Arts and Culture

Unit E survives liquor bust and will be open, but dry, on Denver's First Friday

The folks behind Unit E, the art space at 1201 Santa Fe Drive that won our Best DIY Gallery in the Best of Denver 2012, are used to big parties on First Friday. But on November 2, they got more action than they'd bargained for: Co-founder Gregg Ziemba was busted for the "unlawful sale of alcohol." Specifically, for giving out free beer and booze -- with a donation jar by the makeshift bar.

Ziemba, a member of the band Rubedo, was in court this morning on that charge, and wound up with a deferred judgment. "I have to behave for a year," he says, "and then it's wiped off my record." See also: - At Unit E, Denver Arts Week was almost over before it started - Best New DIY Venue 2012: Unit E - Photos: Rubido at Unit E

The court also cut him a break on costs, waiving all fines and just charging court costs of about $150.

But the city kept the donation jar, which had been seized by Denver cops who baked up the two two liquor-enforcement agents who busted Unit E that night. Those donations were supposed to help cover the gallery's rent for December.

After we published a story on Ziemba's plight, supporters donated $350, which helped with expenses; the founders dipped into their savings to cover the rest, keeping the venue open.

And so Unit E will be open on this First Friday, with DJ Burton spinning; the walls will be covered with art by Victor Escabado . The party starts at 8 p.m.

But don't look for Ziemba to be there; he has a gig that night. And don't look for any alcohol, either. Unit E is investigating applying for a permit that allows an art gallerie to offer liquor at openings fifteen times a year (legislators approved a change to the state's liquor law in 2008, after galleries across the metro area complained that they weren't being allowed to serve wine, a feature often as important as the art on the walls).

But in the meantime, Ziemba says the space will definitely be dry in December. Fortunately, Santa Fe Boulevard has no shortage of bars. In fact, the Arts District on Santa Fe discourages galleries from serving liquor at their openings, just so the neighborhood restaurants and bars get to enjoy First Friday business, too.


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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun