They'll Drink to That
Foam, foam on the range: Denver's long and liquid history.
By Patricia Calhoun
Before it toasted Denver as the "Drunkest Big City in America," Men's Health studied the number of drunk-driving arrests in the country's 101 largest metro areas, as well as the number of alcohol-related deaths (not including those in frat houses) and the number of alcohol-related liver diseases. To determine the winner of September's "Is Your City Sloshed?" survey, the magazine didn't even need to factor in Denver's low bar-to-resident ratio; or the fact that its mayor co-founded what has become the biggest brewpub in America; or that metro Denver's liquid assets -- alcoholic or no -- are such a big business that this area rated number one in the nation "for beverage production industry cluster employment concentration," according to a study funded by the Metro Denver Economic Development Corp.; or even that a certain Senate candidate carried the name of Coors. Most important, it ignored this piece of irrefutable evidence: Denver is the home of Modern Drunkard.
Since Drunkard was founded in 1996 by Frank Kelly Rich -- former Army Ranger, bartender and, perhaps most important, author of the early Shagman commercials for Rocky's Autos -- it's grown from a humble zine to a business that's now going global. "I didn't have ideas of it going out of Denver," Rich admits, but this weekend, his brainchild rated a major piece in the sober-sided New York Times, headlined "A Serious Business for a Humorous Drunkard."
Sitting at the Carioca Cafe on Sunday, Rich didn't have much time to contemplate his sudden rise to respectability. He was just days -- and many drinks -- away from the deadline for delivering the Modern Drunkard Manifesto to Penguin, the winner of a major bidding war six months ago for rights to the book. The Manifesto will consist largely of articles from the magazine, which regularly includes alcohol-consumption advice (Rich believes the drinking age should be lowered to eighteen, because "who's ever heard of someone drinking himself to death in a bar?"), as well as investigative reports on everything from the drinking habits of Mayberry's residents to the activities of MADD to ruminations on "The Zen of Drinking," penned by Rich himself. "I wrote it when I was really drunk," he says. "Because that's when you get to know yourself."
Modern Drunkard, which comes out bimonthly (or close enough for a publication that celebrates alcohol), is distributed free in bars around Denver and select cities, is sold for $4.50 at Borders and other big chains across the country, and is even carried on newsstands in London and Japan. Rich plans to spin off city-specific editions soon, following the model made popular by the Onion, and in the meantime, there's the website and the book and, yes, an annual convention. The first-ever Modern Drunkard convocation this past May attracted 500 drinkers from around the world to Las Vegas, where they drank, listened to lectures, drank, and even got married: Two people who'd chatted on the website headed off to the chapel within fifty minutes of meeting face-to-face.
Rich was born in Las Vegas forty years ago. His father drove a cab there, and he discovered early on the "glamour of drinking." By the time he reached Denver in 1992, he'd been in the Army, bartended in England and written the Jake Strait Bogeyman series, which made him enough money to drive around the country in a Corvair with his laptop. His first stop here: the Lion's Lair.
Denver, Rich fast discovered, "was a great drinking town." And it still is. So four years later, he moved back here, founded Modern Drunkard, put the zine on hold, made a movie, restarted the magazine as a glossy in 2001, got married to a bartender he'd met at the Streets of London pub -- Christa Rich is now Modern Drunkard's marketing director -- and kept the business growing. And all while the alcohol kept flowing.
When faithful Drunkard readers pass through town, they'll call Rich and often challenge him to a drink-off. "It's like every new gunslinger comes to town and says, ŒI've got to out-drink you,'" he says.
The challengers never win.
Denver has a long history of drinking research. For that, you can thank Tom Noel, "Dr. Colorado," who holds forth every week at the "Wasted Friday Afternoon Club" held at the Wazee Supper Club, one of the bars that makes Denver a great drinking town.
Back in 1973, Noel was a graduate student at the University of Colorado at Denver when he and professor Lyle Dorsett retired to Soapy Smith's bar on 14th Street (a building soon to be reincarnated as the Martini Ranch) to talk history -- and historic drinking. One month after Denver's founding, in 1858, Richen "Uncle Dick" Wooton had hosted a very liquid Christmas celebration, serving tin cups filled with a liquor variously described as "tanglefoot, shake me, rot-gut or bust head." Early on, this city had a reputation as such a bar-friendly place that Prohibitionist Carrie Nation campaigned here -- chopping up nude saloon paintings with her hatchet -- and while other municipalities supported her efforts, Denver locked her up.
At Soapy's, Noel and Dorsett discussed the historic immigrant saloon and how it served as the center of the community for groups -- the Irish, the Italians, the Germans -- often snubbed elsewhere. Immigrants would get their mail there, find jobs there, find spouses there. "The whole family would go to the immigrant bar," Noel says. "I was looking for a Ph.D. topic, and I said, 'What about the saloons of Denver?' We had a drink and we thought about it, we had another drink and we thought about it, and it kept growing. I became more and more enamored of the idea."
That idea kept him busy not only for the five years it took Noel to write his thesis -- and visit every licensed and unlicensed liquor establishment in Denver at the time, 600 of them ranging from then-secret gay bars to the first fern bars to Mexican bars to after-hours clubs -- but up to the present day. "You'll never get a job," predicted one of Noel's professors. He did, though: at UCD, his alma mater. And while Noel also pursues drier historic subjects, he continues to study this state's saloons; although he's written many more, his first book, The City and the Saloon: Denver, 1858-1916, has never gone out of print.
So why is Denver such a great drinking town? "I have given this matter considerable thought," Noel says. "I think it has to do with climate: You're always a little too cool or a little too hot. It's altitude/attitude adjustment."
Noel's roster of favorite bars is long but becoming shorter by the day, since his major requirement is that "they be in historic buildings, and those are an endangered species." That list stretches from the Peck House in Empire, which opened in 1862; to the Buckhorn Exchange, which got liquor license #1 after Prohibition ended; to the Church, a relative newcomer to the liquor business, but where very early on Sundays "you actually see kids lined up to get into church," says Noel.
"It's important to keep constantly researching," he notes. Dryly.
Tom Noel and Frank Rich have never met. But they will. It's inevitable that some night, in some bar in this great drinking town, these two devoted scholars will find themselves side by side on bar stools.
For now, though, Rich has to get back to work, to finish that book that was due yesterday, to prepare the next issue of Modern Drunkard, to get ready for 2005's convention, set for next May. In Denver, the Drunkest Big City in America.
You've been warned.
A story of ale, and a whale of a project.
By David Holthouse
It's Sunday night, which means Lee Sanders is drunk and reading Moby-Dick. He is reading aloud and with gusto, if not perfect enunciation. "Therefore, I am all anxiety to convince ye, ye landsmen, of the injustice done to us hunters of whales!"
Sanders looks up from the huge tome open before him to stare flinty-eyed into the lens of a video camera. Then he takes a gargantuan slug of tequila from a tin cup, lights a cigarette, shudders through a coughing fit, wipes his mouth with the sleeve of a ratty brown blazer and reads on.
"For what are the comprehensible terrors of man compared with the interlinked terrors and wonders of God!"
The 24-year-old Sanders has been going at it for three hours. He's downed a half-rack of Pabst Blue Ribbon and a pint of Jose Cuervo, and he's about ready to crack the seal on a bottle of Black Velvet. He is drinking and reading like a man possessed -- and indeed, he and a group of friends have undertaken a quest that rivals Ahab's unrelenting hunt for the great white whale in sheer dementia. They are determined -- no, by God, they are duty-bound -- to produce and market the first-ever unabridged audio book of Herman Melville's Moby-Dick; or, The Whale, first published in 1851.
Herculean drinking aside, this is no small feat. Every January in New Bedford, Massachusetts, Melville fans perform the "Moby-Dick Marathon," in which about 150 readers speed-read the novel, which is full of polysyllabic, arcane words, in rotating shifts. It takes them almost thirty hours, and they're sober. Sanders is the sole reader in "The Moby-Dick Sessions." He reads every Sunday night for four or five hours, and he drinks heavily throughout.
"Drinking is important to the project," he says. "The idea is for Ahab and I to share a certain trajectory. It's wearing on me, for sure, but I have to be strong."
The night of October 24 marked the fourth of Sanders's sessions. He read sitting at a metal desk in a cramped, dank chamber in the garage recording studio of a house in Highland rented by his friend, Kris Loeppky. A stormy seascape painting hung on the wall behind his head; a fly-fishing rod leaned in the corner to his left. He read by the light of a ceramic rooster lamp that stood on the desk alongside the tin cup, the bottle of tequila, an ever-present can of PBR, a pack of smokes, an overflowing ashtray, a paper plate loaded with cold fish sticks, a microphone, three lemon wedges, a can of sardines and a bag of stale Red Ju Ju Fish. Sanders had dressed for the occasion in torn jeans, hiking boots, a blazer and a red-and-blue-striped tie decorated with a gold-anchor tie pin.
Sanders has never read Moby-Dick before. "I think I saw the made-for-TV movie six or seven years ago, and I know the basic arc of the story, but I'm not reading ahead," he says. "This is all totally and ridiculously unrehearsed." He's tackling the work in chapter-long single takes. Background noise like rumbling freight trains and howling catfights in the alley outside the studio is preserved, as are Sanders's racking coughs, maniacal cackles and besotted asides.
At one point in that night's reading, he came upon the passage in Chapter 22 where Captain Peleg exhorts his crew to ready the ship. Sanders delivered Peleg's orders with a swashbuckling, slurry snarl. "Spring, thou sheep head! Spring, and break thy backbone! Why don't ye spring, I say, all of ye -- spring! Spring, thou chap with the red whiskers! Spring there, Scotch Cap! Spring, thou green pants! Spring, I say, all of ye, and spring your eyes out!"
Sanders then quieted his voice, like a squall subsiding to a breeze, and returned to the narrative.
"And so saying, he moved along the windlass, while imperturbable Bildad kept leading off with his..." he paused, swaying in his chair, puzzling out the next word. "Psal...Psal... Psalmody." Then he read the next line and burst out. "Oh, shit," he said. "Oh, shit."
Sanders sputtered the line -- "Thinks I, 'Captain Peleg must have been drinking something today.'" -- through his laughter, added "Yeah, like a pint of tequila," and then finished off the passage, which ends, "At last the anchor was up, the sails were set, and off we glided. It was a short, cold Christmas."
Then he made a "cut" gesture; he wanted a break. "Jesus Christ, at least we're finally getting out of Nantucket," he sighed. One hundred pages into the novel, the crew is just setting sail. "I'm going to need that whiskey now," Sanders said. "I'm almost finished with the tequila, and we got a few chapters to go. I woke up drunk, and I'm passing out that way."
Reclining against an amplifier ten feet away, Loeppky watched his buddy chase tequila with beer. "I have a feeling this is just going to keep getting more and more out of hand," he said.
Loeppky and Sanders work together at the Tattered Cover in LoDo. They say the inspiration for "The Moby-Dick Sessions" struck one slow night in September, when they both went on break and Sanders happened to grab a store copy of Moby-Dick, flipped through the pages at random, then gave a dramatic reading of a passage in which Mr. Stubb harpoons and fights a whale while smoking a pipe.
"He's struggling with this whale," Sanders remembers, "and the whole time, he's puffing away, and just when the whale blows this fountain of blood from its blowhole, Stubb says, 'This pipe whale shall be thy last!' I read that, and Kris and I were both just like, 'Whoa, this guy's on fire. We have to do something with this book.'"
The two enlisted their manager, Tripp Wallin, for a brainstorming session at the Carioca Cafe, aka "The Bar Bar." At the downtown dive, their idea took shape. Wallin agreed to act as sound engineer and tapped local videographer Euell Thomas to film the sessions, so that in addition to audio recordings, the project will be documented on video -- as are the more spontaneous readings at weekly after-parties. Every Sunday, Sanders reads from roughly 5 to 9 p.m.; the crew of "The Moby-Dick Sessions" then retires to the Carioca, whose manager recently told a guest bartender, "If anyone comes through the door drunk, you can't serve them -- unless it's the Moby Dick guys. They're okay." Sanders always entertains the Carioca regulars with his favorite passages from that night's session, generating whoops and applause.
Once Sanders has read the entire book on tape, the crew will edit the footage of him reading down to a highlight reel, splicing in footage of the impromptu Carioca performances. They intend to submit the film to the Nantucket Film Festival next spring. The projected completion date for the audio recording is mid-January; Sanders estimates he'll have between seventy and ninety hours on tape by then. The Tattered Cover has already pre-ordered ten copies for each of the store's two locations; a marketing scheme for the rest of the copies has yet to be devised.
But plans for a launch party are already under way. "We're going to have a bunch of local bands perform covers of old sea chanties," says Sanders. "That's if I make it. But I have to make it. I owe it to Melville. I mean, what a wingnut that guy was! Who the hell writes a 600-page novel about hunting whales, for Christ's sake? But if he wrote it, I can read it. So there's nothing I can do at this point but just keep plowing through."
And keep getting plowed.
The War on Drunks
Partying is hell on the Hill.
By Laura Bond
There are 225 places to buy alcohol within a one-mile radius of the University of Colorado at Boulder. From the school's northeastern border on College Avenue, it's approximately 150 steps to one of the busiest, oldest and most notorious of those places: the Sink, a cavernous beer-and-pizza joint with uneven floors and psychedelic, mural-splashed walls that have entertained buzzed coeds since the '70s. At 5 p.m. on Friday, the peak of happy hour on Halloween weekend, every spot at the Sink's bar is taken, and most of the tables and booths are getting there. Servers bus trays of food and booze -- microbrews and Jägermeister, Coronas and Purple Hooters -- and the place hums with the spirited, elevated chatter of the soon-to-be hammered.
Dr. Robert Maust sits at a corner table, nursing a Diet Coke. Forty years ago, as an undergraduate at Michigan State University, he drank and smoked, just like the students he works with every day at CU. But as chairman of the school's Standing Committee on Substance Abuse, and director of the alcohol-awareness A Matter of Degree program since its inception in 1997, Maust now has a very different relationship with booze: He works to prevent students from spending their college years in a hangover haze -- or worse. In September, Maust logged one notable failure when Lynn "Gordie" Bailey Jr. died while pledging the Chi Psi fraternity, covered with black marker and pumped with enough wine and whiskey to shut down his central nervous system.
"I've been hired by various university administrations for over thirty years, and I've seen students die over that span of time," Maust says. "When it happens, I have to make sure that I pause and reflect on that particular death. Where does it fit in the context of the larger picture? How might this moment contribute to something better than merely a warning, a tragedy?"
After Bailey's death, Chi Psi's charter was summarily yanked, and last month, all of CU's Greek houses went dry. (At a meeting of the school's Intra-fraternity Council just a week before Bailey's death, Maust complimented Chi Psi members for having called police when a dazed female student wandered into their house sporting a .3 blood-alcohol level.) As details of Bailey's blood-alcohol level broke, the local and national media went into hysterics -- Apparently students of non-legal drinking age like expensive microbrews! And drink from kegs at large, noisy parties! In fact, they'll drink anything! -- and the school responded in kind.
But for Maust, looking at the school's drinking culture is nothing new. In fact, this past July, he'd already taken steps to intensify CU's efforts against it. Incoming freshmen are required to pass AlcoholEdu, an online alcohol-awareness course currently in use at hundreds of colleges and universities in North America. More significantly, students can now be expelled for incurring just two alcohol-related offenses over the course of their enrollment; under the previous three-strike rule, the school was ousting about thirty habitually sauced students annually. The idea, Maust explains, is to weed out the bad apples early.
"We're not going to be losing our wonderful future astrophysicists, engineers, chemists, brilliant artists," he says. "We're losing people who are already at a very high risk of developing a serious problem with alcohol in the future.
"We had an average of a hundred students hitting the three-strike mark, and when we looked at it, we saw that seventy of those had less than a 2.5 GPA," he continues. "Many of them had already withdrawn or weren't coming back to the university. They were failing in this environment. And those people took a lot of people with them. That's the cycle we're trying to break, so that the people at the greatest risks don't become the tone-setters."
The tone-setters at the school, and also in the media: After several underclassmen talked openly with reporters for a front-page Denver Post story that chronicled a night of collegiate partying just a week after Bailey's death, CU Vice Chancellor Ron Stump sent letters chastising the quoted students for what amounted to embarrassing the school in print. Copies of the letters were also sent to the students' parents. For their participation in the story, the students also earned their first alcohol-related disciplinary strike; under the school's new two-strike policy, they could be booted with one more offense. But stories like that don't give the real picture, university officials maintain.
Maust points out that CU's 30,000 students are a lot more sober than people think. Recent research from Harvard University indicates that more students are abstaining from alcohol than ever before, and those who do drink do so in moderation. The statistic that 69 percent of students consume four drinks or less when they go out is well known to those familiar with CU's aggressive media campaign promoting A Matter of Degree. Among a small group, however, binge drinking is up, with students hitting harder liquor, and more of it, when they party. Colorado got a stunning example of this in early September when Samantha Spady, a nineteen-year-old Colorado State University sophomore, died after downing more than thirty cocktails in ten hours.
"We have a lot of people here paying a lot of money to do very serious work and advance their education," Maust says. "It's a very small minority of students who have, for example, interaction with the police or medical establishment. But for every one of those incidents, they're causing trouble in a lot of other areas: They're interfering with the sleep and study time of their roommate, they're making unwanted sexual advances, they're urinating in public, they're hassling people. It's a small group that can do a lot of damage."
Maust's message of moderation must compete with powerful, pro-party temptations. On the short stretch of University Hill, five bars invite students to get shit-faced on the cheap ($1 shots, Ladies Drink Free on Thursday). At a deli/convenience mart, rolling papers share counter space with newspapers. In the Sink, three guys in baseball caps are in the process of ignoring two key recommendations from A Matter of Degree: They each down about three beers in thirty minutes (Maust advises that men drink no more than two alcoholic beverages per day), and when they leave, they get into a car parked out front.
Maust recognizes that he's often fighting a futile battle against human nature: Some college-aged kids are simply hardwired to down 36 ounces of beer while standing on their heads, warnings be damned. "In our culture, it's very much a part of our literature, our art, our music, that this is the time for rebellion," he says. "Now is the time for rock and roll. That's the age group that we're dealing with. And part of that becomes substance abuse; it's not at all a surprise that gets woven in."
Still, Maust feels a minor shift in student views of drinking. Tonight, he points out, the Hill's coffee shops and record stores are as packed as the bars.
"I've talked with so many student leaders, many of them upperclassmen, who say, 'You know, this culture has got to change. It shouldn't just be a given, a norm, that there will be this much disruption just because we are a big university with a certain reputation,'" Maust says. "After the Denver Post story came out, we heard from so many students who said, 'That person in the paper who is falling down drunk: Who is that person? How did they distinguish themselves to get on the news as our spokesperson?'"
Maust is involved in several of the task forces that have sprung up since the deaths of Bailey and Spady, including an effort in Fort Collins led by Lieutenant Governor Jane Norton, a graduate of CSU. CU has a study group of its own, as does the Boulder city manager; that task force will convene in December to discuss ways to curtail alcohol abuse, including changing zoning laws to limit the number of liquor establishments on University Hill. As secretary of the community group Hill Alliance, Maust encourages bars and clubs to support sane student drinking by not, say, offering penny drafts and two-for-one shot specials on a Tuesday night. In Maust's view, the community, as well as the university, has a role to play in keeping young people healthy and alive -- and that role may be defined as Boulder responds to the circumstances surrounding Bailey's passing.
"This young man's death can have that as part of his legacy," Maust says. "It's not a fair trade. But it's better than simply mourning."
A First Fatality
Boulder has a license to chill.
By Jared Jacang Maher
The War Against Drunks has claimed its first casualty: Tulagi.
Last March, rumors began bubbling in the primordial ooze of the Boulder music scene that the long-vacant Tulagi building would soon be repackaged as the republic's newest Gap outlet. The mere thought of Tulagi being converted into an outpost for the top symbol of corporate retail shill was blasphemous -- a fucking outrage! After all, this space had kept university kids well-marinated in cheap beer and rock and roll since the '60s and served as a stepping stone for musicians like Miles Davis and Arlo Guthrie.
So for three glorious weeks, the legendary venue sputtered back to life with a campaign called Save the Tulagi, featuring a slate of local acts. It was a noble effort, even if it was short-lived -- and the Gap rumor completely fabricated.
"We really wanted to pay the bands and do the things you really should do as a venue," says Sam Estes, who does the booking management for the property, which is owned by Rockrimmon Real Estate. But Tulagi lost its liquor license after the previous tenants, confronted with $18,000 in back sales taxes, bailed out of the space in 2003, and it was difficult to bring in enough crowds for all-ages (read: booze-free) events. "You know -- when you're only charging five bucks a ticket, and you're trying to get a very niche demographic that would rather go to a party or something like that," he explains.
It doesn't take an economics major to know that on a Friday night, the Hill's traditional demographic is looking to invest in only one thing: beer. Buckets of beautiful beer. Although the tavern has seen many incarnations in its storied, fifty-year existence -- who remembers when it was a disco club? -- Tulagi was always a reliable drinking buddy. But times change. People grow up. They get good jobs and nice cars. They give birth to kids and stock portfolios and start listening to smooth jazz. And then they buy houses in a neighborhood that's been populated by 22-year-old college students for the last forty years and bitch about how their community is too noisy and filled with house parties.
Over the past few years, the University Hill Neighborhood Association has done a tremendous job of putting bitching to well-organized action by arming the angry and middle-aged with reasons to blame students for garbage, noise, over-occupancy and drinking -- the root of all evils. Recently, a few dozen members of the group came out in force against a proposal by Pete Turner, owner of Illegal Pete's, to pour a million bucks into the Tulagi building to create a two-level, upscale Cuban restaurant called Atrevido, with a rooftop patio and live music and dancing in the back. After decades of hard partying, the space certainly needs a major overhaul. The dingy interior reeks of sour beer. The fish tank is gone, as is the sound-and-lighting system, and the railings are caked with grime and coming loose.
"Tulagi had a lot of good music through the years," says Rockrimmon's Zane Blackmer. "It also had drunken brawls. We need some nicer quality stores and restaurants up here, because it's not just the students who live in Boulder."
This may be the one point on which everyone agrees. Boulder has spent tens of thousands of dollars on marketing studies which concluded that nine pizza and sub-sandwich shops within a two-block stretch don't make for the most economically diverse district. Blackmer was looking for an investor with a high-end concept that would bring a different demographic to 13th Street rather than the usual shot-gulping frat boys. That's what he thought he had with Turner, who'd signed a ten-year lease for the building.
But the neighborhood group was skeptical, as was Boulder's planning board, which was eyeballing a September 28 letter from University of Colorado chancellor Richard Byyny to the city's Beverages Licensing Authority, urging a moratorium on any new liquor licenses near campus. According to David Miller, who sits on the executive board of the neighborhood group, residents were concerned that this latest proposal for Tulagi would create additional parking, crime, noise and drunkenness. And the city agreed, turning down Turner's proposal.
