Five years may not seem like a long history for a bar, but in RiNo, which only received that nickname in 2005, half a decade slinging drinks on the same street makes a watering hole nearly an old-timer. When the Matchbox opened on Larimer Street five years ago, the neighborhood was just beginning to wake up to its full potential, but now there are bars and restaurants on nearly every block from Broadway up to 38th Avenue.
Partners Sudhir Kudva, Justin Anthony and Lisa Vedovelli opened the Matchbox in March 2011 in a former artists' studio that had been gutted by fire. When the group signed the lease, they told the landlord, "You put on a roof and a floor, and we'll do the rest." Some heavy-duty wall scrubbing removed a layer of soot to reveal vintage advertising signs on the interior walls and a little salvage from other Denver bars (like the Squire and the long-gone Rhino Room on East 17th Avenue) added a lived-in feel to the space. They named their bar the Matchbox because of its tiny size and because of the fire.
Five years later, not much has changed — including the prices. "We have not raised prices since the day we opened," Anthony points out, adding, "We want to be known as one of the heaviest pours in town."
The bar also remains committed to nonprofit organizations and artists. There's a gallery wall for local artists to display their creations, and the Matchbox has never taken a commission on anything sold. And the bar has donated more than $100,000 in space rental, free drinks and direct donations to local organizations like Rocky Mountain Micro Finance, Bike Denver, Urban Cowboy and Curtis Park Neighbors.
The faces have also stayed the same. Anthony notes that most of the original staff, plus many others hired as the bar's popularity has grown, are still on board, and that the customer base is still 80 percent local — artists, industry employees and neighbors from RiNo, Five Points Curtis Park and the Ballpark neighborhood.
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To one side of the Matchbox, a new building houses slick new eateries and bars like First Draft and Sushi-Rama. To the other, the Central Market will open later this year with thirteen food vendors under one roof (claiming a public parking lot for its own use). But Anthony says he's not too worried about being displaced. "People thought we were batshit for signing a twenty-year lease," he recalls. "But now it seems like a good idea."
The three continue to invest in the growth of the neighborhood, with two new projects in the works. Kudva has partnered with Corey Costello and Michael Reilly to reopen the 715 Club in Five Points and has hired chef Theo Adley — late of the Squeaky Bean — to run the food program; they're getting help from Josh Pollock of Rosenberg's Bagels & Deli to get the kitchen set up. Kudva says to expect a "bird shack" doing Montreal-style barbecue with duck, chicken and other poultry.
Just up Larimer Street from the Matchbox, Vedovelli and Anthony are working on opening American Bonded with Sean Kenyon of Williams & Graham and the Occidental. They're expecting to open their new bar — which Anthony says will be a "super-affordable" cocktail joint with the same down-to-earth vibe as his original bar — in late summer or early fall.
The Matchbox will throw a fifth-anniversary bash on March 9, with drink specials and giveaways from 4 p.m. to close.