After reading comments about hats, even ballcaps, being prohibited at the Tavern Downtown -- which seemed ironic for a joint that had just been named Sports Bar of the Year by the national Nightclub & Bar -- I contacted Frank Schultz, the founder of the Tavern Hospitality Group that owns the Tavern Downtown, to get the scoop.
Schultz has had a bar at 1949 Market Street for close to fifteen years; the space got its start as the Soiled Dove, a dueling piano bar. "Part of why I've been there since 1997 is that we're constantly morphing and adapting," says Schultz. "Not just from a construction standpoint, but from an operations standpoint."
And operating in LoDo can be challenging -- as evidenced by years of problems on the streets and parking lots in the 1900 block of Market and Blake streets, problems that sometimes escalated into violence around Let-Out, problems that Westword has documented over and over in cover stories.
In fact, a half-dozen years ago, Schultz was wondering if it was time to get out of that part of town. "Things were pretty bad," he remembers. But when he heard that the space at 1941 Market was going to be available, Schultz decided to go in the other direction, "to invest more in the area, invest in the future." So in 2006 he redid the downstairs of what was now known as the Tavern Downtown (the Soiled Dove moved to Lowry), in 2007 he bought the Cowboy Lounge next door, and in 2009 he did a massive remodel of the upstairs, with a deck that now goes across both clubs.
"I definitely think it's been an up-and-down cycle," he says of the LoDo neighborhood. "I think it's at its best now. There have been some poor operators; when you have that, it takes the whole area down." But these days, he says, his neighbors are seasoned operators, pros.
And yes, one of Schultz's moves there was to institute a dress code -- on Friday and Saturday nights only, when the Tavern Downtown turns into more of a nightclub. "We want to protect the clientele we have in here," Schultz explains. "To do that, we've adopted a no-hat and pants-pulled-up policy on Fridays and Saturdays only after 9 p.m., to keep the atmosphere positive. We understand that we're a sports bar by Coors Field, and it was a tough decision to make.... We just do the best we can for the area."
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Want to keep your hat on after the game? You can wear it at any of the other Tavern bars -- there are six spread across town. And come May, the Tavern Littleton will open its doors. While the two Lodo spots are definitely in an entertainment district, the rest of the Taverns are in neighborhoods, "and we definitely try to adapt to the neighborhood," Schultz says. At Lowry, for example, the feel is "more family. We're not open as late; there's more focus on the food specials." The Lowry location is 60 percent food/40 percent liquor sales; the Tavern Downtown comes closer to 5 percent food/95 percent liquor.
Littleton will be like Wash Park, a "friendly neighborhood tavern" in an established neighborhood. "In the bar business," he says, "if you're in a neighborhood and do it right, you can have longevity."
Especially if your regulars don't flip their lids over no-hats policies.