On a sunny Friday afternoon in March, a plumber stands in the middle of a broken-up floor at a former office space at 2854 Larimer Street, next to Crema Coffee, installing the piping for an immersive art and dance bar called the Beacon. The space may be unfinished now, but Mario Nocifera, the Beacon's self-proclaimed "senior executive director of high vibes + big smiles," and Robert Champion, "the senior vice chairman of vices and comfy chairs," plan to have it ready for a summer launch. In the meantime, they are full of enthusiasm for the possibilities of their new Denver business and all of the parties and daytime happenings they will create there.
They named the spot the Beacon because it's a light at the end of the pandemic, a place where people will find a welcoming environment where they can explore immersive art and dance and connect deeply with others. Champion explains that it's "the beacon where people can find their people" — something newcomers who came to town over the last year desperately need, and those locked in their homes definitely want.
While the place has a countercultural vibe, the Beacon is part of the entrepreneurial art rush that's boomed through RiNo over the past decade. Nocifera says the club will contrast many of the city's current bars, which he describes as "big empty boxes with no intentionality."
Even so, nothing will be left to chance at the Beacon.
"Every inch of the space will be covered in art," says Champion. The duo finds inspiration in Meow Wolf's House of Eternal Return in Santa Fe, the Sedalia-based Everland Eco-Retreat and Immersive Art Park, the membership club Archipelago, living-room dance parties, and cramped, pre-pandemic bars in the Shinjuku Golden Gai neighborhood of Tokyo, where patrons had no choice but to speak with each other, they were so jam-packed in the space.
The mid-sized bar fits well into 2021 Denver, where Meow Wolf will be opening a massive new installation at I-25 and Colfax Avenue this fall, and groups like Prismajic, Rainbow Militia and Off-Center, as well as longtime artrepreneur Lonnie Hanzon, have continued putting this city on the map as a destination for the immersive arts through the pandemic.
From floor to ceiling, the Beacon will boast sculptural elements and projection mapping, much of it designed by Jon Medina, who has worked with Meow Wolf and Everland. Champion says the design will take patrons on "a full journey."
The missing ingredient in most art spaces is booze, the owners explain. That will be the social lubricant that will facilitate the kind of mindful community building they imagine at the Beacon, says Nocifera.
Champion, who has lived in all four corners of the country, is devoted to bringing people together. He perfected that art while in his twenties, organizing massive Subaru gatherings attended by as many as 28,000 of the cars' enthusiasts at a time. When he arrived in Denver in 2017, he "hit the friend jackpot," he recalls, meeting people the day he landed who took him to Mario's Double Daughter's and an all-night dance party; those friends have become his chosen family ever since — the kind of relationships he wants to cultivate for his customers.
Nocifera has spent his career in the food industry, running four-star Michelin spots in San Francisco and high-end restaurants in Phoenix and Aspen. In recent years, he owned and ran Lower48 at 2020 Lawrence Street. Around the time the pandemic hit Colorado, he opened the gallery and event space Onward, his first foray into art; he's excited to see what Larimer Street will look like once it comes back to life.
Both entrepreneurs are still starry-eyed about Denver, its energetic cultural scene, even the relatively low rent in the area (compared to big cities on the Coasts). "We couldn't have found a more prime neighborhood than RiNo," says Champion.
The Beacon concept echoes the ethos of DIY haunts like Rhinoceropolis and Glob, which brought in artists and other creatives long before the Source Hotel went up and the formerly industrial area became a magnet for transplants and tourists. But Beacon — which has already employed roughly thirty artists, tradesmen and more, and has plenty of hires ahead — is less rooted in anarchistic collectivism than it is committed to becoming a successful enterprise as well as a community hub.
Champion and Nocifera designed the space to inspire people to meet, dance and speak with each other. The bathroom will be in the center, in order to encourage everyone to walk around the entire space. The bar will be enclosed in a forest-themed tunnel. The dance floor, toward the back, will be small and brightly lit, to allow revelers to form bonds but also create accountability, so predators can't creep in the dark. There will be a stage for DJs and two smaller, artist-designed rooms with everything from Alice in Wonderland to bookstore themes.
A third small room in the back will have a second bar and will be the owners' play area for design ideas — what Champion has named "the Inconvenience Store" and Nocifera describes as "the Bullshit Bodega."
During the day, there will be room for artists to create, wellness workshops and meditation classes; evenings will include a mix of music across genres. Though house tends to be the soundtrack of their community, the owners want the bar to host sounds "as diverse as the neighborhood," says Nocifera.
Outside the space, there's more room for dancing and drinking, as well as art installations. There will be nooks for socializing and perhaps an artist-built tipi, along with a full-time food truck to keep people in the space by feeding them while they socialize.
"We have an opportunity to fully rewrite the script," says Champion, who hopes to host hip-hop parties that draw the former Cold Crush crowd back to Larimer, along with bass, house and jam-band nights.
The owners are aware that the space, which will be unlike any other bar in Denver, risks being intimidating. So they are having long talks about how to create a welcoming and inclusive environment, where each new guest is akin to a stranger who walks into a house party and becomes a part of the scene.
"We will treat them as family," promises Nocifera.
He hopes to occasionally hand costume pieces to guests as they arrive to make them more comfortable; the owners even hope to find ways to help people struggling with social anxiety to find solace in the experience.
"The idea is to create a nourishing green escape from the urban jungle of RiNo," says Nocifera. "We want to create an oasis."