"We wholeheartedly support new businesses coming into the Hill that want to play by the rules," Miller says. "The trend of ignoring the neighbors, ignoring the zoning rules and turning this area into a mini-Bourbon Street has been stopped for the moment, and hopefully in due time will be reversed."
With the high-end-restaurant route blocked, Blackmer says he's running out of options. "I'm sick of talking about it," he admits. Still, he knows he's going to have to lease the vacant building eventually. "We'll sell some trinkets or T-shirts," he says scornfully. "We'll give in to a tattoo parlor that wants to go there, or we'll sell some sub sandwiches."
Hey, toasted undergrads have to eat, too.
The star of a drunk-driving film gets a lesson in reality.
By Michael Roberts
For generations, well-intended documentaries warning students not to drink and drive may actually have had the opposite effect, and no wonder. Watching grainy footage of crumpled-up autos as narrated by a stentorian state trooper wearing a Smokey-the-Bear hat, who wouldn't work up a powerful thirst?
Isaac Vigil, a student at West High, is among those who have experienced such pain. "I remember seeing those kinds of films in middle school, and kids wouldn't pay attention to them that much, because they were boring," he says. "After they were over, people would, like, laugh at them and call them stupid."
Sue Matzick, a paramedic who also serves as injury-prevention coordinator at Denver Health, saw this problem from the other side of the desk. Earlier in her career, she worked as a health teacher at a middle school in Iowa City, Iowa, and she discovered that her lessons had greater impact when she brought in young guests to talk about "the consequences they faced: drunk drivers, pregnant teenage moms, someone who'd been in an accident and couldn't walk anymore. It was teens teaching teens."
That's the idea behind Too Fast, Too Furious, Too Deadly, a video overseen by Matzick that's already been sent to some local high schools and middle schools, and will probably wind up in many more sometime soon; this week, Denver Health is sending out letters offering it to principals at age-appropriate facilities across the state. The nineteen-minute production was assembled by members of the University of Colorado's School of Journalism and Mass Communication and features a gaggle of area police officers, firefighters and Denver Health staffers. But the spotlight shines brightest on Vigil, who plays a drunk driver, and other members of West's student council, portraying victims of a collision near the school following a football game.
The enthusiastic tone of Too Fast's opening scenes, in which one student is eager to get to a keg party because "my buzz is starting to fade off," contrasts sharply with footage of the incident's aftermath. There's no hectoring dialogue pointing out how the impairment of one driver and the inattentiveness of another, who's seen fiddling with her cell phone right before impact, led to disaster. Instead, Too Fast simply shows what happens in the wake of a real accident: kids screaming, crying and bleeding, emergency personnel starting IVs and strapping patients to stretchers, a doctor informing a mother that her son is dead. As for Vigil, he is seen taking and failing a series of sobriety tests before being cuffed and loaded into a police vehicle. "That was pretty crazy, and weird, too," he says. "That car didn't have much room in the back..."
The video, which also includes accident survivors treated at Denver Health talking about their horrendous injuries and deceased friends, will be accompanied by a curriculum that Matzick and her helpers are now putting together. This guide should help teachers expand on the material in the video "instead of just popping it in when a substitute's there," Matzick notes. "We talk about myths, like how people say you can drink coffee to sober up, when only time can do that, and the idea that if you wear a seat belt, it'll lock you in and you'll go up in a fiery blaze, when they really save lives."
Vigil's already taken this last bit of wisdom to heart. "I wear my seat belt a lot more often now -- pretty much all the time," he says. "If we're out at a party or something like that, and I know someone who's been drinking is going to drive, I try to talk him out of it or don't get in the car at all."
Will other Colorado students get the message? A September screening of Too Fast offered at least one positive sign. "Everybody seemed really into it," Vigil says. "I could hear their reactions when the crash happened and how everyone was all bloody and everything -- and I didn't hear anyone laugh."
These designated drivers deliver you, and your car, to your door.
By John La Briola
At the corner of 19th and Market streets, the rumble of a gas-powered generator combines with the sounds of stupidity: drunken club-goers returning to their cars after Let Out. It's a chilly night, and all the women in heels and hoochie shirts have goose bumps. Jonathan Saine sits alone in a well-lit trailer, wearing a headset, monitoring feeds from a Global Positioning System. When he looks up from his laptop to the window by the counter, it's usually to answer the same slurred question for the umpteenth time: "No, we don't sell burritos."
As the Denver-based general manager of NightRiders Inc., Saine sells something far easier to stomach after a night of reckless boozing: a worry-free alternative to getting behind the wheel. "We're not a cab service," he explains. "We drive you home in your own car when you've had too much to drink. We use your car so you have it home the next day. With a cab, you often have to take it both ways."
That raises a fundamental question: How does the NightRiders driver get back after depositing both car and owner?
"See those scooters?" Saine asks, pointing to a fleet of tiny collapsible two-wheelers. Black and silver, imported from China and with a top speed of 40 mph, they look better suited to a circus clown than some safety patroller -- especially one uniformed in a racing helmet and motocross coveralls that advertise Coors Light, the official sponsor of NightRiders. "The scooters break down into four pieces," he continues. "We put each piece into a separate heavy-duty bag so it's all sealed off, toss it in your trunk, drive you home, put the bike back together and ride it back to dispatch."
The brainchild of twenty-somethings Carl Grodnik, Gary Calnan and Brad Dickerhofe, NightRiders was born in Boulder more than three years ago. In 2003, the National Commission Against Drunk Driving cited the co-founders as "unsung heroes" and flew them to Washington, D.C., to receive the Corporate Leadership Award.
In September, NightRiders expanded service to Denver and points beyond. For an initial fee of $15, plus $2 per mile, conscientious drunks can arrange rides home for both themselves and their cars through a toll-free number (1-888-741-5963) -- provided they're coherent enough to make the call. "I'll give them an exact quote if they can tell me what bar they're at and their home address," Saine promises. "Some guy wanted to go to Aspen, and we calculated it as a $350 ride. But he never ended up taking it."
