The 3600 block of Navajo Street was dry last Friday night. Very dry. Because liquor had come up in her case against Scottie Ewing -- who'd produced photos of Pirate's Day of the Dead donation-for-beer box -- Chandler Romeo sent a note to her art-gallery tenants alerting them to the potential pitfalls of serving wine and beer at art openings.
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Denver's First Friday events scattered around town attract thousands of people each month; the scene on Santa Fe even rated a mention in a recent Travel & Leisure. A river of alcohol runs through these nights -- and it's all illegal, according to Helen Gonzales, acting director of the Denver Department of Excise and Licenses. "It is unlawful to consume alcohol in a public place without a license," she says. "So if it's an establishment that's open to the public and they're consuming wine, that's illegal." While nonprofits can apply for an arts-organization liquor license -- the Denver Civic Theatre has one, as does the Denver Art Museum -- few galleries are that organized, and many aren't official nonprofits.
Although the wine-in-a-box cops have yet to put the lid on any art openings, several galleries that rent their space to late-night parties have been warned by police that they're violating the law and could be shut down altogether. The situation has gotten so tangled that the Denver Office of Cultural Affairs is meeting with Excise and Licenses next week to discuss "what's real and what's rumor," says economic-development specialist Ginger White, and to come up with a plan to disseminate information to gallery owners -- who are eager to keep their businesses off the rocks.