My Brother's Bar has been sold, but the iconic saloon at 2376 15th Street will stay in the family — or close enough.
The history of the building stretches much further back than 1970, the year that Jim and Angelo Karagas, brothers two years out of Detroit, bought the oldest continually operating bar in Denver (give or take a few years during Prohibition). The saloon had gotten its start in 1873 as Highland House, was purchased by the Schlitz Brewing Company some forty years later, somewhere along the line lost its second story, and became known for a while as Whitie's Restaurant and then the Platte Bar before turning into Paul's Place, where Neal Cassady, the inspiration for Jack Kerouac's On the Road, might still have an outstanding tab, judging from the letter he sent a pal while sequestered in the Colorado State Reformatory: "I frequented the place occasionally & consequently have a small bill run up, I believe I owe them about 3 or 4 dollars. If you happen to be in that vicinity please drop in & pay it, will you?" Somewhere along the line, the building lost its top floor, but the bar kept pouring.
It was still Paul's when the Karagas brothers bought the place — "an old dump that was cheap," Jim told me around the time his ownership had passed the four-decade mark. The brothers ran it for a couple of years without any name and without much money, and when a tradesman came in with a bill, one brother would tell him to "give it to my brother, it's his bar," Jim remembered. "It just dawned on us one day that we should call it My Brother's Bar."
And that's what the bar's been known as ever since.
For many years, My Brother's Bar had an actual sibling. In 1974, the Karagas brothers bought a bar that had been created in an old plumbing-supply building eight blocks away, at 1600 15th Street, which they turned into the Wazee Supper Club. While Jim continued to watch over My Brother's, Angelo had responsibility for the Wazee, as well as the series of tenants who occupied the office space upstairs, including an upstart newspaper named Westword. Although the brothers would trade off weekend duty and occasionally considered other ventures, they were ultimately content to concentrate on their pair of bars. "We tried a suburban operation down south," Angelo told us back in 1984. "We learned something about ourselves: We're not that hardworking. Two bars are enough."
Particularly since Jim and Angelo worked plenty hard as hands-on operators: seating customers, occasionally serving customers, overseeing every aspect of their bars. After Angelo died in 1994, his widow ran the Wazee for three years — but the family wound up selling the place to another family of restaurants, the group that owned the Wynkoop Brewing Company, then run by future mayor John Hickenlooper; the Wazee has since moved on to the Shipp brothers, who own a chain of Colorado spots.
One bar was enough for Jim Karagas, as long as that one bar was Brother's. And until recently, the eighty-something tavern keeper had continued to oversee the bar, greeting customers new and old.
But it finally came time for Jim to retire, and his children didn't want to take over the bar. Then last summer, Goff Capital Partners, which is building a $60 million five-story office and retail building called Platte Fifteen at 15th and Platte streets, right across the street, where Natural Grocers currently stands, came knocking with a big offer for the Brother's building and the lot behind it. The offer was a rumored $3 million — big enough to only mean one thing: closing the bar, knocking down My Brother's and replacing it with some mammoth project.
But in a rapidly changing city like Denver, My Brother's is priceless. So a few interested parties quickly got to work. The result of their efforts was revealed this morning, when the employees were told that My Brother's has a new owner. Danny Newman, a Denver native and entrepreneur who'd conveniently sold his software company just before the developers came knocking — and whose mother, Paula Newman, has worked at My Brother's for 32 years — led a family buyout of the place.
Danny's spent time at the bar since he was four. His mother became "head waitress" in 1997, he recalls; she's been the general manager for the past two years. And now she's an owner.
"My parents and I couldn't be more excited to carry on the tradition of Denver's oldest bar," Danny reports. "When Jim and his brother, Angelo, bought the bar back in 1970, 15th and Platte was not the greatest part of town. But they built an amazing restaurant, and over the years, the Highland neighborhood has exploded. Anyone living here in Denver has seen the amazing pace of development across the greater metro area, and specifically in lower downtown/Highland. More and more of the old buildings in town have been razed in the name of development. While it is good for the economy of our town, our old Denver buildings and character have been rapidly disappearing. Within many of these beautiful and historic buildings are long-established businesses that contribute to the local flavor and history of Denver.
"Our family is going to keep this piece of Denver history alive, both as a building as well as a place for people of all ages to come and continue to enjoy good food and drink, where friends and families can get together, relax and have fun."
And so even as the place changes hands, My Brother's won't miss a beat. For starters, Danny says:
No, My Brother's will not add TVs.
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No, the name will not change: Even though Danny Newman is an only child, he figures the bar is now his sibling.
Yes, the Girl Scout cookie program that Jim oversaw will continue.
And no, My Brother's will not be adding a sign.
So now it's time to raise a glass to a deal that's saved Denver's most legendary bar, keeping it in the family of folks who love this city's past and would like to preserve the very best parts of it. And why not raise that glass at My Brother's? As always (except on Sundays, when Brother's will remain closed), the bar will be open until 2 a.m. today and every day, far into the future.