Thirst Friday! Unit E gets busted for selling liquor at start of Denver Arts Week

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Unit E was named the Best New DIY Gallery in the Best of Denver 2012 -- but two liquor-law enforcement agents thought that the Unit E crew had gone a little far in doing it themselves. And so they busted the place on Friday night, just hours after Mayor Michael Hancock had visited the Art District on Santa Fe for First Friday.

Founder Gregg Ziemba wound up cited for selling alcohol without a license -- Unit E was giving away drinks, but had a donations jar out -- and has a December 6 court date. The donations jar, and its contents, were seized as evidence. See also: -At Unit E, Denver Arts Week was almost almost before it got started - Drink Up! Lawmakers introduce a liquor loophole - Best New DIY Venue 2012: Unit E

That donations jar had contained just enough for Ziemba and his partners to pay the rent on the Unit E space Monday.

In my column that went to press that night, I recounted what had gone down at Unit E, and also provided a refresher course in changes to the liquor laws approved by the Colorado Legislature in 2008, when galleries in the metro area were complaining about similar busts. As a result, galleries can now get permits that allow them to hold fifteen opening parties a year at which they can pour free alcohol. But Ziemba didn't know about that law. He'd just seen other galleries give away drinks, and figured Unit E could, too.

Mayor Hancock's visit to First Friday ended a couple of hours before the bust, and his office was unaware that at least for one gallery, Denver Arts Week was over almost before it began.

"The First Friday Art walks truly contribute to the unique fabric of our city. It was such a pleasure to join so many on Friday night to kick-off these highly anticipated events," Mayor Michael Hancock said in a statement that arrived after our press deadline. "Last year, the Denver metro area's arts community generated $1.76 billion worth of economic activity. This is not only an indication of how much we cherish our arts and culture here in Denver but it shows how important it is that we continue to support events like First Friday and help them to grow and thrive."

And, with any luck, also serve liquor.

With DIY galleries helping to make the local arts scene so lively, Denver Arts Week organizers might want to consider preparing handy tip sheets on some business basics, including liquor laws that apply to art openings. Now that he knows the rules, Ziemba says that he'll apply for the proper permit -- if he can come up with enough money to cover the rent and keep Unit E in business. (Want to donate? Find out how at www.unit-edenver.com.) Keep reading for more pictures of Unit E's party Friday night, all taken by Christopher Morgan.

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