When Jim Karagas, owner of My Brother's Bar, Denver's oldest continually operating saloon and a joint he's run for forty of its 130-odd years, heard that Brothers Bar & Grill, a Wisconsin-based chain, planned to open an outpost in town, he was concerned that it might cause some confusion.
So concerned that on March 3 his attorney sent a letter to the Brothers franchisee, asking that the company discontinue the use of the word "Brothers" in Denver, and arguing that it "appears to be an attempt to unfairly trade on and benefit from [My] Brother's forty years' excellent reputation and goodwill."
Marc and Eric Fortney, the brothers who founded Brothers Bar & Grill in 1990, disagreed. They counted 67 other businesses in the Denver marketplace that use the word "Brothers" — Brothers BBQ among them (Uptown Brothers would soon make it 68) — and went directly to U.S. District Court in early May, asking the judge to rule that they had a right to use the Brothers name in Denver.
On Friday, this band of Brothers will meet for a required settlement conference. Jon Kottke, Karagas's longtime lawyer, isn't optimistic that they'll reach a deal. "The other side has not reached out at all to suggest anything," he says. "There's been no substantive talk." But there has been plenty of confusion.
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While the owners of Brothers were renovating their building at 1920 Market Street — a spot that's been a number of bars and restaurants, as well as the set of The Real World: Denver — some expensive electrical equipment for the project was delivered to My Brother's, located a mile away, at 2376 15th Street. Job applicants stopped by My Brother's to drop off their resumés for Brothers.
After the Denver Brothers Bar opened at the end of May, it was impossible for anyone who went inside the giant sports bar to confuse it with My Brother's, a quirky spot that plays classical music and doesn't even have a television. But still, the confusion continued. For many people in this city, My Brother's is the place they know as "Brothers," a spot so beloved it doesn't even need a sign, a go-to Denver institution. And so on Friday, October 8, people kept walking into My Brother's, asking about an event that had actually been scheduled at the other Brothers: a fundraiser for John Hickenlooper's gubernatorial campaign.
"I've known Hickenlooper since before he started his restaurant business," says a disappointed Karagas. "And then we sold him our business." That would be the Wazee Lounge and Supper Club, the restaurant at 1600 15th Street that Jim Karagas and his brother, Angelo, opened in 1973. While Jim devoted himself to My Brother's, Angelo presided over the Wazee and its ornery upstairs tenants, including an early incarnation of the Westword office. A few years after Angelo died, the bar was sold to the Wynkoop Brewing Company, then run by future mayor John Hickenlooper.
Who should make a heck of a witness if the judge hearing the Brothers-versus-Brother's case wants to hear any expert testimony about confusion in the marketplace.