At NightRiders' mobile office in the heart of LoDo's nightclub district, most fares result from walk-ups or ads posted in bar bathrooms. "One huge drawing point for us in Denver is the fact that no cars can be parked on the streets from 2 a.m. to 6 a.m.," Grodnik notes. "So calls get heavier as the bars' closing time approaches. If you're still here, you've most likely been drinking. But around 2:30 in the morning, all these parking lots will be dead empty, and that'll mean all those people who have been drinking are driving."
NightRiders takes care even with the safety-minded stragglers. "We have to make sure that they have valid insurance and registration when we get in the car so we're covered under their intermittent driver clause," Grodnik says. "A lot of times they're not as shit-faced as people would think. They have to be sober enough to understand that they shouldn't be driving. So they're not belligerent drunks. They're kind of a responsible drunk, in a way."
While those responsible drunks aren't necessarily rich, "it's not just people working paycheck to paycheck," he adds. "Some have really nice cars, and some drive junkers that you have trouble starting. There's definitely a lot of repeat customers who've had a DUI and understand the problems related to it and don't ever want to get it again."
And a DUI is easier to get than ever before, since Colorado lowered its legal blood-alcohol content level from .10 to .08 on July 1. According to Grodnik, the cost of being popped for a DUI averages $8,866, including lawyer fees, court costs and mandatory alcohol classes. Those convicted of the charge also lose their license for six months and are required to do thirty hours of community service.
"When people take us and we go by police, they love rolling down the window and screaming out, 'Hey, I'm hammered!'" Saine says. "'Cause the cops can't do anything to 'em. Sometimes they want to stop and get a burger at a fast-food place or get cigarettes. Sometimes they want to stop and throw up."
Though the smell of vomit comes with the territory, drivers -- most of them part-time college students -- learn to expect anything. "There was a guy we drove home a couple of weeks ago who was like, 'Damn -- I need you to take my babysitter home,'" Saine recalls. "So we drove the babysitter to her house, too."
Then there's the matter of finding the right house. "If a driver gets lost, I can guide him in or out over a cell phone," Saine says. "We use a combination of satellites and cell-phone towers to triangulate locations. We've been lucky to hire a couple of former cabbies who know Denver like the back of their hand."
"Safety is the highest concern," Grodnik insists. "This is a viable idea. It's a new business that nobody's heard of before. The end product is, somebody gets home and we make a little money. So it's a win-win situation." Even LoDo wins. "I think we add to the safety presence of this intersection," he adds. "We turned a dark corner into a lit corner."
A lit corner full of lit people.
As he stumbles down Market, another red-eyed rowdy in a sports jersey and backward baseball cap pauses in front of NightRiders' dispatch station, then lets out a mad cackle. "I wish I had a designated driver," he shouts. "To take me to another fuckin' bar!"
To viewers across the country, Colorado is intoxicating.
By Michael Roberts
Until recently, Colorado was best known as the nation's leading supplier of headline-grabbing sexual assaults. But with rape accusations at the Air Force Academy receiving less media attention, the University of Colorado Buffaloes earning ink for losing games rather than for showing potential recruits a lewd time, and Kobe Bryant's criminal trial suffering a case of courtus interruptus, our image is changing. Today, many networks and cable channels have shelved prurience in favor of depicting Colorado as a state of inebriation.
The alcohol-related deaths of college students Samantha Spady and Lynn "Gordie" Bailey in September inspired journalists from coast to coast to make Colorado the focus for pieces on teen booze abuse -- and the stories have had surprising staying power. On October 27, CBS's The Early Show ran a long segment by Channel 4's Rick Sallinger that highlighted Spady, Bailey and Taylor Webster, a Fort Collins youth who died of alcohol poisoning. Sallinger's piece juxtaposed comments from earnest folks who want young people to stop binging with evidence of how hard it is to put the cork back in the bottle. Jessica Webster, Taylor's sister, who co-founded the anti-drinking education program T-DUB.org with her mother, expressed amazement that her brother's friends continued to guzzle even after his demise. But they have a lot in common with one young man Sallinger spoke to at a liquor store. Asked if Spady's death had made fellow collegiates reconsider their drinking habits, he stared blankly for a moment before answering, "No."
The losing battle for temperance was more of a laughing matter on a mid-October episode of The Daily Show, Comedy Central's satiric news program. In a piece dubbed "Party Like It's 1929," correspondent Ed Helms reported on the Prohibition Party, whose perennial presidential candidate, Lakewood septuagenarian Earl Dodge, would like to take America back to those halcyon days when sipping a Manhattan was a criminal offense. At one point, Helms asked Dodge, "What would you say to people out there whose lives are improved by alcohol?" Dodge offered a rambling reply ("Alcohol is a crutch...I think there are other ways you can get support") as Helms coyly swilled from a flask or sucked on a tube attached to a beer helmet. The two subsequently joined their voices in song, delivering a proud paean to futility that Dodge had also crooned on CNN in September: "I'd rather be right than president/I want my conscience clear." Afterward, Dodge conceded, "If I get to the White House, it'll probably be in a publicly guided tour."
The Colorado politician spotlighted on a September episode of The Tonight Show is even less likely to achieve higher office, since he's fictional. In the wake of the Men's Health "Is Your City Sloshed?" survey that rated Denver dead-drunk first, comedian Fred Willard played William J. Fredricks, the state's notably tipsy "Under Assistant Lieutenant Secretary." When Jay Leno mentioned the report declaring Denver to be America's drunkest city, Willard slurred, "That's true, Jay. The numbers, just like the people in Denver, are staggering." Then, after sipping from a convenient martini, he refuted the designation by proclaiming, "But Jay, I'd just like to say that we're not really the drunkest city. We just look that way because we're next to that goody-two-shoes Utah. Utah? More like U-suck!"
