there were the football stars, too many for Punch to name, plus "mayors and governors and firemen and police men -- just a real cross-section of Denver."
In addition to running the Pig, Eddie served as Colorado's boxing commissioner for forty years: "He was appointed by six governors," Punch points out -- and he was also heavily involved with the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame and many other civic projects.
Over time, however, the Pig's popularity declined -- a fate that Punch ascribes to the design of the interstate system, which isolated its location.
"It was going great guns until they put Interstate 70 around Denver and neglected to hook Colfax up at the west end," he says. "They hooked it up to Sixth Avenue instead, and they didn't hook it up to Sheridan -- and they didn't hook up Interstate 25 to Colfax, either. Those were basically some of the reasons why West Colfax died.
"When I grew up, there were trolleys running up and down Colfax. It was the only way to get around town. There were 250,000 people in Denver after the war, and they all came out to play ball and have a few beers and ride the trolley. But nowadays, West Colfax is a disaster. It's going to take a lot of doing to ever get that part of town going again."
As business at the Pig declined, Punch says, "my dad borrowed money from Bill Daniels. Then my dad died in 1990, and my mom died six months later. And in 1991, we got forced into foreclosure and bankruptcy by Daniels. He effectively shut it down, and it's been pretty much vacant since then. Different parts of it have been sold off, but the restaurant was still there, at least until today. Now it's gone, too."
Today, Punch makes his living selling farms and ranches in Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska and Colorado -- and many of his buyers still come to him through Pig 'N Whistle connections. In that sense, and in his memories, the Pig lives on.
Page through below to check out photos of Eddie, Punch and the Pig:
The Pig 'N Whistle circa 1924 (click to enlarge).
Jack Dempsey at the Pig 'N Whistle.
Joe "Awful" Coffee, Eddie Bohn and Gene Fullmer at the Pig 'N Whistle.
Judge Santo, Judge Johns, Senator Big Ed Johnson, Judge Bowman, Angie Cinaco and Fire Chief Healey at the Pig 'N Whistle.
Attorney Fred Dickerson, Jack Dempsey and Eddie Bohn at the Pig 'N Whistle.
Carmen Basilio, looking worse for the wear, with Fred Bartle at the Pig 'N Whistle.
Eddie Bohn and Senator Big Ed Johnson with some lovely ladies at the Pig 'N Whistle.
That's a young Punch taking a dive at a gathering of family and friends.
Colorado Governor John Vanderhoof with Eddie Bohn.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Westword's biggest stories.
- Big Pot Grow in Routt National Forest an Environmental Hazard, Feds Say
Fri., Sep. 4, 7:00pm
Sat., Sep. 5, 12:00am
Sat., Sep. 5, 12:30pm
Sat., Sep. 5, 7:30pm
- Reader: Denver Is Safe Because Cops Will Crack Your F*cking Skull
- Saying Goodbye to 8 Denver-Area Restaurants, Hello to 21 New Ones