I was sitting at my little two-top lonelyheart's table at Brewery Bar II, nursing an afternoon beer and waiting to hear the perfect song. Something deep and meaningful. Tom Waits, maybe. A cut off Nighthawks at the Diner. Or maybe something from Springsteen's Nebraska.
What I got instead was Poco's "You Better Think Twice." Transcendent moments rarely come when you're out looking for them.
I really shouldn't complain, since I've had more than my share of those moments. But they tend to sneak up when I'm not ready -- when I'm doing something else or don't have a pen handy -- and by the time I realize I'm having this totally fantastic, once-in-a-lifetime experience, it's over and I'm already in the shower or something. It happened when I tasted my first square of Scharffen Berger dark chocolate. Unfortunately, I was driving at the time and almost ran over a cat. It happened in Ithaca, New York, when I got to see Pearl Jam play a four-hour set for two bucks at a little college-town dive. There were maybe a dozen of us in the crowd, including a friend from Seattle who knew about the band and had dragged us there. A week later, Ten comes out and suddenly everyone knows who they are. And it happened at a bar in Ybor City, when I stepped away from the rail with two Coronas in each hand, listened as the DJ spun up Placebo's "Pure Morning" and got a look at my soon-to-be-ex across the room, silhouetted in light, dancing alone. After six years together, we split up a few days later. It took a while before I recognized that classic, perfect last moment of a dying relationship.
At Brew II, I was looking for something a little grittier, a little more wrong-side-of-the-tracks than Poco. I was looking for a moment with more historical gravity, a plumb line back to the past. I wanted Johnny Cash singing "Folsom Prison Blues." What I got was Poco.
But still, "You Better Think Twice" almost worked: It was recorded in 1970 and could have been playing on the day in 1973 when the Brewery Bar made its big jump to Kalamath Street. Abe and Roz Shur had opened their original bar at the Tivoli in 1960, then moved it down the road a dozen years later. Between point A and point B, very little changed, save the Roman numeral. The Shurs finally retired in the early '90s, and new owner Jim Lundstrom took over.
But not much has changed at Brew II. "I guess they cleaned the place up a little," says Don Isam, who's been manning the taps here for thirteen years. "And they started taking credit cards. But that's really it."
Now, Brewery Bar III? That's a whole different story (see Cafe for all the gruesome details on the mini-empire's newest outpost down in Lone Tree). But also consider that fifty more years of Brewery Bar history might prove me wrong. Maybe Brew III will lose its new-car smell and all its suburban airs and grow up right, taking on the character of its forebears and growing a few whiskers on its face. If not, though, as Poco says, "You Better Think Twice."
Another brewery bar (this one lowercase) has seen some changes recently. The Rocky Mountain Brewery was founded in 1859 and sold two years later to John Good and Jim Endlich. In 1870, Good hired Philip Zang, a Bavarian immigrant, to manage the brewery. Zang bought the joint outright in 1871, changed the name to the Phil Zang Brewing Company, turned the business into Colorado's largest supplier of frosty, cold adult beverages, and erected the Hostel Building near the brewery so that off-duty beer-wagon drivers could catch a nap, get laid, play some cards or grab a bite to eat. And then the brewery caught fire.
In 1881 the brewery caught fire again, and this time, it burned to the ground. Undeterred, Zang rebuilt again -- and like the smartest of the three little pigs, this time he did it out of bricks. Not to be outdone, Mother Nature tried a new trick. In 1882 the brewery was totaled when the Platte River flooded.
So Zang rebuilt a third time. And you have to give the guy credit for his stick-to-itiveness, because by 1889, he was listed as one of 33 millionaires living in Colorado, with a house in Denver and a 3,600-acre horse ranch in an area called Zang's Spur (later to become Broomfield). When he sold the brewery -- to an English company known as Denver United Breweries -- his son Adolph stayed on as plant manager, and the Zang name remained, too.
Adolph was no slouch, either. He saw Prohibition coming from a mile away, sold all of his stock in the company around 1910, retired on January 1, 1912, and peddled the family name to Denver United for a hefty profit. Prohibition took effect at the stroke of midnight on December 31, 1915 -- and that was that. Denver United tried to cover its nut by selling ice cream and non-alcoholic beer, but couldn't swing it and sold off the Zang properties in 1933. Today all that remains of the original complex are the Brewmaster's House (now an office suite) and the Hostel Building at 2301 Seventh Street, which continued operating through the decades as a speakeasy, flophouse, gambling den and, for more than a generation, the Zang Brewing Co. restaurant.
A few months ago, longtime owner-operator Lyn Ilg sold the restaurant to Felipe Duran, founder of the local El Señor Sol group of eateries. Duran closed the restaurant for a day, then reopened it under the same name, but with the El Señor Sol menu.
"We want to give the customers what they like," says Duran. "We left some of the chicken wings and the burgers that are very popular, but our menu has worked out very well at the other places, so this will be El Señor Sol number 5."