Another round, bartender!
Given the recent news that Don's Club Tavern, an alcoholic institution on Sixth Avenue for over five decades, could close before month's end, there's no time like the present to celebrate this city's great saloons. Here are ten of the area's best:
Kazmo's, 1381 Kalamath Street
Enough? No such thing. When the bar reopens at 7 a.m. and the DJ pumps up the volume to nuclear-detonation levels, a dozen bold survivors of Saturday night's festivities are primed to re-engage. By 9:15, you can't find a spot at the bar, the pool table is under mass assault, and the blissed-out dreamer who had the dance floor all to herself just a minute ago has been joined by others: singles, trios, entire ad hoc committees. Too strenuous a thought for this tender hour? Then grab another five-buck pitcher of Bud, chill on the couch, and contemplate the music of the spheres.
This is Sunday morning in a windowless refuge called Kazmo's, where strategically pierced and tirelessly inspired creatures of the Denver night convene to punch what's left of their fun tickets. It has been like this for six months now, ever since proprietor Victor Gomez opened his doors to the dawn and let word of mouth build. Now, it seems, the Dominican-born saloon keeper has a full-tilt phenomenon on his hands: Kazmo's on Sunday morning looks like New Year's Eve at Hipster Central. So what's next? "We're doing all right," the young owner allows, "but I'm allergic to drama." -- Sonny Bamboo
Cherry Cricket, 2641 East Second Avenue
"I feel a shift in momentum here," he says, reaching into the small pile of dollar bills heaped like dried leaves between the salt and pepper shakers. He folds the bill he's selected in half, then folds it again and underlines the serial number with his thumb. "Three 3s," he calls out. There are five men around the table; the one wearing a polo shirt looks down from the football game, lifts his reading glasses, then says, "Four 3s." In the circular booth behind them, some University of Denver students are scraping the change out of their pockets for another pitcher of Newcastle; at the bar, a punk-rocker strikes his thumb six times across his lighter before cigarette smoke billows from his face. Rob, a tattooed guy with a crewcut, stops by the table and asks if the men want another round of Bud. The guy in the blue fleece nods. "Four 9s," he says. In Liar's Poker, the cards are also the pot: Whoever gets called out the least on his bluffs wins the hand and the bills. "Four 9s, you say?" one man smirks. "Five 7s." The guy at the end of the table scans the number on his bill: L 09117131 I. George Washington eyes him suspiciously. "Five 9s," he says. Heads around the table lift in unison: "Call." -- Jared Jacang Maher
The Little Bear, 27895 Colorado 74/Main Street, Evergreen
When -- and why -- women first started flinging bras up to the rafters of the Little Bear is lost in the haze of smoke, time and grizzled rock that has flowed through this hallowed site for 35 years. These days, female undergarments aren't hurled very often, but that doesn't seem to matter: The timeless vibe of what's billed as a Western saloon remains. Except for a fire that damaged the kitchen a few months ago, little changes at the Bear -- although enough new folks seem to discover the place to keep it from becoming a geriatric ward. Walls are covered with artifacts from the past -- an Illinois license plate that reads "Broncos 1," pictures of a silver-maned Leon Russell at the Bear a decade ago -- but the place keeps on trucking. Bands like Opie Gone Bad still take the tiny stage, and dancers bump on the even tinier wooden dance floor whenever the mood strikes. It's guaranteed you won't hear a Russell cover, because Russell himself is bound to come back. And so will the raucous revelers. -- Ernie Tucker
Gabor's, 1223 East 13th Avenue
You might not notice her slumping among the leathery regulars, but there's a guardian angel lurking at Gabor's.
"We met here on a Sunday. We were both alone at the bar and kind of tipsy," remembers Erik, who's sitting at one of the bar's caved-in, red-pleather booths with his girlfriend, Angie. "Then this really obnoxious drunk woman sat down and started talking to us. She looked at Angie and said, 'You're cute,' and then she looked at me and said, 'You're cute.You guys should get together.'" And they did.
But Gabor's isn't just about the hookup. A whole universe of human activity -- birthdays, breakups, fistfights, wakes, medical emergencies -- has passed through its dank atmosphere. The drinks are cheap and way strong. The jukebox rocks back and forth between Interpol and Dwight Yoakam. The bathrooms stink like a puked-up cocktail of Lysol and Tuaca. But that funky, murky aura has been ably dispensing both booze and emotion for decades.
"I would guess it's been open for about 25 years -- but I have no idea how it got its name," waitress Sherri Crawford confesses while throwing down a fresh round for Erik and Angie. "I assume it had something to do with Eva Gabor."
The two lovebirds had never seen their dipsomaniac guardian angel before that fateful Sunday. They didn't get her name, and they haven't seen her since. Maybe it was the pickled ghost of Eva Gabor. -- Jason Heller
Bastien's, 3501 East Colfax Avenue
Bastien's has always been here. Like a buddy, like a loyal pal, like the most patient friend in the world, Bastien's is waiting -- changeless and eternal. Times have changed; Bastien's hasn't. Trends and fads have come and gone; Bastien's has remained. While you were into dimeys, into college-boy shooters -- the Lemon Drop, the Irish Car Bomb, warm Jäger straight from the bottle -- Bastien's abided. Through wine snobbery, the mojito craze, bourbon tastings and the cult of the tequila bar, Bastien's has endured: a fortress of tradition, a temple of grown-up drinking, an unscalable monument to the near-forgotten pleasures of the classic martini, the Boilermaker, the Sidecar.
