Sand Creek Lounge turns 27 this weekend -- and it's been an eventful time. The first owner lost the bar when he sold cocaine to an undercover cop; the second lost it to noise complaints. Then Paul Engel won $10,000 on the dog races at the now-closed Cloverleaf Kennel Club, and used his winnings to buy the Lounge, which he and his business partner Eddie Krantz ran until their deaths three months apart in 2006.
"They were like an old married couple," says Rich Engel, Paul's son and the man who's been in charge ever since. Members of the Engel family have been running Sand Creek for twenty years this month, and they've managed to keep the mayhem at operational levels. Barely.
The happy hour at Sand Creek Lounge, which runs from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. every weekday, might be more accurately called the happy full-time job, since it clocks in a forty hours a week. A handful of regulars are usually in the bar well before noon. Rich Engel calls them the "breakfast crowd," and they like to trade war stories from their biker days, laugh at each other's jokes and tell a few tales about the bar itself.
There was the time a car drove through the front window. And all the times that Pam, the old manager, besieged by marital stress, would drink vodka until she couldn't stand up, and then one customer would drive her home and another would man the bar. "As long as everyone wants rum & Coke or beer, we're all right," one regular remembers a volunteer bartender saying. They'd put the money in a cup because they didn't know how to work the register -- and no one ever cheated, Rich says.
Pam's gone now, replaced by Leslie Strong, an Aurora bar scene veteran who looks like she'd be tough to surprise.
Sand Creek Lounge is the kind of bar that the regulars call home. "We're part of everybody's family out here," says Rich. "Whatever the customers want, they get."That sounds like a tired old slogan, but he's not kidding. When other customers said they wanted a place to go on Thanksgiving, Rich started barbecuing a turkey out on the patio every year. People sign up to bring side dishes, and free drinks go to the people who bring more than their share. Sand Creek offers a similar arrangement with steak instead of turkey on Easter, New Year's, Christmas and those really big holidays: Broncos games.
When a contingent of Nebraska fans wanted to see some Cornhusker football, Rich shelled out the cash to get the games on pay-per-view. If you bring in a losing horse-racing ticket, the bartender will give you a dollar off a drink. Sand Creek has also had a softball team for the past twenty years, and the plastic trophies adorn a case back in the corner.
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"We know our customers," says Rich. "They're a part of our lives."
It's not all potlucks and amateur sports, however. Rich and Paul Schefsky, who started as a manger at Sand Creek in the late 1980s, remember breaking up fights and coming in some mornings to find bras hanging from the ceiling. Rich says he still goes through two floor-to-ceiling windows per year. And Sand Creek Lounge also serves an inordinate amount of Jägermeister; one guy at the bar suggests that's because it's the cheapest way to get hammered.
Sand Creek will celebrate its 27th anniversary -- and twenty years under the Engels -- this Friday, June 26, with live music from JD Kelly and his Blues Revue. There will also be a potluck and a raffle for -- what else? -- a Jägermeister dispenser.
For more information, call 303-337-4984.