He's still making some changes in the off-hours, painting, redoing doors and adding tablecloths. "We're getting there," he says. And after 132 years, what's the hurry?
Yet another landmark Colorado eatery changed hands earlier this year. The historic El Rancho restaurant, at 29260 U.S. Highway 40 -- an address marked by its own exit off I-70 -- did double duty as an eatery and the local post office back in the '40s, then focused entirely on food when Donna and the late Paul McEncroe took over from Donna's father in the '50s. Since May, it's been in the hands of former chef and general manager Bill Troyanos and his wife, Donna Piro. Troyanos had been on staff at El Rancho since '95, working for former owner Mark McKenna and holding a small piece of the operation. "What really happened is that we bought out our partner," Troyanos explains. "I spent a long time busting my ass for Mark; now I'm just busting my ass for myself."
Since the ownership transfer was an inside deal, the transition has been smooth. No big changes are in the works for the log-cabin, lodge-style eatery, but Troyanos now has chef Scott Bauer in the back of the house, a board full of Colorado-slanted American cuisine (read: prime rib, buffalo short ribs, elk medallions), and his first menu change as owner -- which rolled out last week -- now behind him.
Richard Lee Noodle House, at 472 South Federal Boulevard, didn't have nearly as long a history when it shifted owners this past July. Lee transferred ownership of the eatery to Bich Van Ngo, who renamed it Pho Van. But while the name may have changed, the song, as they say, remains the same and Lee's menu -- and his handmade noodles -- are still in evidence.
The sorry and the PETA: Those lovable folks at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals just had another billboard concept turned down. Turns out that Lamar Outdoor, which controls spots conveniently close to the military bases of Colorado Springs, won't approve a billboard bearing the slogan "Weapons of Mass Destruction: Billions of animals are killed because people eat meat -- Stop the slaughter."
The only messages less subtle are those still coming in regarding my review of Three Sons ("Same Old, Same Old," September 11). I've been cursed, threatened and told that what I did was tantamount to an assassination. As for the veiled warnings that I'll "pay for my indiscretions" and have "no idea the kind of trouble I've started" -- well, it's a good thing I've got those Saddam Hussein-esque body doubles dashing around town running up big bar tabs in my name, huh? Because anyone who wants a piece of me over Three Sons will have to get in line behind the animal-rights activists pissed off at my duck-napping story from two weeks ago. I've gotten two anonymous voice-mail messages about that, one saying I have "no idea what kind of people" I'm messing with and must have "a fucking death wish," the other flat out telling me to go fuck myself.
Actually, I know exactly the kind of people I'm messing with, Scooter. A buncha chickenshit punks who won't even leave their names.
That certainly can't be said of the Valente family, of Valente's Italian Restaurant in Wheat Ridge, which sent Westword's editor a letter last Friday (right around the time they sent me an e-mail announcing their Thanksgiving special, which sounds darn good), responding to my Three Sons review. Here it is -- a tad tardy, but reprinted in its entirety:
"All critics are entitled to their opinion of a restaurant. Our family, also in the restaurant business for almost forty years, is left wondering as to what was the purpose of this review. Three Sons has been in business for what we believe is five decades. They must be doing something right to survive in a very difficult business environment. Even the most established restaurants will occasionally serve a bad meal. We all make mistakes and are grateful when they are brought to our attention; however, this review does nothing but cause business to slow down and employees to lose their jobs and their tips. In a hard economy, one review shouldn't be so bad as to cause undue hardship on any business unless they are doing something illegal or immoral. Neither of those two things is happening at the Three Sons Italian Restaurant.
"Denver is a restaurant-rich community. The public would be better served by receiving information on great places to go. The language was so harsh and certainly didn't need to be to convey dislike of their food. My family has had many great meals at Three Sons and would still recommend them if asked. We are proud to have them as part of the restaurant community and as competitors.
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"We understand that we could be next on the list for this kind of review because of this letter. It is more important that we stand up for our friends and peers expressing our opinion than to fear a critic and a review of this caliber. The Valente Family."
Leftovers: The second Kathy and Bill's location -- the one at Windsor Gardens -- has closed, done in by troubles with the lease. But the original Kathy and Bill's (arguably one of the best breakfast bars in town) is alive and well at 1050 South Havana Street in Aurora. Get there early, because the breakfast specials are the best cure around for whatever might be ailing you.
The Pearl Street Mall lost Antica Roma -- the eatery's looking for more spacious digs elsewhere in Boulder or in California -- but gained Nabil's, a Mediterranean restaurant in the same 1308 Pearl Street space, brought to us courtesy of Nabil Karkamaz, former owner of Shish Kabob in the Crossroads Mall. One of Karkamaz's partners? Jared Polis, the bluemountain.com Internet greeting-card zillionaire, who was a regular customer at Shish Kabob.