This is where Frankie and Dino would drink, where Capote did, where Bukowski might have if only he'd had the bus fare. For going on fifty years, Bastien's has been a bastion of old-time swank; the beautiful, terrible orange carpet with its patterns like amoebas humping kept fresh, the steel and high-grade formica polished daily by a staff like tireless docents in a museum of forgotten cool. Since the day it opened on January 1, 1959, Bastien's has celebrated one era -- the golden age of the cocktail -- and one cuisine. For all these years, Bastien's has been waiting. So where have you been? -- Jason Sheehan
PS Lounge, 3416 East Colfax Avenue
The story of the PS Lounge is one of roses and Alabama Slammers. That's because Pete, just Pete, the owner for 24 years, keeps plenty of both around, doling out a flower to every lady who comes in, and trays full of the orange-tinted shots whenever he's feeling generous. Such gratuities are only part of the charm of this East Colfax staple, which has been referred to as both the crown jewel of the Colfax pub crawl and the gold standard of dive bars.
"We're a neighborhood bar," corrects longtime manager Patrick Bevis, gesturing with his chin to the hundreds of photos pinned behind Plexiglas. They're photographs of people aged 21 to 81, Cap Hill hipsters lounging in leather booths, grisly regulars teetering on bar stools in the smoky haze, friends at the pool table in back. There's even a shot of the 1994-'95 Denver Grizzlies celebrating with the IHL Turner Cup beneath posters of Elvis and the Rat Pack.
"You know what the 'PS' stands for, right?" Patrick asks. "The Perfect Spot." -- Adam Cayton-Holland
Duffy's Shamrock, 1635 Court Place
Duffy's is there for you, morning, noon and night. It's one of the few places where you can start your day with a splash of whiskey in your morning coffee and end it with a big steak at 1 a.m.
Jay Vanausdall, a downtown waiter, considers Duffy's his "after-work bar," a place where he can make new friends, catch up with old ones or simply sit on a barstool and watch the bricks chip off the wall near the TV. "You ask any waiter, any dishwasher, any bartender in Denver, they'll tell you a story about Duffy's," he says.
Stew Ault, another downtown waiter, considers Duffy's more of a place to "meet and go." What Jay calls the two-fer (two-for-one happy hour, for the first round from 3 to 6:30 p.m. for the general public and again after 10 p.m. for the service industry), Stew calls a "sixer," because drinks are cheap even without the special.
Duffy's roots run deep. A chunk of Denver's sex history unfolded between these walls, which held a brothel and, later, a porn palace before Duffy's moved in about thirty years ago. Today the most off-color activity might be a bartender's joke or a patron like Jay calling blowout football games for what they are: "good, old-fashioned ass-whuppings." -- Luke Turf
The Cruise Room, 1600 17th Street
While club owners compete to woo fickle crowds with the most modern creature comforts and novelties (fancy an oxygen facial while lounging on an inflatable bean bag?), the Cruise Room remains Denver's most stylish house of spirits. Renovated as part of an overhaul of the Oxford Hotel -- which by the early '80s had degenerated from a turn-of-the-century luxury hotel into a veritable flophouse -- the Cruise Room is famous for lending a touch of big-city sophistication to cocktail hour. Bathed in an almost supernatural orange light, the Room's well-coiffed bartenders serve up perfect martinis, gimlets and highballs. On the jukebox, the sound is decidedly vintage, drawn from an era when Benny Goodman and Louis Armstrong were the biggest names in dance music. But the place is no antique: The drinks are strong, the crowds are beautiful, and on Friday and Saturday nights, the place is packed but not obnoxious. -- Laura Bond
The Denver Detour, 551 East Colfax Avenue
The place looks like somebody's dad's den -- maybe the Brady Bunch's, or the MIA father of the Partridge Family. Dark wood-paneled walls are armored with vintage license plates, neon beer signs and mirrors; faux-stained-glass swag lamps, the bastard children of Tiffany and Miller High Life, dip drunkenly among the wobbly brass fans, dusty amateur sports trophies and dart boards.
But the Denver Detour isn't your basic shit-kickin', good-ol' boy waterin' hole. Sheila Keathley bought the bar two decades ago and transformed it from a blue-collar neighborhood country bar into a blue-collar neighborhood lesbian bar. While other Colfax taverns have gone upscale, the Detour remains an old-style saloon for longnecks, shots and bargain-priced, industrial-sized servings of bar chow.
It's also a choice spot for people-watching. While the bar faces the colorful Colfax corridor, the entrance is tucked securely out of sight, enabling patrons to get stupidly drunk and taunt blasted passersby through the window without fear of violent reprisal. -- Debra A. Myers
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
My Brother's Bar, 2376 15th Street
There hasn't been a sign outside My Brother's Bar since the Karagas brothers bought the joint in 1969, back when this spot was an oasis in the wilderness of the Platte Valley. It didn't need one then, and it doesn't need one now; somehow, people keep finding their way to the watering hole. In fact, drinkers have been wetting their whistles here since at least 1873, when the building first appeared in a city directory as the Highland House. That makes this Denver's oldest continually operating bar, says historian Tom Noel, and that alone is reason to drink to My Brother's Bar. But there's also the fact that Neal Cassady hung out here and that a mystery staircase still leads up to a second floor that disappeared decades ago. More substantial are My Brother's culinary offerings: those great, waxed-paper-wrapped burgers that the kitchen cooks up until after 1 a.m.; the Girl Scout cookies that are sold throughout the year. And most evenings, a genuine brother -- Jim Karagas -- is on hand to welcome you to a truly great saloon, 131 years in the making. -- Patricia Calhoun
The Thin Man, 2015 East 17th Avenue
Let's toast to the future: The Thin Man represents the next generation of great Denver drinking establishments, a place today's twenty-somethings will be reminiscing about when they're fifty-somethings. The time the Monday night Stitch and Bitch Club almost impaled someone with a knitting needle. The suave bartender patter of Anthony Ilacqua. The early summer nights when the front garage door was rolled up to let in the sounds and smells of promise. It has the comfort of an easy-going neighborhood bar, the camaraderie of the perfect dive bar -- but without the years of grime and decay. And fruit-infused vodkas and pictures of the Virgin Mary, to boot! -- Amy Haimerl